Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Garden is Beautiful, but it can also be treacherous;.

I know garden season is in full swing. when I start to see rashes like this on my wife. (No this is not her, just a photo that I got elsewhere.) What would cause her otherwise normal skin to erupt in lines and patches of itchy blisters causing her extreme discomfort and misery?

Well, if you spend much time outdoors in our area, then you will recognize the culprit right here. That's right, we all know leaflets three, let it be ... Poison Ivy.

Now, she is an avid gardener, and in her defense, she not only knows the rhyme, but knows what the plant looks like, most of the time. In fact, we are so defensive about poison ivy at our home that we probably have no pants with three leaves in any of our gardens. But, as cautious as she may be, it seems that every year, it sneaks up on her and she ends up with a nasty case requiring topical treatment with steroids, administered by ours truly, just so she can get through the work week.

"Hey", you say. "Sorry bout your wife, but this is supposed to be a pet blog". Right you are, just using a topical reminder to segue into today's topic. By the way, most dogs don't get rashes from poison ivy. (some do, it's not unheard of). They can gallivant in the woods and get the oils on their coat. Then when they snuggle up to you , the oils rub off and pesto, you have the rash. Remember, the rash is not contagious, it is spread by the oil. The best product I have found for getting the oil off before you get the rash is Tecnu. Check it out.

OK, so poison ivy is not a big problem, you might ask, "what are some common flowering garden plants that can cause a problem for my pets?"

Hyacinths are beautiful and smell great. The flowers and greens of tulips and hyacinths are not generally toxic, but their bulbs contain alkaloids and/or allergenic lactones. If you are sensitive, and my wife is, wear gloves when planting the bulbs. Once you get them in the ground all should be well.

Daffodils contain the toxic alkaloid, lycorine. Ingestion can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and potential respiratory distress in dogs or cats. I hope that you will recognize them as the pretty yellow flowers that come up in the spring. I had a photo, but somehow it got deleted and since this blog post is not about a week later than I wanted it to be, I'm not going to try to figure out how to get it back up.

Here's a photo of a common plant that I actually had a client call me about last week. OK, by now it was probably 2 weeks ago. Calla lilies and Peace Lilies are actually not that toxic. Ingestion of the plant or flowers will cause GI Upset. You know, the medical euphemism for vomiting and diarrhea. The cat in my practice that instigated my mentioning these plants was vomiting a couple of times a week, after eating some of the lily leaves in the house.

Oh, look. I found the photo of the daffodils. Here they are on the left below.

Don't confuse the relatively harmless Peace Lilies or the Daffodils with the seriously dangerous true lilies. The Easter Lily above and to the right, Asian Lilies, and Day Lilies are potentially deadly. All parts, leaves, bulbs, flowers, even pollen can cause severe, life threatening acute renal failure in dogs and cats if ingested. I would advise not planting these in gardens or having them in the house if you have pets that are likely to be exposed to them. My former associate almost lost a cat to lily toxins. Fortunately, she is an excellent and tenacious clinician and the kitty pulled through.

Like the coral snake, these flowers are pretty to look at but very deadly. Just as an aside, remember, red on black friend of jack, red on yellow kills a fellow. If you know what this refers to, please leave a comment and let me know that you are out there. There are no photos of snakes or other venomous critters this post, but if you guys want, we can do that some time in the future. Not a big problem here on Long Island, but I bet the crew in the south and south west would have another story to tell.

Finally, most fertilizers will be toxic to pets as well. Keep dogs and cats off of the lawn after chemicals have been applied. Check with your gardener or read the label yourself. A good general rule is to stay off for 48 hours after the stuff has been watered into the grass. Better yet, have an organic lawn or garden.

If your pet has been exposed to something and you're not sure if it is toxic, call your veterinarian. (Gosh, I bet veterinarians hate when I write things like that and they get all sorts of calls, but it is what I am here for for my clients). If you're not my client, call the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 or online at

I would like to shout out to for more helpful pet care tips. They gave me the Pet Poison Hotline number and the idea for this blog post. OK, them and my wife's poison ivy.

Keith Niesenbaum, VMD

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