Dog sitting outside on lawn

As noted previously on the blog, we recently moved across the country and into a new home in Fresno, California. The lot is large for the area – nearly a full acre – and the former owner had painstakingly and lovingly planted a lush backyard garden with walkways, arches and a fountain.

The problem was, unbeknownst to us, lots of the plants in our new yard were poisonous for dogs; some could even kill horses and humans.

Even so, this might not have affected all dog owners. But it sure hit us hard: Our 4-year-old German shepherd dog loves to “graze,” pulling leaves into her mouth as she weaves around the perimeter of the yard. I don’t know why she does this, but she always has. She seems particularly attracted to very soft, green, large leaves, like those on an oleander, azalea, sago palms and English ivy plants – all of which are toxic to dogs. These were the ones growing all over the yard. In fact, her first and favorite resting spot was in a shaded planter full of English ivy.

Signs of Poisoning

After the first night in our new home, our dog didn’t eat breakfast, which really isn’t that uncommon for her.

But she still wasn’t eating the next morning, and that was something to note. However, she was drinking profuse amounts of water. We thought she could be reacting to our recent move or the very hot weather. It was tracking triple digits for three weeks straight in central California.

That next night, while we slept, she started vomiting. And vomiting. When I got up in the morning, vomit piles were everywhere. Plus, something about her was definitely off. Her coat had lost its luster, her posture was what vets describe as “depressed,” her tail dragged on the ground. She had no appetite and no energy.

We let her out into the yard and when she came back she vomited immediately – and that’s when I saw the half-digested leaf.

Yikes.

We Were Alarmed

Of course, we were new in town and didn’t have a vet to call. So we started searching the internet, finding, to our horror, that many common plants we knew were in the yard were highly toxic, causing vomiting and a depressed demeanor and could lead to heart, kidney or liver failure; seizures; coma; and death. (I should add here that neither my husband nor I could be considered gardeners by any stretch of the imagination and had very little knowledge of common plants.)

We downloaded an app called Picture This, which lets you take a picture of a plant to find out what it is. We circled the yard looking for that leaf she vomited and entered each suspected leaf into the app. Once we had the names, we could look them up. We found six poisonous plant species were growing all over our yard.

We immediately took our shepherd to a 24-hour emergency vet for blood work to determine if her liver or kidneys had been affected (they weren’t). But they found she was dehydrated and needed to be hospitalized overnight for flushing and fluid replacement. Twenty-four hours later, she came home.

While she was in the emergency hospital, we removed all of the poisonous plants from the yard and set up a dog run so if we’re not in the yard with her we can lock her up for safety.

Hindsight Is 20/20

I’ve had dogs for decades. But never a grazer like this one. And I wasn’t aware of how toxic some plants and parts of plants can be – and how they react, specifically, to dogs, cats, horses or other animals.

The ASPCA has a list on its website of toxic plants, which you can sort by species. If you don’t know what’s poisonous to your pet, take a look. Some very familiar names, including tulips, azaleas and lilies, can do a lot of damage. They also warn that “the consumption of any plant material may cause vomiting and gastrointestinal upset for dogs and cats.” Also listed on the site are non-toxic species, so if you have to take plants out you’ll have replacement candidates.

She’s Recovered Fully

Our dog responded quickly to the treatment and is back to her normal active state. I’m still watching where she wanders in the yard but I’m pretty confident we have removed any and all toxic plants.

I’m sharing this story with you in case you’re in a new location as we were or, perhaps, you’re planning to do some yard renovations. Be sure you research the plants you’re choosing – and the ones that are already growing in your yard, as well as your houseplants – to ensure they won’t harm you or your pets.

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