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Cornwall’s Hemlock discovery: A stark reminder of toxic plant dangers

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The recent discovery of Hemlock Water Dropwort on Cornwall’s beaches, brought to our attention last week by The National Coastwatch Institution, serves as a stark reminder of the potential dangers lurking in seemingly harmless plants. Hemlock, known as the UK’s most toxic plant, underscores the importance of awareness for the dog care community, and it is a timely reminder that there are several potentially-lethal but perfectly normal-looking wild plants hiding in plain sight.

Here are six of the most dangerous plants that you and your dog-owning clients need to be aware of:

1. Hemlock Water Dropwort (also known as Dead Man’s Fingers)

Location/habitat: Found along UK waterways, damp ditches, and marshy areas.

Appearance: Features bright green, fern-like leaves, small white flowers, and brown, rugby ball-shaped seeds, and roots that can resemble small parsnips.

Toxicity: Extremely poisonous; all parts are toxic.

Symptoms if ingested by dogs: Can include drooling, muscle twitching or spasms, nervousness, dilated pupils, increased heart rate, hyperventilating, tremors, seizures.

2. Deadly Nightshade

Location/habitat: Typically found in chalky or lime-rich open woods, field margins, and hedgerows.

Appearance: Oval leaves with pointed ends, reddish-brown bell-shaped flowers, and shiny black berries.

Toxicity: Highly toxic, contains the alkaloid atropine.

Symptoms if ingested by dogs: Hallucinations, dilated pupils, difficulty in breathing, restlessness.

3. Foxglove

Location/habitat: Common in hedgerows, woodland edges, gardens, parks, and waste grounds.

Appearance: Tall stems with trumpet-shaped flowers in various colors, lanceolate leaves.

Toxicity: All parts of the plant contain cardiac glycosides.

Symptoms if ingested by dogs: Can include vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, seizures, dilated pupils.

4. Lily of the Valley

Location/habitat: Commonly found in shady, damp woodlands.

Appearance: Features small, bell-shaped white flowers and can grow up to two feet in height.

Toxicity: Contains cardiac glycosides; all parts including bulb, roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and berries are toxic.

Symptoms if ingested by dogs: Can include vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, seizures, and collapse.

5. Yew Tree

Location/habitat: Common in hedgerows, woodlands, churchyards, and parks.

Appearance: Dark green, flat needle-like leaves, gnarled red/brown trunks, and red arils (berries).

Toxicity: Contains toxic taxines, extremely poisonous to dogs; all parts of the plant are toxic.

Symptoms if ingested by dogs: Can include vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty breathing, dilated pupils, and weakness.

6. Azaleas/Rhododendrons

Location/habitat: Commonly found in outdoor landscaping.

Appearance: These plants are known for their vivid and attractive flowers, which can range in color from yellow and orange to red. However, they have no fragrance.

Toxicity: The entire plant is toxic to dogs due to the presence of a neurotoxin called grayanotoxin.

Symptoms if ingested by dogs: Can include vomiting, diarrhoea, excessive drooling, reduced/lack of appetite, weakness.

Please note that this information is provided for educational purposes only and should not substitute professional veterinary advice. If you have any concerns about your dog or a client dog’s health, please consult a veterinarian immediately.

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