Vet warns dog owners of dangers of toxic sago palm plant

Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 9:55 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - After her own dog’s death, a Columbia woman is warning other pet owners of the danger posed by the sago palm plant, an alert echoed by a Columbia-area veterinarian.

Last month, Brianna Cox said her dog, Willy, died after eating part of a sago palm, a shrub-like plant that is toxic for dogs, cats, and horses, according to the ASPCA, and common in South Carolina.

“He started showing symptoms almost immediately after he ate it,” Cox said. “Vomiting, excessive thirst, and lots of drooling.”

Within 12 hours of ingesting the plant, Cox said Willy’s liver was failing.

“It’s definitely scary, especially with how prevalent they are in the Midlands and Lowcountry,” Cox said.

Dr. Wendy King, a veterinarian with Spears Creek Veterinary Clinic in Elgin, said all parts of sago palms can be toxic to dogs, but especially the seeds, which look like small, reddish-orange balls.

“If you see your dog eating the sago palm, you can obviously get it out of their mouth,” King said. “You can actually give them hydrogen peroxide to make them vomit if you catch them within a window. If it’s been more than 30 minutes, vomiting’s not going to help, and even if you make them vomit, I really think you should contact your veterinarian because it’s so toxic.”

King said symptoms typically start with vomiting and diarrhea and can worsen from there to eventually cause liver failure, like in Willy’s case. If 24 hours have passed from the time the dog ingested part of the plant, she said the animal will likely need to be hospitalized and treated, though that may be necessary before that timeframe.

From there, the prognosis can be grim. The ASPCA reports up to 75% of cases in which a dog ingests sago palm end in death.

“There are some dogs, that their whole life, they want to chew on things,” King said. “So you have the dogs that are chewers and the ones that aren’t, and the ones that are chewers are the ones that you’re really going to have to watch out for.”

Considering the difficulty of stopping many dogs, especially puppies, from eating items that are not food, King advises dog owners that the best way to avoid their animals consuming sago palm is to not plant it in their yards, adding that other types of palms are not poisonous for dogs.

She also reminds them to be on the lookout on walks if sago palms might be planted in their neighborhood, including if their neighbors have been doing yard work.

“Sago palm leaves are something that’s pretty common for them to cut the ugly, unsightly leaves off, and they’ll set them by the street, and the dogs can be interested in something new and looking at it and eating it,” she said.

The superintendent for the City of Columbia’s Forestry and Beautification Department said they only plant sago palms in places like medians, where dogs likely will not be walking because they are aware of how toxic they are.

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