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Dogs and mushrooms don't mix Owners urged to protect their pooches
By KAREN RAVN
Herald Staff Writer
She was a big, beautiful, healthy German shepherd. But last weekend, without warning, she got terribly sick.
He was a small, adorable, healthy Chihuahua. But nearly two weeks ago, without warning, he got terribly sick, too.
In both cases, it was something they ate: mushrooms.
That was the conclusion of the veterinarians who saw the dogs, and it's not a rare diagnosis.
"We see one every three months or so," said Jeff Hogans, a veterinarian at the Harden Ranch Veterinary
Hospital in Salinas where the Chihuahua was treated. "I'm sure the emergency clinic sees a lot more."
But many dogs that get sick from eating mushrooms are probably never seen by veterinarians, said Pat Davis, the veterinarian who handled the Chihuahua's case at the Harden Ranch hospital and was on duty Wednesday at the Monterey Peninsula-Salinas Veterinary Emergency Clinic. "They can end up dying, and the owners never realize what happened."
Neither the Chihuahua's owners nor the shepherd's realized what had happened at first. Neither of them saw their dogs eat mushrooms. But the Chihuahua's owners did see him throw up pieces of mushroom. The Chihuahua's owners were able to get to the hospital in time, and the dog seems to have made a complete recovery.
The shepherd's owners took her to the veterinarian, but they were too late. She died in the car on the way. The owners had an autopsy done to find out what was wrong, and that's how they found out about the mushrooms.
In an interview in February, Chuck Bancroft, a park ranger at Point Lobos State Reserve, talked about the dangers of wild mushrooms for people. He said some mushrooms are deadly, some are poisonous to lesser degrees, and some can be eaten safely -- and with great gusto -- only after they've been cooked.
It's wise to assume that the same holds true for dogs, Davis said.
It's never a good idea for dogs to eat raw wild mushrooms any more than it is for people. Some dogs, especially young ones, will eat just about anything.
"It's like, 'I don't know what this is, but I'm going to stick it in my mouth,'" Davis said.
Dog owners are advised to dig up every mushroom that pops up in their yards -- without mushing them, because that only spreads the spores that will grow more mushrooms.
Dick Morrison, a professional plant pathologist and amateur mushroom expert, said he isn't an expert on how mushrooms affect dogs, but the mushrooms that are deadly to people are out of season. They grow from fall through early spring.
"But many lawn mushrooms are mildly toxic," he said, "and mildly hallucinogenic. If they ate enough of them, I suppose."
On the other hand, Morrison cautioned against drawing conclusions on too little evidence. Although the autopsy showed the German shepherd had eaten mushrooms, he said, it probably showed she had eaten other things -- some of which might also be poisonous. He said dogs are "terribly sensitive to antifreeze."
He said the same could be true with the Chihuahua. Although he threw up pieces of mushroom, he probably threw up pieces of other things.
Veterinarian Hogans also said that firm diagnoses are often hard to make.
"A lot of cases are diagnosed as 'suspected mushrooms,'" he said.
Still, few in the veterinary community doubt that mushrooms can often be damaging, and sometimes deadly, to dogs.
"Some of the Amanita species especially can be a problem for them," said Lisa Hoefler, director of operations at the Monterey County SPCA.
Amanita phalloides, known as the death cap, is the most poisonous mushroom for people.
Cats are at the same risk from mushrooms as dogs, Davis said. Except for one thing: Cats tend to be a lot more finicky about their food.