Spring bulbs can be toxic for our friends

Spring has definitely arrived in the Grand Valley and dormant vegetation awakens from its hibernation to grace our landscapes.

Green leaves sprouting in bulb gardens are a welcoming indicator of warmer ground temperatures. The vibrant daffodils showcased in the planters along Main Street are blooming for all to enjoy. But while pleasing to the human eye, tiny bulbs can be poisonous to our four-legged friends.

As I researched this topic, I discovered many plants produce alkaloids toxic to animals and other organisms. Since it has been a few years since I took a chemistry class, I diverged to study alkaloids.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, alkaloids are naturally occurring organic compounds found mostly in plants. They are extracted to produce medicines such as local anesthetics, morphine, codeine and the anticancer compound vincristine. Other examples of alkaloids include caffeine, nicotine, quinine and strychnine.

Many of the lovely bulbs currently exhibiting their brilliant flowers contain highly toxic alkaloids.

Daffodils, for example, contain an alkaloid called lycorine. If your pet ingests any part of the bulb, stem or flower, seek veterinary care immediately. There are crystals on the outer layer of the bulb that cause tissue irritation to the mouth resulting in excessive drooling. Other symptoms include severe vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Complications can result in cardiac instability and/or respiratory difficulties.

Tulips and hyacinths toxicity levels are more concentrated in the bulb. Similar symptoms can occur in your pet depending on the size of the animal and how many bulbs it consumes. Again, severe symptoms include increased heart rates and changes in respiration. There is no specific remedy, but your veterinarian can provide supportive care with anti-vomiting medications and fluids if necessary.

The beautiful little crocus plants currently emerging also are quite toxic. Apparently, there are two species of crocus. One blooms in the spring and the other in the fall. The more common spring plant can cause vomiting and diarrhea if ingested. The autumn crocus contains the alkaloid colchicine and is highly toxic. Ingestion of these tiny bulbs can lead to serious gastrointestinal bleeding, liver and kidney damage and respiratory failure.

Lilies are another highly dangerous group of plants. True lilies, such as tiger, day and Easter can be fatal to your cat if it eats even two to three petals or leaves. If you suspect your cat has consumed any amount of one of these lily plants, it is imperative you seek veterinary assistance immediately. Induced vomiting and activated charcoal treatments help rid the toxin from the body, however prolonged treatment can result in serious kidney failure.

Often your garden can be left alone for you to admire its eloquent beauty, however, beware of the bulb! A bored young pup might dig one up while looking for a cool spot to take a nap or perhaps the cat will wander out to find a more appealing litter box. Just be aware. 

The Humane Society of the United States has identified more than 700 plants toxic to pets. Download a complete list at http://www.humanesociety.org.

Charlé Thibodeau has been passionate pet caregiver for more than 30 years. If you have a pets question you would like Thibodeau to answer in her column, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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