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Foxglove Plants Are Toxic to Pets

BY Lee Pickett TIMEJuly 24, 2022 PRINT

Q: I planted foxgloves because I love their spikes of colorful, speckled, bell-shaped flowers. My cat Stormy is walking through them, rubbing her face on them. Should I worry about this?

A: If she only walks through your foxgloves and doesn’t chew on them, she should be fine. But watch her closely to be sure she doesn’t eat any.

If she does, she may experience vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy—or worse, since the powerful heart medicine digitalis is derived from foxglove.

When ingested, foxglove can disrupt the heart’s normal rate and rhythm, causing life-threatening arrhythmias. Foxglove also can cause electrolyte disturbances that can impair heart function.

All parts of the foxglove are toxic, with the highest concentrations of digitalis found in the flowers, fruit, and immature leaves.

If Stormy displays any abnormalities and you suspect she may have nibbled a plant in your garden, take her to her veterinarian immediately. If you are uncertain about the names of your other plants, take along flowers and leaves to help your vet identify them.

Q: My friend’s dog was bitten by a copperhead while exploring the woods. His leg swelled so much that he couldn’t put weight on it, and he whined continuously until the emergency veterinarian administered intravenous pain medication. How can I prevent the same thing from happening to my own dogs?

A: In the United States, copperheads bite more dogs and people than any other snake. Even a baby copperhead can inflict a painful, venomous bite.
Most snakes, including copperheads, lie low and shy away from dogs and people. Copperheads use their camouflage pattern of copper, tan, beige, and brown to remain hidden.

So when you and your dogs roam the woods, keep them leashed, stay on established paths, and watch where you’re walking. Before your dogs jump over a log or boulder, look at what’s on the other side. Wear sturdy hiking boots, not sneakers.

At home, discourage snakes from becoming close neighbors. Trim the vegetation around your house, and don’t let leaves or brush pile up near walkways or play areas.

Wear heavy gloves when you gather firewood, and don’t extend your hands or feet where you can’t see them. Use a flashlight or headlamp at night and when you enter a dark shed or barn.

Remove spilled bird seed so it doesn’t attract rodents and the copperheads that feed on them.

If one of your dogs is bitten, take a photo of the snake if you have your phone or camera with you and you can do so without getting too close.
Don’t apply ice or a tourniquet, and don’t cut over the fang marks or attempt to suck out the toxin. Even if your veterinarian prescribed it for another condition, don’t give an antihistamine, a steroid, or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as carprofen or meloxicam. Copperhead bites are extremely painful, but these medications are of no benefit and may actually cause additional problems in dogs bitten by venomous snakes.

Instead, keep your dog calm, remove his collar and harness in case there’s swelling, carry him to your car, and drive him to the nearest veterinary emergency clinic. Some stock antivenom, which the emergency veterinarian may administer to minimize the pain, swelling, and other effects of the venom.

If you and your dogs hike where rattlesnakes are numerous, talk with your veterinarian about snake avoidance training classes and the pros and cons of the rattlesnake vaccine.

Lee Pickett
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at AskTheVet.pet. Copyright 2021 Lee Pickett, VMD. Distributed by Creators.com
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