The crisis started one evening, shortly after Mary had fed her two dogs. For no apparent reason, Ghillie started to drool copious amounts of saliva, and at the same time she began to stagger around in an uncoordinated way. Mary rushed down to my clinic with her at once, and as soon as I saw Ghillie, I knew that there was only one likely cause: poisoning.
I asked Mary to leave Ghillie with me for urgent treatment while she went home to check her garden for any poisons that could have been eaten. However she was back at my clinic within twenty minutes: her other dog, Mzungu, had started to show exactly similar signs to Ghillie.
In fact, Mzungu was far more severely affected: she was unable to walk at all, and she was howling, barking and snapping at the air around her. It was as if she was having hallucinations.
I treated both dogs in two ways, which is the standard approach for all cases of suspected poisoning.
First, I gave medication to cause each dog to vomit, so that any residual poison in their stomachs was removed from the body. And second, I injected them with sedatives and other drugs to calm them down and to keep them comfortable until the effects of the poison passed out of their system.
Additionally, the younger, more severely affected dog was given an intravenous injection of a fat-based chemical designed to mop up the poison from the bloodstream.
Since it was the evening, both dogs had to be transferred to the Pet Emergency Hospital in Belfield for overnight care: they had to be monitored continuously by a vet and nurse team sitting up all night with them, topping up their sedatives as needed.
The good news was that both dogs made a full and complete recovery after 24 hours of treatment. The poison was metabolised and excreted from their bodies, and there was no residual damage.
However an important mystery remained: what was the cause of this poisoning?
Mary searched her garden for any possible plant or substance that could have had a toxic effect. There was no obvious source: no rat poison, slug bait or other chemical. There was no bizarre surprise like an illegal stash of drugs that had been dug up In the end, the most likely answer was something that is common in Ireland this autumn: poisonous mushrooms.
While most fungi in the garden are unlikely to be eaten by dogs, and even if they are, they’re likely just to cause an upset stomach, some do have a dangerously toxic effect. A group of mushrooms known as “Category D” are commonly known as “magic mushrooms”. They contain hallucinogens, and within 30 to 60 minutes of ingestion, signs of poisoning include disorientation, hallucinations, tremors, lethargy and dilated pupils. This is exactly what Mary’s dogs had been doing. The good news is that most animals recover uneventfully within 6 hours, as long as they have not taken a fatal dose.
Mary couldn’t find any direct evidence of these types of mushrooms, but her compost heap had definitely been chewed by the dogs. Our best guess is that the dogs ate the evidence so that there was no remaining sign of the toxic mushrooms.
Mary now knows what the Category D mushrooms look like,and she’s keeping an eye out. If any reappear, she’s going to make sure that she picks them and puts them in the bin before her dogs can get anywhere near them.