Are Wild Mushrooms Toxic to Pets?
Veterinary Insight for Pet Owners
Christine Gowen, Pet HealthZone Editor
Actor and former professional wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson revealed last September 29th that his French bulldog puppy Brutus ate a toxic mushroom while playing outdoors. As Brutus began to succumb to the lethal toxicity, Johnson and his family made the painful decision to take him off life support.
In an Instagram post, Johnson wrote,"I held his lil' paw as he was finally at peace," he wrote with a picture from the vet. "As all puppies and dogs do, he ate a mushroom while playing outside with his brother Hobbs. This mushroom happened to have a lethal toxicity and within hours it was rapidly destroying his liver and immune system to the point of no return. What looks innocent, can be deadly to your lil' family members."
As pet owners, have you ever wondered: What are those mushrooms? Why do they seem to pop up randomly—and seemingly overnight, in our yard, at the dog park, along the sidewalk? Most importantly: Are they poisonous?
Identifying Toxic Mushrooms
“That’s the million dollar question,” says Dr. Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, who serves as the assistant director of Veterinary Services at the national Pet Poison Helpline and agreed to lend me her expertise.
“Mushrooms are notoriously hard to identify,” she explains. “However innocent looking a mushroom appears, some of them can be life threatening.” She points out the infamous “false morel,” which looks very much like the edible, prized morel mushroom sought after by gourmet cooks and mushroom hunters alike.
Eating a false morel, for example, can cause a severe upset stomach and loss of coordination due to the organic, carcinogenic poison it produces.
Since identifying a mushroom takes a great deal of skill and knowledge, it would be highly unlikely that you could decipher one mushroom from another. Mushrooms are classified by their type of phylum, the particular class, order, family, genus and species. Mycologists, otherwise known as mushroom experts, examine mushrooms very carefully, comparing spore impressions, gills and fine hairs on the surface of the mushroom’s body.
Consider the amanita mushroom, which can be found in Europe, Asia and North America. Ingesting one of these mushrooms, says Brutlag, can be potentially deadly. It has up to seven recognized varieties of different colors and shapes, making it very tricky to correctly identify.
Then there are the LBMs, “little brown mushrooms,” which are more commonly found in your backyard and usually not toxic to people or their pets.
Mushroom Toxicity Symptoms
Brutlag advises erring on the side of caution should you suspect your pet has eaten a wild mushroom. Don’t assume the mushroom is harmless.
“Although rarely fatal, wild mushrooms can cause kidney and liver failure, and can lead to vomiting and dehydration. Some wild mushrooms can be psychoactive. It’s in your pet’s best interest to contact Pet Poison Helpline or your veterinarian immediately.”
Signs of mushroom toxicity include an upset stomach followed by vomiting and diarrhea, excessive drooling and watery eyes, a slow heartbeat, depression, lethargy, abdominal pain, yellowing of the eyes (jaundice), and seizures.
Treatment for Mushroom Toxicity in Pets
Treatment for mushroom toxicity is mainly symptomatic and directed at stabilizing the patient, removing or neutralizing the source of toxicity and treating clinical signs that develop.
Typical treatment includes inducing vomiting to decontaminate your pet’s stomach. Activated charcoal may then be used to absorb any remaining toxins if the vomiting does not produce the entire ingested mushroom. If your pet continues to show signs of toxicity, it may be useful to try to identify the mushroom and the specific toxin ingested.
“If a dog has eaten mushrooms we recommend that you pick any remaining mushrooms, wrap them in a paper towel, put them in a paper bag and then refrigerate them in order to preserve them for examination. Mushrooms will breakdown too quickly if put in a plastic bag. Most important, clearly write ‘Do not eat!’ on the outside.”
Mycologists can be found at universities and sometimes at botanical gardens.
“We can’t predict the outcome of treatment until the mushroom is identified,” says Brutlag.
The best form of prevention is to keep your pets away from wild mushrooms and remove any that you discover growing in your yard or along your usual walking route. Should you suspect your pet has eaten anything toxic, contact your family veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately at 800-213-6680 or petpoisonhelpline.com.
Christine Gowen, managing editor of the Pet HealthZone, has enjoyed a menagerie of pets throughout her lifetime, including dogs, cats and exotic critters such as guinea pigs, hamsters, black-hooded rats, a mouse, and even a chicken. Along with her husband, she is the proud parent of four kids — two of which are her beloved Labrador retrievers.