What is Azalea Poisoning?
Azaleas are a flowering shrub, closely related to the Rhododendron family of plants. It contains the potent neurotoxin grayanotoxin which can disrupt the ability of the cells of the body to return to their normal state after excitation. When ingested they can interfere with skeletal and nerve functions as well as hinder the action of the heart muscle. Abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, and low blood pressure are three of the signs of Azalea poisoning that can lead to serious health issues. If your pet has sampled any part of an Azalea plant, it is imperative that you contact your veterinarian immediately.
The flowering shrub Azalea contains a powerful neurotoxin called grayanotoxin which can disturb the proper function of the body’s cell membranes. Azalea poisoning should be treated as an emergency.
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Symptoms of Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms generally are initiated within just a few hours after ingestion. The toxic dose of this plant is approximately 0.2% of the animal’s weight. This means that eating as little as two ounces of plant material may cause serious clinical signs to develop in a 60lb dog.
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal heart rate
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Excessive drooling
- Loss of appetite
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Temporary blindness
These are types of Azaleas that grow natively in America:
- Mainly found in southern Oregon and northwestern California
- The flowers on this variety are larger than the flowers on the other varieties and either white with a spot of yellow or yellow overall
- Mainly found growing wild from Alabama to Pennsylvania
- This variety has a fragrance that is very close to the fragrance of heliotrope
- The flowers are generally white or pale pink, although they may have a yellow flare
Rhododendron calendulaceum (Flame Azalea)
- These are found growing in the mountainous areas of the southeastern part of the country
- An azalea plant with vivid yellow, orange or red flower but unlike the other Azaleas native to North America, it has no fragrance
Causes of Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
The toxicity of the Azalea lies in the neurotoxin that it contains, called grayanotoxin. The toxin is located in the leaves, petals and even pollen of the Azalea bush. The grayanotoxin contained in the Azalea plant has properties that closely resemble turpentine and will cause some burning in the mouth when it is chewed. Once inside the body this chemical binds to the sodium channels in the cell membranes, which disrupts the natural electrical current present in the cells preventing them from returning to their normal state. This reaction leaves the cells in a permanently excited state.
Diagnosis of Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
If you see your pet consuming any part of the Azalea bush, identification is often all that is required for diagnosing the origin of your dog’s distress. A sample of the plant that was consumed will assist in confirming that diagnosis and a biochemistry profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis are likely to be completed at this time as well as a full physical examination. If the ingestion of the plant was not witnessed, your veterinarian will take special note of any opportunistic eating that was witnessed or suspected, in addition to any concurrent prescriptions or supplements that your dog is taking in an attempt to reveal toxins or drug interactions that may be the cause of the symptoms. In some cases, honey can become infused with pollen that bees have gathered either from Azaleas or their close relatives, Rhododendron, and your pet may be affected if they consume any of this “mad honey”.
Treatment of Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
Preliminary treatment will depend on how long it has been since the flower was ingested and if any symptoms have commenced, but in most cases your dog will be admitted to the veterinary hospital for treatment right away. If the Azalea plant was consumed recently and if there are no symptoms showing as of yet, vomiting will most likely be induced to prevent the absorption of the grayanotoxin into the bloodstream. Activated charcoal will also be will be given to the patient in an attempt to soak up as much of the toxin as possible. If it has been a longer period of time, the veterinarian may choose to perform a gastric lavage under general anesthetic and to remove as much toxin from the patient’s stomach as possible. The supportive treatment is likely to include IV fluids for dehydration and combinations of electrolytes and sugars to adjust for any imbalances. Respiratory support may be needed and atropine may also be required if the canine’s heart rate drops below 40-50 beats per minute.
Recovery of Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
Recovery from mild Azalea poisoning is usually within about 24 hours, however, larger doses or extreme reactions may extend the recovery time. Ensuring that the recovering patient has a quiet and calm environment to return home to will help speed recovery. Plenty of fresh water should be made available and extra bathroom breaks should be expected as toxins and medications make their way through the digestive system. Patients that are recovering from anesthesia for gastric lavage may also have coordination difficulties when they first get home, and they are often confused and disoriented. Isolation from other pets and from children is generally advised until the medication has fully cleared your companion’s system. Your veterinarian may recommend more frequent monitoring of your pet’s blood chemistry levels, particularly in relation to kidney and liver functionality or impairment.
Azalea Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My dog got a azalea tree while I was gone. He chewed more than ate. Looks like most of it is there. It was a small tree and he is a 65 lb husky. His poop was solid and he is eating and drinking normal. Is there anything I should watch for?
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Our English Bulldog puppy recently got ahold of azalea plants. We have no idea of the quantity he may have consumed. The only symptoms he is presenting is diahrrea, besides that he is acting like his normal happy self. What would be the best course of action for him? Is there anything that we can get to help him through this time?
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Dog suddenly passed away.
Hi, My French Bulldog recently passed away, he started with symptoms of being lethargic and digging a lot of holes, Unsure if he was digging them to lay in to cool down? He's not usually a digger.. He then hid behind a bush and didn't want to come out. a few hours later he was completely paralysed with only his eyes open and breathing. We took him to the vet who put him on I.V fluids. The vet said he's gums were fine and faeces looked ok. His pupils were not responding to light and he did not respond to any touch. The vet was unsure what the issue was. He passed away overnight. Again the vet was unsure of what the issue was which is very hard to deal with not knowing why our boy passed on.
Can you please give me an idea of the possibilities? all signs I've googled point to paralysis tick however the vet said it doesn't look like that? We also have an Azalea plant in our back yard which is just starting to bloom. Can this be a cause? I noticed on the concrete a dog vomit patch which had a tinge of red in it.. Could have been blood?
Any advice you can give would be appreciated.
The symptoms you describe are quite vague as they correlate to hundreds of possible causes; however, with the quick onset of symptoms and short timeline I would guess that poisoning is a strong cause as most causes of death (like infections or internal disease) normally take days to show symptoms. Azalea poisoning normally presents with gastrointestinal signs (drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea) and neurological signs (tremors, seizures and depression) along with cardiac symptoms in severe cases; the behavioural symptoms of digging and hiding don’t exactly correlate to the symptoms but may occur. If you are looking for concrete answers. I would recommend you ask your Veterinarian for a toxicology report to test for poisoning as the azaleas may have been the cause; however, gardens may also harbour various nasty things from previous occupants and there may be a hidden danger in your garden so I would recommend having the toxicology done to be on the safe side. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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I believe my pup may have azalea poisoning. We have large azalea bushes in our yard that she goes into, and eats grass around the bushes, and has eaten branches before. This is the second time in 2 months that she has had issues with vomiting and diaherra without a known cause. Is it safe to give her activated charcoal to help? We are on a tight budget and not sure we can afford traditional treatment. She's a 40lb pit/lab mix thats about 10mo old.
Firstly, if Frankie keeps eating the azalea bush either fence it off or have it removed to prevent future episodes. You can give her activated charcoal, but if ingestion was more than six hours ago it may not be effective; the main goal is to keep her hydrated and to monitor her heart rate (normally 70-120), if the heart rate decreases you will need to visit an Emergency Veterinarian, but regardless of cost I would recommend visiting your Veterinarian anyway to be on the safeside. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
Hi Dr Turner,
My French Bulldog recently passed away. His symptoms started with being lethargic and digging a lot of holes in the backyard (hes not a digger) after a few hours he was completely paralysed however had his eyes open and was breathing so we rushed him to the vet. Unfortunately he passed away overnight and the vet cannot give us a reason, only if we had an autopsy done which is very costly. We have a Azelea bush in our back yard and the flowers are just starting to bloom which makes them look like little beads. Could this be the cause? I am looking for answers.
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