What is Baneberry Poisoning?
Baneberry refers to plants in the Actaea genus. These species are part of the Ranunculaceae family which also includes buttercups. Several species of Baneberry grow wild in North America and another is indigenous to Europe. The plants have compound leaves with toothed edges and berries that are known for their toxicity (hence the name which comes from Old Norse “bani” meaning slayer). Baneberry can have red or white berries marked by a small or large black dot, depending on the species. As few as six berries can be fatal to humans; the lethal dose for dogs is generally less, but this will depend on the size of your dog.
Despite the berries’ toxicity, fatalities are rare, since they also have an unpleasant bitter taste and a high degree of acidity which cause immediate irritation to the mouth and throat when swallowed. Toxicity is caused by the glucoside, ranunculin, which is found in all members of the buttercup family. Upon digestion, or even maceration, the ranunculin molecule will break down into its components, glucose and the toxic chemical protoanemonin. Protoanemonin causes burning and redness when it comes in contact with the skin and down the length of the gastrointestinal tract if it is ingested. The first signs are erythema and blistering in and around the mouth, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In high doses, toxic glucosides can cause cardiac arrest, but this happens only rarely. The roots of the plant were used by Native American as an antidote for menstrual cramps however they can also be toxic if improperly prepared. Dogs that ingest a large amount of any part of the Baneberry plant should have immediate veterinary treatment.
Baneberry is a wildflower found in North America and other temperate climates. It is known for its toxic berries which can be glossy red or white. Ingestion of only a few berries can cause fatal baneberry poisoning.
Symptoms of Baneberry Poisoning in Dogs
These symptoms could indicate your dog has eaten Baneberry.
- Skin irritation
- Signs of pain or burning in the mouth (pawing at the face or mouth)
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Neurovascular and cardiovascular signs (rare)
These the most common species of Baneberry.
Actaea rubra (Red Baneberry, Red Cohosh, Bugbane)
- Found in North America
- Characterized by red glossy berries with a small dot at one end
- The berries can also occasionally be white
Actaea pachypoda (White Baneberry, Doll’s Eyes, White Cohosh)
- Found in North America
- Characterized by white berries with a large black dot
- The name Doll’s Eyes comes from the appearance of the berries
Actaea racemosa (Black Cohosh, Black Bugbane)
- The species used most commonly for medicinal purposes
Actaea spicata (Baneberry, Herb Christopher)
- Native to Europe
Causes of Baneberry Poisoning in Dogs
Several factors could make Bayberry poisoning more likely.
- Dogs that spend a lot of time outside or in the woods
- Dogs with indiscriminate eating habits
- Feeding a herbal supplement intended for humans to a dog
Diagnosis of Baneberry Poisoning in Dogs
If you know your dog ingested Baneberry this will make diagnosis easier. Vomiting and diarrhea can be associated with many different types of toxicity, however, irritation of the muzzle may help to suggest Baneberry. Remnants of the berries may also be left in your dog’s mouth or teeth. The veterinarian may analyze a sample of vomit or stomach contents if the source of poisoning is unknown. Blood and urine tests can help to illuminate infection or other toxicities as a cause. You should let the veterinarian know if your dog spends a lot of time out of doors or in the woods since this will make Baneberry poisoning more likely.
Treatment of Baneberry Poisoning in Dogs
If you know you dog has ingested Baneberry, you should call your veterinarian or a poison hotline for advice. If crushed Baneberry has come in contact with the skin it should be gently removed with soap and water to reduce further irritation. Don’t induce vomiting unless it is recommended by a professional as some toxins will cause more damage to the esophageal tract during emesis. Get in-person veterinary treatment as soon as possible.
If poisoning was recent, the veterinarian may use emetic medication to induce vomiting or gastric lavage to clean out the stomach under anesthetic. Cathartic medication can help facilitate toxin excretion through bowel movements. Other medications may be prescribed to protect the gastrointestinal tract and reduce toxicity. If poisoning was very severe, the veterinarian may need to stabilize the heart rhythm and reduce the chance of cardiac arrest.
Recovery of Baneberry Poisoning in Dogs
Most instances of Baneberry poisoning are mild, due to the acidity and unpleasant taste of the berries which is a deterrent to ingesting more than a mouthful. Dogs that bite into a single berry or get the juice on their skin will typically recover without incident. Ingestion of a large amount could cause fatal complications but this is rare.
The best way to manage the condition is to train your dog to avoid eating plants of any kind. This will protect flowers in your garden and also help to reduce the chance of exposure to a variety of toxicities. Contact with Baneberry can also be limited by reducing the amount of time your dog spends alone in the woods. It’s a good idea to also teach children to recognize and avoid Baneberry since most poisoning incidents in humans are related to children.