What is Lily of the Valley Poisoning?
Lily of the valley is a perennial flowering plant that spreads underground like other bulb-type flowers such as the tulip and daffodil. They are about two feet tall when fully grown with dozens of sweet-smelling, bell-shaped flowers and berries (fruit) in the late spring and summer. The lily of the valley is a toxic plant that needs to be treated like any other poisonous substance around pets and children because it can be fatal to whoever consumes any part of the plant, roots, flowers, or berries within hours if treatment is not given right away.
The lily of the valley is not a true lily, but it is one of the more dangerous flowers that are commonly recognized as a lily because of its name. These beautiful flowering plants have tiny bell-shaped flowers and although they are not the cause of kidney damage, such as with other lilies, they can still be lethal. The whole plant has toxic levels of cardiac glycosides, but the bulbs (roots) are the most dangerous, causing serious life-threatening symptoms within hours of consumption. Almost 40 different cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) have been isolated within the lily of the valley. As if that is not bad enough, this lily also contains saponins, which are other properties that are toxic to dogs, cats, and children if they are eaten.
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Symptoms of Lily of the Valley Poisoning in Dogs
Depending on the part of the flower or plant eaten and amount consumed, the symptoms can vary a great deal. In some cases, just eating one bulb can cause serious cardiac abnormalities, such as with a small or older dog. In fact, once you start noticing serious symptoms in your dog, it may be too late to get help. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Abnormal heart rate
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Decreased heart rate
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden death
- Unsteady gait
The lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) originated in Europe, but it has since been cultivated to be grown in the United States, especially in the eastern states, such as Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Virginia. While there are many types of lily of the valley species, the most common in the United States are:
- C. majalis Albostriata
- C. majalis Berlin Giant
- C. majalis Green Tapestry
- C. majalis Rosea
- C. majalis Flore Pleno
Causes of Lily of the Valley Poisoning in Dogs
The causes of lily of the valley poisoning are cardiac glycosides and saponins. Close to 40 cardiac glycosides (cardenolides) have been found in the lily of the valley. These compounds can cause serious heart abnormalities.
Diagnosis of Lily of the Valley Poisoning in Dogs
Bring a piece of the plant to show the veterinarian and relay details about how long ago it happened, how much and what part of the plant your dog ate. In addition, let them know what symptoms your dog has shown, if any. Bring your dog’s medical history including age, breed, health problems, injuries, medications, and vaccination records. A thorough examination will be done including physical appearance, heart rate, respirations, blood oxygen level, body temperature, blood pressure, breath sounds, reflexes, weight, and inspection of the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
Laboratory tests needed for diagnosis are a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, electrolyte levels, and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels. A urinalysis can show your dog’s specific gravity and glucose levels. Many of your dog’s levels will be increased in the case of lily of the valley poisoning including creatinine, calcium, magnesium, potassium, glucose, and protein. Additionally, x-rays, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI may be needed to determine if there is any internal damage. There are specific blood tests available to detect the cardiac glycosides, but they are very expensive and not that reliable.
Treatment of Lily of the Valley Poisoning in Dogs
With lily of the valley poisoning, causing your dog to vomit with a peroxide solution is not recommended because it is so rapidly absorbed. However, clearing the stomach of remaining plant particles with a gastric lavage may be done along with activated charcoal to absorb any remaining toxins
Supportive treatment includes intravenous (IV) fluids and electrolytes for dehydration and oxygen as needed. Medication for arrhythmia, such as lidocaine or atropine, can also be administered to return the heart rate to normal.
Recovery of Lily of the Valley Poisoning in Dogs
You can expect your dog to be back to normal within a few days if treatment was done within the first several hours of symptoms. Make sure your dog has a peaceful place to rest at home away from any stress, such as small children or other pets. Your dog may be disoriented for a while if anesthesia was used during treatment. However, if you have any questions or concerns, call your veterinarian.
Lily of the Valley Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My 45 pound Aussie mix ate 1 or 2 bites of Lilly of the valley leaves. I had just taken her on an off leash walk in the woods. She must have eaten something in the woods that made her sick because when I got home she started eating grass, ferns, and a bite maybe two of Lilly of the valley in my back yard. No symptoms yet from the lily of the valley 30 minutes later. She had a stomach ache before she ate the Lilly of the valley.
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My dog ingested a few crabapple and Lilly of the valley berries. Unknown amount. He's 5 months old and had no symptoms. Normal appetite, normal feces, normal urine, normal energy
Lily of the valley poisoning can be very severe and may lead to death as it contains compound which affect heart function; crab apple seeds (like normal apples) contain cyanide which may also lead to death. If ingestion was in the last two hours or so I would recommend inducing vomiting immediately with 3% hydrogen peroxide before visiting your Veterinarian, if you do not have any hydrogen peroxide just visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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