What is Privet Poisoning?
Privet is a genus of shrubby, evergreen plants indigenous to Europe and parts of Asia. Most species produce white flowers followed by small black berry-shaped fruit. Common privet, Ligustrum vulgare, is native to Europe and was the first plant to be called by this name as far back as the Roman naturalist and philosopher, Pliny the Elder. It was a popular hedge plant in Elizabethan England, but was later supplanted by a species from Japan, Oval leaf privet (L. ovalifolium), which remains more strongly evergreen in the winter. Other types of Asian privet have been introduced as ornamental garden plants in North America, and many have been designated invasive species in the southern US.
Privet berries are poisonous for dogs as well as humans and the leaves can be even more toxic in large quantities. Toxicity is due to the presence of terpenoid glycosides. Symptoms are typically limited to gastrointestinal upset with vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, but large doses can raise the heartrate and make dogs weak and uncoordinated. Fatal poisoning is possible, but rare since dogs don’t usually consume leaves and berries in large quantities. It’s a good idea to get treatment if more than a few privet leaves or berries have been ingested.
Privet is an evergreen shrub that is commonly grown as a garden hedge plant. All parts of the plant are toxic to dogs in large doses. Symptoms are usually limited to gastrointestinal upset, but fatalities are possible with large doses.
Symptoms of Privet Poisoning in Dogs
These are the symptoms you will see if your dog eats privet.
- Poor appetite (anorexia)
- Lack of coordination
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
- Increased respiration (tachypnea)
These are the most common types of privet found in North America. Toxicity is best documented with L. vulgare and L. ovalifolium.
- Ligustrum vulgare (common or European privet) grows wild in Europe but is also cultivated as a garden hedge plant
- Ligustrum ovalifolium (oval leaf privet, California privet, garden privet) is a Japanese variety, the most common species used for ornamental hedges
- Ligustrum sinense (Chinese privet) was introduced as a hedge plant in North America, now listed as an invasive species in many southern states
- Ligustrum japonicum (Japanese privet) is also grown as a hedge plant
- Ligustrum quihoui (waxy leaved privet) is native to Korea and China but naturalized in the southern United States where it has become an invasive species
Causes of Privet Poisoning in Dogs
These are some of the risk factors for privet poisoning.
- Privet hedge in your garden can be easily accessed by your pet
- Privet growing wild around your house or where you walk your dog may present an opportunity for consumption
- Dogs that like to eat berries cannot differentiate between poisonous and non-poisonous
- Dogs that like to chew on leaves and greenery may ingest significant amounts leading to toxicity
- Small dogs cannot easily process the toxins through the body
Diagnosis of Privet Poisoning in Dogs
Privet poisoning is usually diagnosed because the owner saw their dog eat this plant. Finding remnants of berries or leaves in the mouth can also be a helpful indication. Symptoms of toxicity are not very specific, but this is a good plant to consider if your dog is vomiting or showing other signs of poisoning.
Call an emergency veterinary clinic or a poison helpline if your dog has eaten privet. Be ready with as much information as you have about the plant, as well as the size and weight of your dog, and your best estimate as to how much was ingested. It’s a good idea to get in-office treatment if a large amount was eaten, especially if your dog has not yet vomited the plant material.
Treatment of Privet Poisoning in Dogs
For immediate treatment, rinse your dog’s mouth with milk or water and try to encourage him to eat some food or to drink fluids. If your dog vomits, this will help to reduce absorption, but don’t actively induce emesis unless recommended by a professional. Some toxic substances can cause re-exposure when they are vomited.
Veterinary treatment will include inducing emesis or even gastric lavage under anesthesia in severe cases. Activated charcoal may be given to limit the availability of toxic terpenoids in the stomach. Cathartic medication will also help to move the plant material through the system faster and further reduce absorption. Other symptoms will be treated as needed. Intravenous fluids may be necessary for dehydrated dogs. Weakness and lack of coordination may be treated medically. Heart medication and additional oxygen may be necessary to stabilize heart rate and respiration.
Recovery of Privet Poisoning in Dogs
Most dogs recover from privet poisoning with no further adverse effects. Life-threatening symptoms are limited to large doses or very small dogs, and most are treatable with prompt veterinary attention. Your dog’s exact prognosis can be best assessed by a professional.
Re-exposure will be a problem if your dog continues to eat berries or leaves from the privet plant. Some dogs may learn to avoid the plant after one negative experience, but others will fail to make this association. Plant non-toxic grasses and encourage your dog to eat these rather than the privet hedge. If privet poisoning is a frequent problem, consider replacing the hedge with something that is safer for your dog.