What is White Heads Poisoning?
The white heads plant can be found in a variety of landscapes and commonly on the west coast of North America. If your dog ingests the white head plant, he may develop symptoms of toxicity that are not very common. If you witnessed your dog eating the plant before his symptoms developed, inform your veterinarian. There are not many plants in the horticulture world that cause these symptoms which allows for quicker identification of the toxin. If you seek the proper medical attention for your dog, his prognosis of a full recovery is good.
The white heads plant looks like the name sounds, the blossoms are at the top of stems in a white sphere shape with a woolly texture. If your dog ingests this plant, he may develop toxicity or sensitivity to the sun. Call your veterinarian.
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Symptoms of White Heads Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms of white head poisoning may vary in each toxicity case. Symptoms may include:
- Lack of appetite
- Ocular damage
- Itchy skin
- Skin redness/irritation
- Photosensitization which can lead to ulcerative dermatitis and exudative dermatitis
The white heads have purplish or white petals on a sphere like head. This plant can be found along streams, swampy areas, meadows, and along the west coast region. White heads belong to the Apiaceae family with the scientific name of Sphenosciadium capitellatum. It is also commonly known as Ranger’s button or woollyhead parsnip. It has a unique appearance of spherical wooly blossoms at the top of the stems.
Causes of White Heads Poisoning in Dogs
White heads contain the toxin known as furanocoumarins. Scientists believe plants produce furanocoumarins for disease resistance within the plant world. This plant has a photodynamic agent which can cause your dog to possibly develop photosensitization when ingested. This property of the white heads, plus exposure to UV light, causes the phytophotodermatitis.
Diagnosis of White Heads Poisoning in Dogs
When you take your dog to the veterinarian, she will begin by performing a physical exam. Giving your dog a thorough exam before any therapies are started will give the veterinarian a proper assessment of his vitals and symptoms upon his arrival at the clinic. Lab work may be performed to provide the veterinarian with a broad look at how the organs are filtering toxin from the blood and his hydration status. A complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel, and packed cell volume (PCV) will be performed. A urinalysis may also be performed for further assessment of the kidneys and to check the urine for any type of sediment or abnormalities.
Depending on the appearance of your dog’s skin, the veterinarian may take a skin scraping sample. This will allow her to look at it under the microscope and will be able to check for a bacterial infection or external parasites. If there is any type of ulceration, she will inspect it closely for any clue as to what may have caused it, and to check for possible infection.
For diagnosis of your dog’s eye condition, the veterinarian may perform a fluorescein staining to check for ulceration on the eye itself. She may also perform a schirmer tear test to check tear production and to rule out or confirm dry eye.
Other diagnostics will have to be on a rule-out basis. The symptoms of the ingestion of white heads are not typical toxicity symptoms. If you know your dog ate a plant before developing these symptoms, mention it to the veterinarian. She may be able to identify the toxin quicker since not many plants cause these symptoms. If you are unsure what the flower is but witnessed your dog ingesting it, take it with you to the veterinarian’s office. This will allow the veterinary team to verify the toxin before putting a treatment plan in place.
Treatment of White Heads Poisoning in Dogs
Fluid therapy will be started immediately to flush the toxin from your dog’s body as quickly and efficiently as possible. If your dog ingested the white heads plant relatively recently, your veterinarian may induce vomiting to expel any remaining plant particles from his stomach. If this is unsuccessful at producing any plant remnants, she may decide to administer activated charcoal to bind and absorb any remaining toxin before his body does, or she may want to completely flush his stomach.
If your dog is experiencing exudative ulceration his skin will be exuding fluids which could possibly contribute to dehydration. The fluid therapy will prevent him from becoming dehydrated due to that symptom alone. Depending on the condition of his skin, the veterinarian may clip and clean any areas where ulcers have developed. She may apply a medicated ointment or cream to assist with healing, to treat and prevent any infection, and to help with itching. She may prescribe an oral medication to help decrease the irritation and itching as well.
If your dog’s eyes are affected in any way, she may prescribe eye drops or ointment. She may also have to send you home with a cone for your dog to wear so he does not rub his eye on objects or with his paw.
If your dog is experiencing a lack of appetite, the veterinarian will administer an appetite stimulant to get your dog eating again. This will help him keep his strength and his immune system strong as he fights the toxin in his body.
Recovery of White Heads Poisoning in Dogs
Toxicity of white heads poisoning in dogs is typically considered mild to moderate, but sometimes can be severe. If your dog has any eye related symptoms, they need to be addressed immediately. Eye health can deteriorate very quickly so veterinary attention is imperative. Also, if your dog already had an existing health problem or skin condition prior to ingesting white heads, his reaction to the toxin may be more severe and require more treatment than the average patient. If your dog was healthy prior to ingestion of the plant, he will likely recover well with the assistance of supportive therapies.
As your dog begins to recover, you will need to keep him out of the sun as much as possible until the toxin leaves his body. If he is exposed to UV light too much with the toxin still in his system, his condition will continue to worsen. The veterinarian may want to keep your dog in the hospital overnight or for a couple days until he begins to recover. This will allow the veterinarian to keep an eye on him and his condition and allow her to take immediate action if necessary.