Travis County

'She was our baby': Owner warns of dangerous plant after dog's death

LAKEWAY, Texas (KXAN) — A Lakeway dog owner and her family are heartbroken after losing their pitbull-boxer mix because they think she ate the leaf of a sago palm tree. Her greatest devastation: she had no idea the plants were poisonous to dogs. 

"My dog was healthy and happy and in three days she was gone," said Beth Yost. She and her family moved from Virginia to her now Lakeway home back in January.

When they first moved in she said they noticed the sago palm tree plants in the yard but she thought nothing of it. Her dogs, Athena and Diesel, would often play in their backyard around the plants and had no problem. 

"My dogs had always loved tearing into plants and we were able to border off the rest of the plants in our yard but we figured, two trees, whatever," she said. But this time, she noticed something different since the morning she had brought Athena inside her home on Wednesday. 

"She was very tired and she seemed almost kind of like depressed and she wouldn't eat any food," Yost said. She got in touch with her veterinarian the following day, and when she woke up the next morning, Athena still wasn't herself, so she rushed her to the vet.

"They took some blood tests and they said, 'do you have a sago palm' and was like 'yeah, what's the matter,' they said, 'they're poisonous for dogs' and they said 'we need to take emergency treatment so they took her back right away.'"

They put Athena on opiate pain medication and hydrated her because doctors told Yost her liver was failing. The worst part, she said she did not know the trees were so harmful to dogs, and experts tell KXAN that is not uncommon. 

"Often the exposure to the plant is because of lack of knowledge," said Lindsay Vaughn, who is the hospital director at Austin Veterinary Emergency and Specialty.

Everything from the roots to the dead leaves can be poisonous to dogs. Some pet owners have even reported their dogs getting sick from water they drank that was standing near the plants. 

Some symptoms exposure to the plant can cause include stomach wall irritation, which leads to gastritis and inflammation. When the plant is metabolized, Vaughn said it can recirculate through the liver over and over, which just makes the toxicity of the plant keep circulating through the dog's body.

"As a veterinarian it's really challenging because the effects of the sago palm are very toxic and unfortunately it happens a lot," she said. "We recommend removing them from your yard and making sure that the landscaper removes all parts of it and gets the roots out as well."

That is exactly what Yost did to make sure her other dog Diesel would be ok playing in their yard. Still, one of the questions Yost has stuck in her mind is how this could have happened. She said she asked her landscaper if he knew about the dangers of the palm, and he said no. She even posted in her neighborhood Facebook page, and many people were commenting about them not knowing either.

That is why she wants to warn other dog owners.

"If we had known, those trees wouldn't have been in my yard for a second," Yost said.  

If you're unsure about the possible dangers a plant can pose to your pets, you can call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435, or visit their website to look through a list of toxic and non-toxic plants.

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