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What Happens if My Dog Eats Rhododendron?

What Happens if My Dog Eats Rhododendron?

Critter Culture Staff



Whether native or planted, rhododendrons are a dominant fixture of many spring and summer landscapes. Growing in the form of shrubs or small trees, they're a prominent presence that certainly draws attention. Unfortunately, your curious pooch could be lured by this attractive size and want to take a nibble of this plant. Preventing your dog from eating rhododendron could mean the difference between life and death.


What are rhododendrons?

Pink rhododendron flowers in bloom Simon McGill / Getty Images

Part of a large family, rhododendrons are found throughout the world. A common type of woody plant, they have existed for centuries. Known for bright clusters of flowers, they're a perennial bloom that captivates audiences. Sizes dramatically differ based on the type, with some plants growing up to 100 feet tall and others maxing out at around four inches.


Threat of toxicity

yellow Labrador Retriever dog posing outdoors in blooming rhododendron bushes with pink flowers Eudyptula / Getty Images

There is a high threat of toxicity in rhododendrons if consumed. This rings true for every part of the plant. Not only are the harmful chemicals worse for pets than in many other flowers, but rhododendrons stick around all year long.

Some plants are deciduous, while others are evergreen. The evergreens don't lose their leaves, so the potential threat to munch is always clear and present. But even the deciduous varieties remain year-round, and their branches are also toxic.


The dangers of grayanotoxin

dog holding red rhododendron flower in its mouth Eudyptula / Getty Images

Grayanotoxin is the natural compound responsible for the rhododendron's toxicity. Most of the over-750 varieties of rhododendron contain grayanotoxin, though not all of these share the same toxicity levels. Only a fraction of this number includes plants with a high grayanotoxin concentration. And while a human can usually withstand a mild toxic interaction with ease, animals are quite different.


What are the symptoms of poisoning?

Dog with teddy bears in his arm Sonja Rachbauer / Getty Images

For a mild case of rhododendron poisoning, a dog will experience stomach issues. Vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, lethargy, pain, drooling, and loss of appetite are common. More moderate symptoms include depression, tremors, cardiac abnormalities, low blood pressure, and lack of coordination. This all depends on the amount ingested and the animal's size.


Mad honey disease

Honey dripping from spoon in the cup Olga Trishina / Getty Images

Though seldom, grayanotoxin leads to something termed "mad honey disease," which is a rare reaction. This has nothing to do with consuming the actual plant. Rather, it's from honey made from rhododendron pollen. It can cause altered states and hallucinations and sometimes results in death.

In some cultures, rhododendrons have been cultivated for their hallucinogenic properties for centuries. This "mad honey" is intentionally produced not only for recreational or ceremonial purposes but for its medicinal effect. To this day, medicinal forms of rhododendron extracts are sold worldwide. Never give your dog a homeopathic remedy made from rhododendron. Even in a refined state, it's still toxic.


The potential for a fatal outcome

dog falling asleep JaneFaizullin / Getty Images

If not treated early, even a mild case of rhododendron poisoning can become deadly. Smaller pups or high ingestion amounts are the primary causes of possible fatalities. Symptoms will worsen as the dog's health declines. Blindness, leg paralysis, seizures, and system failure could occur. Eventually, the animal lapses into a coma before death.


Seek medical intervention

sick dog in the veterinary hospital. chinaface / Getty Images

Call your vet or an emergency animal hospital immediately if your dog ingests rhododendron. If possible, take the consumed part of the plant with you so the medical staff can get a rough estimate of how much your pet ate. Even simply snapping a photo of it will help.

There's a high chance that if the visit happens quickly enough, the vet will use activated charcoal or induce vomiting to rid the body of toxins. IV fluids are also an option to combat dehydration due to some of the symptoms. The remaining treatment depends on the severity of the toxicity. Vets take rhododendron poisoning on a case-by-case basis. The animal could be fine in a few hours, benefit from a hospital stay, or require other courses of action.


What if you already have rhododendron?

Dog looks over the garden fence Jan-Schneckenhaus / Getty Images

It's not the end of the world if your landscape has rhododendron. Sure, you might be inclined to get rid of it to ensure your dog's safety. While this is a great idea, not everyone prefers this option.

If you add protective fencing or netting that your dog can't bypass, this will avoid the potential for harm. But it's imperative that this construction is solid and won't be torn down by an overzealous pooch. Labs will be especially curious due to their indiscriminate appetite. Also, puppies are naturally curious, and with their small size, there's a higher chance they could ingest a fatal amount of the plant.


Great rhododendron alternatives

Woman pruning magnolia tree branches in her garden with her dog beside her Halfpoint / Getty Images

If you decide that lining your landscape with rhododendrons isn't in your pup's best interest, you don't have to sacrifice a beautiful lawn and garden design. There are a number of flowers that can beautify your home's exterior without harming your dog.

Magnolia bushes, sunflowers, and roses will add a sizeable draw to your land. If you want to keep things smaller, then marigolds, orchids, snapdragons, nasturtium, and fuchsias are wonderful options. Just remember that even though these are pet-friendly alternatives, eating too much of anything can cause a bellyache. Don't let your pooch overindulge on any plant.


Rhododendron relatives

Fresh organic blueberrys on the bush Eike Leppert / Getty Images

If you decide to substitute your rhododendron with another option, make sure to stay away from any flowers in its family. They contain the same or similar toxins to rhododendrons. The two primary offenders are azalea and mountain laurel, which are close relatives.

Oddly enough, blueberries and cranberries are okay for dogs to eat in moderation. They're also members of the rhododendron clan. Huckleberries are too, but it's best to steer clear of them because a dog's system may not agree with the seeds.


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