We have all heard stories about giant hogweed, and how dangerous it can be, but just what exactly is it, how hazardous is it, what are the threats to our beloved four legged friends, and how can it be identified so we can keep ourselves and our pups at a safe distance?
What is Giant Hogweed?
Giant hogweed, sometimes also known as cow parsnip, is a plant that grows wildly, and gets quite large in size, with the plant growing to well over six feet tall, and has large white flowers that appear either rounded or flat topped. The plant is in fact toxic due to the nitrates and furanocoumarins it contains. Although the entire plant is poisonous, the seeds are especially dangerous to almost anything that comes in contact with the species, especially livestock, companion animals such as dogs, and even humans. Photosensitisation is what makes giant hogweed such a threat to dogs, and is a clinical condition in which areas exposed to light that are lacking protection, become hyperactive to sunlight because of the photodynamic agents that are present.
Injury occurs not only when ingested, but when the plant’s sap comes into contact with skin or fur. Symptoms include extreme blistering and burning that is extremely painful, as well as wrinkling, cracking and discolouration of the skin. More extreme conditions caused by giant hogweed include extensive scarring and even blindness, with animals specifically being at risk for suffering from permanent scarring of the eyes and cloudiness of the corneas, both of which can result in permanent blindness.
If the pet owner is lucky enough to know for sure their dog has eaten giant hogweed the can react quickly and ideally take steps immediately to reduce the effects of the plant. Start by ensuring there is no remaining plant matter in the mouth, and by thoroughly washing the skin and fur to make sure so sap lingers. It is advisable to induce vomiting by administering a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide. Be sure to keep the animal out of the sunlight, and get your pooch to the vet immediately.
Your vet will provide any necessary treatments, such as activated charcoal, gastric lavage, wound treatments and corticosteroids as needed. Although the prognosis for animals who have been exposed to giant hogweed is fairly good a full recovery could take anywhere from days to weeks, and may have permanent effects such as blindness and residual scarring.