Giant Hogweeed

Beware of the Giant Hogweed!

giant-hogweed1It sounds like it may belong in a kid’s story book, but this nuisance plant has been causing problems for children over the past few weeks, but were you aware if can also affect your dog, with its menacing touch?

What is Giant Hogweed?

To give it its botanical name, Heracleum Maximum , sometimes known as cow parsnip, Giant Hogweed is a member of the carrot family, and a relative of cow parsley. It can grow up to 6 metres tall, is a hairy biennial plant which has white umbrella-like, flower clusters and dark green leaves, sometimes 1-3 feet in diameter. It’s mostly found growing along riverbanks and footpaths, but can also be found in cemeteries and parks and along common routes for dog walkers. It has a reputation as being the most dangerous plant in Britain.

Why is it so dangerous?

Toxic components can be found in the seeds, flowers, roots, stems and leaves. A brush on the skin by the leaves can cause significant blistering to the skin, and should the clear, watery sap come into contact with skin, it will cause severe burns. As well as being toxic to humans, it can also cause immense harm and reaction to dogs, cats and horses. Dog’s faces and noses are especially at risk, with the skin around these areas being very sensitive. If the sap makes contact with the dog’s eyes, this may cause temporary or possibly permanent blindness. Ingestion of the seeds can be intensely dangerous to animals.

If your dog comes into contact with the Giant Hogweed plant

The hairy coat of your dog should provide some protection, but areas such as the ears, muzzle and nose can be worst affected.

If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to the sap from the giant hogweed plant, cover the area affected and keep out of the sunlight. The sap is phototoxic and if exposed to sunlight will cause blisters and burns. Ensure that you wear protective gloves and immediately wash your hands after handling your dog. Take your dog for immediate medical attention from the Vet.

Treatment required

Unfortunately, at present there is no specific antidote to the chemicals produced by the sap but the resulting blisters can be very painful, so it’s essential to give your dog some pain relief. As the blisters develop, they can become prone to infection, so the Vet will very often prescribe antibiotics to prevent the risk of a secondary infection.

The prognosis for dogs that receive treatment is good and the majority will recover in days, although any scarring on the nose and ears could well remain, and of course in some cases, damage to the eyes and lasting blindness may result.

There are several plants that dog owners will already know to be on the lookout for, such as lilies, bulbs and foxgloves, but giant hogweed could be pretty low on some people’s radar. It is important to be able to identify this toxic plant when out walking in the countryside.