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Dogs and Wild Mushrooms Don’t Mix
Poisonous species are more common than you might think.
Donato will be missed but maybe his experience will save other dogs.

I remember the sad sinking feeling I experienced last August as I read an email from my friend Diana Gerba. Seeing her email in my inbox initially prompted excitement—oh goodie, more photos and stories about Donato, Diana’s adorable Bernese Mountain Dog. My excitement quickly morphed into utter disbelief as Diana described the death of her barely six-month-old pup caused by ingestion of a poisonous mushroom.      

Diana’s heart was broken. As she wrote in her email:    

“A special boy, Donato was a silver tipped puppy, a rarity in our breed. With his tail always wagging, he had boundless enthusiasm for life. He was a happy little chap and was my joy. He loved me and I him. We were a team ordained by the stars.”

Every region of the country is different in terms of mushroom flora. Where I live in northern California, Amanita phalloides (aka Death Cap) is the most common poisonous species and grows year round particularly in soil surrounding oak trees. Ingestion of a Death Cap mushroom causes liver failure (in people and in dogs)—makes sense given the liver’s function as the “garbage disposal” of the body.
Symptoms typically include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, delayed blood clotting, and neurological abnormalities. Every year at my busy hospital, we see at least a handful of dogs with liver failure clearly caused by mushroom ingestion. In spite our very best efforts, the individuals who survive mushroom poisoning are few and far between. Affected people can receive a liver transplant; no such technology available (yet) for dogs.      
To learn more about poisonous mushrooms, visit the North American Mycological Association and Bay Area Mycological Society websites. If you suspect your dog has ingested a mushroom get to your veterinary clinic or the closest emergency care facility immediately (choose whichever is most quickly accessible). If possible, take along a sample of the mushroom so it can be professionally identified if need be.   


Fortunately, my friend Diana has managed to put a positive spin on the loss of her beloved Donato. Not only does she have Tesoro, a new little Berner boy in her life, she has made it her personal mission to warn people about the potential hazards of mushroom toxicity in dogs. She created an educational flyer (feel free to download and post it wherever dog-loving people congregate.) Diana sent a blast email out just a few days ago after finding a Death Cap mushroom in her yard. Coincidentally, today I discovered several mushrooms on my property while beginning the task of weeding my garden. They’re gone now, but given our current weather pattern, I’m quite sure there will be more tomorrow.    
What can you do to prevent your dog from ingesting a poisonous mushroom? Clear any mushrooms from your dog’s immediate surroundings, and be super vigilant on your walks, particularly if you have a pup (youngsters love to put anything and everything in their mouths) or an adult dog who is a known indiscriminate eater. 
Learn more about which poisonous mushrooms grow in your area and what they look like. And, please remember, if you see your dog ingest a mushroom—get yourselves to a veterinary hospital as quickly as possible (even if it is after hours). Ingestion of even a nibble of a toxic mushroom is life threatening, and the sooner treatment is started the greater the likelihood of saving your best buddy.     
Are you aware of poisonous mushrooms in your neck of the woods? If so, please share where you live (city and state) and the name of the mushroom if you happen to know it.     
Best wishes for good health.



Nancy Kay, DVM, Dipl., American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, is a 2009 recipient of AAHA's Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award and author of Speaking for Spot.


Photo by Diana Gerba.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Sandi | April 12 2011 |

I live on the California Central Coast and often have the Death Cap mushroom show up in my yard, despite the lack of trees.

Submitted by Audrie Raap | April 12 2011 |

FYI if in the future you suspect your dog has eaten poisenous mushrooms there is a natural substance that cleanses the liver. It's derived from the milk thistle plant and the extract is called silybum. It has been used for centuries for the treatment of death cap mushroom poisoning. It would be wise to have some on hand. It can be purchased from health food stores and at natural pet meds sites. I ordered what was called Liv herb and gave it to my 15 year old dog while he was being treated for heartworm. The poison they had to give him to kill the heartworm was very bad. He came thru it without a hitch. No vomiting or lethargy, ect. My brother took it years ago when he had fatty liver desease and it cured him! The docters told him that it was a chronic desease and he would have to live with it! It truly is a miricle extract!

Submitted by drchrista | April 12 2011 |

Caution should be used with liver cleansing herbs like milk thistle, especially in conjunction with pharmaceutical drugs. The liver is the primary site of metabolism & detoxification. Severe reactions can result or it can change the metabolic range of drugs, leading to reactions.

Submitted by Anonymous | April 12 2011 |

Thank you for posting this - we live in Minnesota and have had really bad mushroom issues springing up in our area the last few springs and summers. I have no idea how to identify what is poisonous and what is not around here. We have lots and lots of little mushrooms that spring up in our backyard (they are little because I pull them before they get bigger), and they don't all look the same to me. Eek! I need to find a list (with pictures) of any poisonous ones in MN.

Submitted by Diana Gerba | April 14 2011 |

I so appreciate the Bark posting this blog. It has become Donato’s legacy and my mission to spread a warning about the danger of mushroom toxicity. Donato’s flyer has rapidly spread throughout the dog community and via the internet. Let Donato help keep our loved ones safe. So far my little pup’s story has saved the lives of at least three dogs that I know of. In the spirit of paying it forward, I’m happy to say that their owners are making flyers and continuing to spread the word.

Today, as I look at our beautiful California Oaks, I pause and search the ground for mushrooms before I let my new pup, Tesoro, run and play. Let what happened to Donato and I not happen to another. This is Donato’s final gift. My sweet Donato, you really have become a very important dog.

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