[ASC-media] Media release: pets at risk

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Wed Nov 9 08:31:01 EST 2005

CRC for Australian Weed Management  Media Release 05/43

Nov 9, 2005


There's mounting evidence that plant invaders are not just harming Australia's landscape, but are also killing Australia's pets.

Veterinarian Chris Brown says that plant toxins, as well as spines, thorns and prickles, cost pet owners many thousands of dollars every year.

Dr Brown is a practicing vet, author of The Family Guide to Pets, and a regular contributor to the magazine Burke's Backyard.

Poisonous and thorny invasive plants cost the livestock industry millions of dollars each year - and poisonous garden plants are causing similar havoc among domestic dogs, cats, horses and poultry, says Dr Brown.

"Home gardeners need to be much more careful about what they plant in their own backyards," says Dr Brown. "They need to select plants which are not poisonous to animals, and which don't pose a risk of invading farms or native bushland.

"Garden escapes are one of the main routes by which harmful plants become established in Australia," he says. "Lantana has killed cattle, buffalo, sheep, horses, goats, guinea pigs and even captive red kangaroos."

Dr Brown says that dogs, cats and domestic poultry are as vulnerable to accidental poisoning as farm stock. 

"But the reasons why domestic animals are poisoned may be different to grazing animals," he says.

In some cases, he says, curiosity literally kills the cat.

"Probably the most toxic of common garden plants are the lilies," says Dr Brown. "It is quite a common occurrence that domestic moggies take a bite of leaves or flowers in a vase - and die of it."

Dr Brown says that young animals are more at risk from weed toxicity than older animals, and that having two dogs is more likely to cause poisoning than one.

"Two dogs will compete for a stick or a bulb which they would normally ignore. Sometimes they will eat leaves or berries simply to prevent the other dog getting a share," says Dr Brown. 

"Dogs can die in dramatic and distressing circumstances with convulsions and vomiting after, for example, eating berries of the common wayside flower 'Yesterday Today and Tomorrow' (Brunsfelsia). 

Another serious doggy threat is Wandering Jew (Tradescentia fluminensis), the sap of which can cause a painful skin reaction. The skin rashes can then get infected and need treatment. Often the owners have no idea that the cause is contact with broken stems of this common weed.

"Red and green cestrum regularly kills young calves as well as dogs," he says, "It can cause acute liver failure and death."

Dr Brown lists many garden weeds and ornamentals which are often implicated in death or sickness of domestic animals.

"Cotoneaster has small fruit which can cause paralysis in dogs," he says. "Oleanders are a familiar poisonous plant, but azaleas, poinsettias and even macadamia nuts can be toxic."

Invasive plants of pasture and farmland have long been implicated in the deaths of domestic and farm animals. Horse owners are warned each spring to move their animals away from paddocks infested with Paterson's Curse (known as salvation Jane in SA) as the plant is toxic to horses.

In the ACT in 2004, a strong flush of Paterson's Curse lead to the death of more than seventy horses, he says. 

St John's Wort, imported from its native Europe as an ingredient in traditional medicine because it contains a tranquillising agent, can cause abortions in stock that eat it. The plant also causes photosensitivity in the skin, and animals can become painfully sunburned.

Fireweed and rye grass are two common killers of beef and dairy cattle, and in Queensland alone, lantana is known to have killed 1500 cattle in a single year. 

Dr Brown says that education and eradication are the only solution to the problems of toxic plants.

"Animal owners have to be vigilant, especially if they have kittens, puppies, or calves, and at times of vigorous plant growth," he says. "Areas of severe infestation should also be fenced off so that they are not available to the animals."

More information from:

Dr Chris Brown							0415 565 912
Dr Rachel McFadyen, CEO, Weeds CRC			07 3362 9388
Peter Martin, Weeds CRC			08 8303 6693 	0429 830 366

Photos of lantana, Paterson's curse, cotoneaster and other toxic weeds are available from Jackie Watts, 08-8303 6742 or jackie.watts at adelaide.edu.au. 

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