(Note: We’ve reposted this article because of the very wet winter and spring (and subsequent flooding), this deceptive-looking plant is flourishing in wet areas throughout North America and Europe. Here’s what you need to know to keep your pets – and children – safe.)
It looks soft, delicate and even beautiful, but this wildflower is one of the most toxic plants your dog (or child) can ingest (even in a small amount); with fast-acting and deadly consequences (within minutes).
Water Hemlock: Pretty, But Deadly
It’s called Water Hemlock and is a member of the carrot family. It typically grows in wet areas like marshes and swamps, damp pastures and along riverbanks, ponds, streams, irrigation ditches, reservoirs and other water edges in both North America and parts of Europe. It’s often mistaken for edible plants such as artichokes, celery, sweet potatoes, sweet anise, or wild parsnip.
Water Hemlock Is But One Name
Water Hemlock is also known by a variety of other names, including:
- beaver poison
- poison parsley
- poison hemlock (with red spots or blotches in the stem)
- muskrat weed
- poison parsnip
- spotted water hemlock
- western water hemlock
- cowbane/spotted cowbane
- bulblet-bearing water hemlock
Symptoms of Poisoning
If ingested, the violent effects of toxic poisoning may become evident within a few minutes (from a toxin called cicutoxin, an aggressive, poisonous stimulant that attacks the nervous system) and include:
- Dilated pupils
- Seizures and/or twitching
- Rapid heart rate/difficulty breathing/asphyxiation/choking
- Death from respiratory paralysis death (occurring between 15 minutes and 2 hours after the first initial signs of poisoning).
While the highest levels of its toxin is found in the roots, all parts of the water hemlock are poisonous and dog lovers should never let their dog get anywhere near it.
A side note, the water hemlock has a strong carrot-like odor which could attract curious dogs (or children). Even if it’s not ingested, touching this plant could give you a rash and smelling or breathing it could cause respiratory issues.
What You Should Do
If you suspect your dog has come into contact with water hemlock, seek immediate emergency veterinary care. If you suspect a person has been affected, call Poison Control immediately at 800-222-1222.
The More You Know
To learn more about water hemlock and its potential dangers:
- “Poison Hemlock Spotted on Reno Nature Trail,” News 4 in Reno, Nevada;
- “Water Hemlock & Bulblet-bearing Water Hemlock,” Wildwood Survival;
- “‘Violently Toxic’ Plant to Blame for Colorado Dog’s Sudden Death,” by Dr. Jennifer Coates on PetMd.com; and
- “What are the Dangers of Water Hemlock to Dogs,” by Kate Barrington.