Warning: Wild mushrooms may be poisonous for animals

The amount of Death Cap mushrooms in Flagstaff has increased after record monsoon season rainfall, leading to more veterinarian visits for pets who have gotten sick from consuming them.

Following the increase in rainfall over recent weeks, mushroom sightings have become a regular occurrence for hikers, bikers and mushroom foragers. Flagstaff residents have raised concerns with identifying poisonous mushrooms in order to safeguard their pets.

On neighborhood and community sites such as Nextdoor, people have shared their loss of cats and dogs after the pets ingested toxins. Fungi specialists, such as NAU professors and Flagstaff veterinarians also shared their insight on the topic. 

Catherine Gehring, associate chair and director of graduate studies in the Department of Biological Sciences, has a Ph.D. in biology. Further, she is involved with the identification of mushrooms for AZ Poison Center

“There have been a lot of calls this year, including from novice foragers who did not correctly identify a mushroom that they consumed,” Gehring said.

Through Q&As with the Arizona Daily Sun, veterinarians like Dr. Julianne Miller from Canyon Pet Hospital outlined the dangers of pets consuming wild mushrooms.

“Once a dog eats the mushrooms, it does not take long to start to see the effects of the toxic ones, as your pet will start to become wobbly or disoriented and might start to vomit,” Miller said.

Dr. Monet Martin of Kaibab Veterinary Clinic said the best approach after dogs or pets discover this dangerous treat is to check them into a veterinary clinic. Symptoms of ingestion include weakness, vomiting, lethargy, disorientation, seizures and other effects.  

Martin explained symptoms appear differently depending on the size of the animal. Although it takes more poisonous mushrooms to impair larger animals, they can still present symptoms after consuming small amounts.

“Call your vet and see if they have any suggestions to help your pet vomit as soon as possible,” Martin said. 

As well as quantity, the type of mushroom toxin affects pets differently. 

In an article for the Veterinary Centers of America, Dr. Lynn Buzhardt said there are four categories of mushroom toxins: Gastrointestinal, hepatotoxic, nephrotoxic and neurotoxic. Depending on the type and amount, the stomach, liver, kidneys and neurological system can be affected. 

“In general, I recommend keeping all pets away from wild mushrooms and assume all of them are in some way toxic,” Miller said. “That might be an oversimplification, but it helps keep us aware of what our pets eat in the forest.”

Similarly, Gehring said poisonous mushrooms tend to look similar to edible varieties, which can make it difficult to distinguish the differences.

“Identifying mushrooms requires training, as many species look alike unless you know exactly what characteristics to look for,” Gehring said. “When trying a wild mushroom species for the first time, cook and eat only a small amount in case it turns out to be a toxic species or you have a reaction to it that is not typical.” 

However, there are some indicators of poisonous mushrooms: Red-spotted caps, as on the Fly Agaric; yellow caps with white spots, as on the Jeweled Death Cap; and smooth white caps, as on the Death Cap, which is responsible for deaths among both people and pets, just to name a few. 

“There are several different poisonous species, but the deadliest ones are in our Ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests,” Gehring said. 

Familiarizing oneself with the characteristics of edible mushrooms helps to avoid poisonous mushrooms. More information can be found on the AZ Poison Center website.

For pet owners who encounter poisonous mushrooms and potentially dangerous situations,UArizona has more in-depth information regarding poison control. Phone numbers are available here for immediate assistance.

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