ASK THE VET
QIt seems that almost every day we are seeing warnings about ‘poisonous parsnip’ cases on our beaches. Can you tell me if this is all hype or is there really a serious problem please?
AYou are right Graham, there has been a lot of media and social media coverage and warnings. The facts are that there have been fatalities so the short answer is, yes, there is a real concern. Frankly though, the risk is a little over-hyped, given there are warnings about even touching these ‘lethal’ roots/tubers.
Over the past few years we’ve had sporadic episodes where heavy rain washes these plants from river banks out to sea and they then inevitably get washed up on beaches. This year, once again, north Down seems to be a hot spot for these landings.
Water Dropwort (part of the Hemlock family) contains potent neurotoxins. There was a notable case in Glasgow where four foragers collected these roots and used them to make a curry. They all ended up being hospitalised with various neurological issues, including seizures. So, my advice is to prevent your dog from eating them and ideally from touching them either, although I do not know of any cases of toxicity from simple skin contact.
If you see then lying on a beach use a pooh bag to lift them and please safely dispose of them in a bin. If you can’t do that, or if there are too many for you to collect, please take a minute to telephone the appropriate local council (Ards and North Down for you) and they will turn out to clear them away. Facebook and other social media can be useful in these sorts of situations as a way of getting a warning to lots of people quickly and effectively, although it’s always important to keep these issues in perspective.
If you know your dog has eaten them, rush your pet to the vet immediately — the only treatments are symptomatic and death can ensue, so your vet will want to safely induce vomiting before the toxins are absorbed. We don’t have a lot of data as to how long it takes to absorb a toxic/lethal dose so time really is of the essence. Don’t take the chance of waiting and seeing.