Q: I planted foxgloves because I love their colorful, speckled, bell-shaped flower spikes. My cat Stormy walks between them, rubbing her face against them. Should I worry about this?
A: If she just walks through your foxgloves and doesn’t bite them, she should be fine. But watch her closely to make sure she doesn’t eat anything.
If you do, you may experience vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy, or worse, as the powerful heart medicine digitalis is derived from foxglove.
When ingested, foxglove can disrupt the normal rate and rhythm of the heart, causing life-threatening arrhythmias. Foxglove can also cause electrolyte disturbances that can affect heart function.
All parts of the foxglove are toxic, with the highest concentrations of digitalis found in the flowers, fruits, and immature leaves.
If Stormy shows any abnormalities and you suspect she may have chewed on a plant in your garden, take her to your vet immediately. If he is unsure of the names of his other plants, bring flowers and leaves to help your vet identify them.
Q: My friend’s dog was bitten by a copperhead while exploring the woods. His leg swelled up so much that he couldn’t put weight on it, and he complained continuously until the emergency vet gave him intravenous pain medication. How can I prevent the same thing from happening to my own dogs?
A: In the United States, copperheads bite more dogs and people than any other snake. Even a baby copperhead can inflict a painful and poisonous bite.
Most snakes, including copperheads, hide and stay away from dogs and people. Copperheads use their copper, tan, beige, and brown camouflage pattern to stay hidden.
So when you and your dogs wander through the woods, keep them on a leash, stay on established paths, and watch where you walk. Before your dogs jump on a log or rock, take a look at what’s on the other side. Wear sturdy hiking boots, not sneakers.
At home, prevent snakes from becoming close neighbors. Trim vegetation around your home and don’t allow leaves or brush to accumulate near walkways or play areas.
Wear thick gloves when collecting firewood and don’t extend your hands or feet where you can’t see them. Use a flashlight or headlamp at night and when entering a dark shed or barn.
Remove spilled birdseed so it doesn’t attract rodents and copperheads that feed on them.
If one of your dogs is bitten, take a photo of the snake if you have your phone or camera with you and can do so without getting too close.
Don’t apply ice or a tourniquet, and don’t cut over the fang marks or try to suck out the toxin. Even if your vet prescribed it for another condition, don’t give it an antihistamine, steroid, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as carprofen or meloxicam. Copperhead bites are extremely painful, but these medications have no benefit and can actually cause additional problems in dogs bitten by venomous snakes.
Instead, keep your dog calm, remove his collar and harness in case he’s swollen, get him in your car, and take him to the nearest veterinary emergency clinic. Some common antivenoms, which can be administered by the emergency vet to minimize pain, swelling, and other effects of the venom.
If you and your dogs walk where rattlesnakes abound, talk to your vet about snake avoidance training classes and the pros and cons of the rattlesnake vaccine.