DESTIN — If you look around your neighborhood, you’ll most likely see sago palms. And although they look harmless, one woman learned they are extremely toxic and can kill a dog.
One Monday last month, Nancy DeMartini took her dog, Piper, on a walk around her neighborhood. Piper was a normal black Lab puppy, playing fetch and running around.
By Tuesday morning, Piper started vomiting and having diarrhea.
A local vet told DeMartini it was just a stomach bug, but Piper had stopped eating, was very fatigued and continued to vomit and have diarrhea.
“I’ve seen her with a stomach bug before and she never got like that,” DeMartini said.
By Friday night, Piper couldn’t move and began having tremors.
DeMartini rushed Piper to the Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Niceville. The veterinarian suspected Piper had a blockage somewhere or had been poisoned, so the clinic kept the dog for observation.
About 2 a.m. Saturday, the vet called DeMartini and told her Piper needed emergency surgery.
“I asked them if they were sure it couldn’t wait until morning. It was already $3,000 to drop her off and the surgery was an additional $3,500,” Demartini said. “But what was I gonna do, let my dog die?”
During the surgery, the vet discovered Piper’s gastrointestinal tract was extremely inflamed, which eventually led to the conclusion of sago palm poisoning.
DeMartini had never heard of the plant or of how toxic it was to dogs.
“I went home from the ICU, and as soon as I turned into my housing complex I realized that they’re everywhere,” she said.
“The only treatment for sago palm poisoning is really aggressive fluid therapy and liver support,” Stacey Wiggins, a veterinarian at Barry Veterinary said. “There is no cure necessarily; we just try to flush out the system as much as possible to get the toxin out.”
Piper started receiving liver enzymes and plasma transfusions and slowly began to recover. By Monday, Piper was able to go home and continue outpatient therapy.
After encouragement from Facebook friends, DeMartini started a GoFundMe account to help with the $7,700 in veterinary bills and to bring awareness about the sago palm.
“I was talking to other dog owners, and they weren’t aware of it, either,” DeMartini said. “It’s just scary how this plant that can kill your dog is everywhere around here.”
According to the ASPCA, the sago palm is a "stocky, spike-leaved plant that is often used for landscaping." The plant likes warm weather and is primarily found in southern states and subtropical climates. The organization's Animal Poison Control Center has seen a 200 percent spike in sago palm toxicity cases since 2015, with up to 75 percent of those cases resulting in fatalities.
Dr. Stephen Davis of the Niceville Emergency Veterinary Clinic said he sees dogs with sago palm poisoning weekly, and they usually only have a 10-20 percent chance of survival.
“As bad as she was, she’s mild compared to most of them,” Davis said of Piper’s case. “Overall, things are looking promising and like she’s gonna be in that small percentile that’s actually gonna be OK.”
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