It's been really hot around here lately, we tied a record for number of consecutive days with triple digit temps. My dog, Stitch (so named because of his striking behavioral similarities to the character of the same name in the animated Disney movie "Lilo and Stitch"), enjoys spending some time sitting outside on the (enclosed) front patio when he can. But lately, it's just been way too hot to let him out there during the day. So on Sunday afternoon, when some cloud cover cooled things down just a bit, I thought to let Stitch out for a bit of fresh air. As soon as I let him out, he made a beeline for some old dried leaves that where on the ground near the gate, and proceeded to chomp them down. Stitch is weird, he loves eating leaves, but not just any kind. He prefers the dry crunchy ones that have been on the ground a while, and he won't eat certain types. For instance, he loves the cat's claw leaves, but won't touch the leaves that come off the olive tree. He was really sucking these leaves down. So, thinking he was hungry, I made him come in so I could feed him before letting him back out. But when I checked, his bowl was full of food. I pointed this out to him, but he wasn't interested, and kept insisting he wanted to go back out again. The leaves that he had been eating had come from a plant that grows just outside the patio, I had trimmed it a bit and left the clippings on the patio so I could take them out to the garbage later. I knew he was going to go back over there and start scarfing these leaves down if I let him out again, so I thought I'd just check first to make sure they weren't toxic. The plant in question is called a "lantana", and is very common around here, being very hardy and drought resistant, able to grow in full sun with hardly any water. It's also very invasive and difficult to get rid of, though the flowers are pretty. There used to be some lantana growing inside the patio as well, it had forced itself up through cracks in the cement, and had thrived for years before we finally managed to get rid of it. So Stitch had eaten lantana leaves many times before and I'd never really thought anything of it. Imagine my surprise when I found lantana on the list of plants that are toxic.
Most of the information I found related to lantana "berries", which are very toxic when green in particular. But the leaves where also mentioned on several sites as being toxic as well. Lantana is said to be hepatotoxic, able to cause liver failure and death in children and animals. The toxic dose for an animal is considered 1% or greater of its body weight, so a medium or large sized dog in particular would have to eat quite a lot of lantana leaves before consuming a toxic dose. Lantana has a pungent smell when touched/rubbed/crushed, usually likened to the smell of stale cat urine (which is pretty accurate IMO), so it's often said that dogs wouldn't be interested in eating them. They also have a lot of little sharp hairs or fine thorns on their stems, and can give you some pretty irritating scratches. So it isn't the type of plant you'd want to dive into, or eat for that matter. Interestingly, I found several other people who say their dogs where attracted to and had eaten lantana leaves without any problems, as well as a few who said their dogs would throw up after eating the leaves.
I was kind of freaked out that my dog had eaten something listed as being toxic, but on the other hand, he had only eaten about a handful of the leaves before I stopped him, and had eaten them on numerous other occasions in the past and showed no symptoms. Symptoms of lantana poisoning are supposed to include GI upset, photosensitivity, and lethargy. So, I decided to just keep a close eye on him, dispose of all the lantana leaves on the patio, and clip the plant back away from the gate. It's now been more than 4 days, and there's been no change in him, so I think he's in the clear, luckily. So lantana leaves probably aren't harmful in small amounts, but I'll be more careful from now on to keep them off the patio. I figure, why take a chance?
I love my dog to pieces, he's very sweet, intuitive, and intelligent. But sometimes, he can be a real doofus. When he was a puppy, about 4 or 5 months old, I caught him licking an electrical socket one day. He wasn't hurt, luckily, but I nearly pissed myself when I came into the room and saw that. I grabbed him, stuck him in the car, and made an immediate trip up to the drug store for a package of those childproof plastic electrical socket plug cover things. Of course, I don't think I can blame him too much. After all, my list of "really stupid things I've done" is considerably longer than his.
The lantana bush growing right outside the patio:
A closer view of the lantana's flowers:
Those little green balls are the unripe lantana berries, which are supposed to be really toxic, but recent studies appear to show that most cases of ingestion by children result in only very mild symptoms or none at all. Some people do eat the ripe berries though, and claim that they are perfectly safe.