Rhododendrons are beautiful plants. The name is derived from the Greek words for "rose" and "tree." Many gardeners love their beautiful flowers and easy-to-grow nature. It can be an almost magical experience to walk your beloved family dog down a path lined with these flowering beauties. Think twice before allowing Fido to make a snack of them, as more is at stake than just your hard-won garden. Rhododendron plants pose a serious health hazard to the family dog.
The thousands of plants within the genus Rhododendron are woody shrubs and trees. The smallest plants stand approximately 4 inches tall. The largest grow to heights of 100 feet or more.
Rhododendrons are known for their bright flowers that grow in clusters. Flowers range from pale white with flecks of color to bright pinks and purples. Rhododendrons are hardy in nature, growing in all but the driest climates.
Rhododendrons are toxic to dogs and other household animals. The active toxic agents in the rhododendron plant are grayanotoxins. Grayanotoxin interferes with the nerves in the body, interrupting the normal functions of skeletal, muscular, cardiac and brain systems. All parts of rhododendrons are considered toxic.
The effect of rhododendron toxicity depends upon the amount of the plant ingested and the age, weight and relative health of the dog. Dogs who are sick, pregnant or immune-compromised are at a greater risk of serious side effects. Symptoms manifest up to three hours after the plant is eaten and include, but are not limited to: enteric distress, abnormal salivation, loss of appetite, depression, irritability, lethargy, muscle weakness, ataxia, confusion, abnormal heart rate and paralysis. Serious side effects include coma and death.
Bring a list of plants toxic to your pets when you buy the plants for your garden. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals publishes a comprehensive list, and has a searchable database to peruse when planning your garden. If you cannot avoid planting rhododendrons, supervise your dog at all times when he is outdoors, taking care to keep him away from the plants. Do not allow your dog to ingest the leaves, flowers or roots of rhododendrons.
Speak to a licensed veterinarian if you fear your dog has eaten any part of a rhododendron. Emergency care may be needed to prevent serious effects. A veterinarian will flush your dog's system. In cases where serious effects occur, life support measures or euthanasia may be needed. If emergency care is not available, seek the help of an animal poison control agency. When left untreated, only 25 percent of animals survive.