Nova Scotia

Halifax couple warns of mushroom risk after beloved dog dies

A couple who live in Halifax are cautioning dog owners to keep an eye out for poisonous mushrooms after their beloved dog ate one and died.

Though the golden retriever appeared to be recovering, it didn't last long

Derek Schroeder says he and his wife Jessica considered their four-year-old retriever part of the family. (Submitted by Jessica Schroeder)

A Halifax couple is warning dog owners to be cautious if they suspect their animals ate mushrooms following the death of their beloved golden retriever.

Derek Schroeder said his dog's symptoms were consistent with ingesting what's sometimes known as the 'death cap' or the 'destroying angel.'

Schroeder's four-year-old dog Doug appeared ill after a walk on a trail in Middle Sackville last Wednesday. A dog walker had caught the retriever eating a mushroom and he was lethargic and vomiting later that day. 

It wasn't Doug's first run-in with a mushroom and Schroeder said he never expected it to be fatal. He and his wife consulted their vet and by Friday, Doug appeared to be feeling better, which was consistent with the previous time he ate a mushroom. 

"That day was what I would call, and I've heard other people call, false recovery. So he started to get better, he was eating a bit, he was drinking water. It kind of looked like a normal healing process," he said. 

Saturday morning though, Doug experienced "a significant decline" and within hours the Schroeders had rushed him to an emergency clinic. 

Doug the golden retriever with the Schroeder's two-year-old son. (Submitted by Jessica Schroeder)

The vet was never able to definitively say the mushrooms caused Doug's illness, but after reading about death caps, Schroeder said the logical conclusion is that he ate a deadly mushroom or a great deal of poisonous ones. 

Tests showed he was experiencing liver failure and bleeding internally. The couple made the difficult decision to put him down. 

"His chance of living was very very extremely slim. At this point it was about easing his suffering because his liver was not working," Schroeder said. 

"He was part of our family. We treated him like that. Both of us are a little more emptier now without him."

Derek and Jessica Schroeder said goodbye to their beloved dog, Doug, this weekend after he experienced liver failure. (Submitted by Jessica Schroeder)

Toxins in some Amanita mushrooms were behind 90 per cent of the world's mushroom-related fatalities, according to a 2016 article in the B.C. Medical Journal. Toxins attack the liver, kidney and other organs and ingesting one cap is enough to kill.

One mushroom species led to the death of a three-year-old boy from Victoria, who picked one with his family in the city. 

While that specific species doesn't grow in Nova Scotia, the very similar white Amanita bisporigera mushrooms are "not uncommon," said Gavin Kernaghan, a professor at Halifax's Mount St. Vincent University who is also president of the province's Mycological Society. 

He said the species typically come out in September and October and are always found around trees. 

They can be identified by a type of cup at the base of the mushroom, which is distinctive to Amanita genus. Kernaghan said people who have questions about identifying a mushroom can always post photos on the Mycological Society's Facebook page.

Amanita bisporigera mushrooms are found in Nova Scotia around trees. (Submitted by Gavin Kernaghan)

Dr. Rhonda MacDonald, a veterinarian at Metro Emergency Animal Clinic in Dartmouth, said there are several different types of poisonous mushrooms that can cause a range of symptoms in pets and they aren't always immediate. 

Symptoms may include gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting or diarrhea, muscular problems, hallucinations, liver and kidney failure.

"If your pet seems off in any of those manners or is shaking or tremoring, those are all signs I'd be concerned about and contact a veterinarian," she said. 

Paul Kroeger, a founding member of the Vancouver Mycological society and a mushroom consultant on poisonings in B.C., holds up young Amanita phalloides, which can resemble puffballs or straw mushrooms. Nova Scotia has a slightly different species that also has a cap at the bottom. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

MacDonald doesn't see cases of mushroom poisoning often, but advised pet owners to keep an eye on what their animals are eating. 

"Whether that's rotten organic debris, drinking from a bad puddle, if they are picking things up off the ground, whether they're mushrooms or not, just be aware and keep an eye on your pet," she said. 

Schroeder said he discussed with his own vet whether getting treatment early might have saved Doug. They don't know for sure, but he still wonders. 

"I would strongly recommend taking immediate action, in the sense if you don't catch them and you suspect he ate mushrooms, go to a vet right away," he said.

About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past 10 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be reached at elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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