A story about poisonous plants and Milo McColl; a 4 week old lamb who was bottle fed and kept in back garden……

The case…

A recent case I saw illustrates the problems and dangers of unknown plant ingestion by young ruminants. I picked up an early morning call from a worried owner. Her 4 week old pet lamb was “frothing at the mouth and falling over”. It had me rushing in to our Te Puna clinic to meet Milo the lamb. Milo was salivating, shaking his head, grinding his teeth and unsteady on his feet, however he had no temperature and was not bloated. There was no obvious cause for the symptoms but some sort of poisoning was suspected. Milo had been allowed to run freely in the owners garden and had been nibbling on some of the plants.

Treatment…

Symptomatic treatment was started (pain relief, antispasmodic, antibiotics).

24 hours later there had been no improvement. Milo had regurgitated some flowers which the owner brought in, along with fresh samples of the same flowers. An online search for the flowers deduced that they were from a ‘Lily of the Valley Tree’.  A further search for its toxicity found a short paper in the NZ Veterinary Journal in 1987. The article discussed a goat that had been poisoned after eating it. Treatment options include a “universal antidote”.

Milo was treated with activated charcoal, scourban (the closest we had to universal antidote!) and electrolytes. He made a full recovery and has continued to grow well.

Common dangers…

Milo’s case illustrates the dangers that our backyards can pose to ruminants, especially young inquisitive animals that are trying things for the first time. It is also common for us not to know what the plant is that they may have ingested. In this case the owner had been told it was “Lily of the Valley” which caused some confusion as at least 3 plants can be called ‘Lily of the Valley’; a ground covering plant, a shrub and a tree and all of them are actually toxic if ingested.  Lily of the Valley tree is in the same family as Rhododendron which is well known to be toxic to sheep, goats and cattle.

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Other poisonous plants which are common in gardens and toxic to sheep and cattle include Oleander, Azalea, Castor Bean Tree, Foxgloves, Cestrum, Camelia and many more. Also be wary of garden clippings and trimmings that are put into a rubbish pile, if your stock get access to this it could be deadly!

If you have any concerns that the plants in your garden could or might be poisoning your animals, please contact us at any one of our four clinics.