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Toxic Plants

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WSVN -- The sago palm and the cardboard palm are popular plants in South Florida.

But if your pet eats either plant or its berries, it could be fatal.

They're also a danger to cats, horses and even young children.

But most often, it is dogs that find the leaves yummy and berries irresistible.

Like many of us, this undercover BSO deputy had no idea of the danger the plants pose.

She's training a new drug detection dog, because her former partner Kim died after eating seeds from a cardboard palm.

BSO Undercover Deputy: "She was very playful, loved to work, and at home she was a great pet."

Kim struggled for months, and Dr. Crystal Bahr struggled to save her.

Dr. Crystal Bahr, Lakeside Animal Clinic: "As time went on, her liver started to shut down, and eventually she lost her fight."

So when Mabel came into Lakeside Animal Clinic in Plantation with the same symptoms, Dr. Bahr knew exactly what was going on.

Gina Caruso, Mabel's Owner: "My dogs treat the front yard like an all-you-can-eat buffet."

Like so many others, her owner had no idea the cardboard palm in her yard was toxic.

Gina Caruso, Mabel's Owner: "I mean she probably ate five pounds of seeds. It was bad, and what I've heard is they're like jelly beans for dogs."

She was told it was hopeless.

Gina Caruso, Mabel's Owner: "Every other vet I talked to, they were like, 'That's it. Too bad.'"

But Dr. Bahr and Dr. Monica Fernandez did not give up on Mabel.

They started a desperate search for something to save the big Lab mix with the soulful eyes.

Another vet suggested maybe a medicine for humans, cholestyramine, might work. It is used to lower cholesterol.

And because it stops the absorption of bile by the liver, which the plant toxin attacks, the vets thought it might help their four-legged patients.

Dr. Monica Fernandez, Lakeside Animal Clinic: "It hasn't been used in patients before, and there's no real research on it, but we figured we had nothing to lose. So we started it on her, and within 24 hours, we saw major improvement in her."

And then two weeks later, Mia, a little Jack Russell, was also in big trouble after eating seeds from a cardboard palm.

Her owner also had no idea of the danger.

Joseph Arnold, Mia's Owner: "Oh I had no clue. It was just planted in my backyard and had been there forever."

Again, the treatment was a success.

Now the vets want to spread the news.

Dr. Monica Fernandez, Lakeside Animal Clinic: "So this is something that we are going to try to get published and let other veterinarians know so more patients can survive the toxicity as well."

And the BSO officer wonders if maybe there should be some sort of warning when the plants are sold.

BSO Undercover Deputy: "So that when you go to a store to buy a particular plant you can look at it, and if it says, 'No pets, no kids,' you'll pick something else."

In the meantime, check your yard.

Dr. Monica Fernandez, Lakeside Animal Clinic: "If they have a cardboard palm or sago palm, they should rip them out. They should not be in your backyard if you have children or animals."

Although that advice comes late for Mabel and Mia, their owners are grateful their vets never gave up.

Gina Caruso, Mabel's Owner: "So thankful. This is like my buddy, so I'm happy, very happy."

Joseph Arnold, Mia's Owner: "They understand that she's part of your family, not just an animal."

Carmel Cafiero: "And they hope no other 'family members' suffer from choosing the wrong plant as a snack."


ASPCA's List of Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants

Animal Poison Control Center

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