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Deadly poisonous mushrooms

I had originally posted this on Facebook, but figured I’d post it here where it can be viewed by anyone regardless of whether they have FB accounts.

I posted this in hopes that it would help at least one family avoid the disaster we are now coping with.  Pets and human children don’t know any better.  To dogs, these mushrooms probably look a lot like tennis balls or some other dog toys.  And of course, children will put anything in their mouths.

Our beloved eight month old dog, Bellabee (Bee for short) ate at least two highly toxic poisonous mushrooms over the labor day weekend.  We’re not exactly sure how long they were in her system for, but our hunch is that it wasn’t very long since the gills of the mushrooms that she expelled were still somewhat intact.  Since the gills are the thinnest flesh on the mushroom, they would normally breakdown the fastest in the stomach or GI track.  Hence our suspicion that she didn’t have them inside her system for very long.  She vomited them up at around 8:30am on Monday morning and she had been out in the yard around 6:30am when we first let her out to do her business.  She had a normal day on Monday and then around 3am early Tuesday morning, she began vomiting and wretching profusely throughout the night.  I brought her to our local Vet (Dr. Millie Armstrong at Petit Brook Vet Center) in Colchester first thing Tueday morning shortly after 8am when they opened.  I also brought the two expelled mushrooms with me to the vet at their request.  They examined her and the mushrooms and immediately showed me some information in one of their vet med books about Amanita mushrooms and said it was going to be a rough road.  They kept her for the day and then at the end of the day made the noble recommendation for me to bring her over to BEVS Vet Hospital in Williston for round the clock observation.  In the middle of all the puking on Tuesday morning, at 6am, Leslie had to fly to Knoxville, TN for work, so I was only able to relay information to her throughout the treatment process.  After leaving Bee at our vet’s office on Tuesday, I brought the partially digested mushrooms she expelled to a horticulturist at UVM named Terrance Delaney. He and his colleague Kathie Hodge from Cornell University identified them as either Amanita bisporigera aka “Destroying Angel” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanita_bisporigera) or the “Death Cap” mushroom (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_cap).  He put them in a buffered state and could still see the gills of the mushrooms which means they hadn’t been in her digestive system for long before being expelled since the gills were still in tact.  This gives some indication of how quickly the toxins from these nasty mushrooms can be absorbed by the system.  We also don’t know if she ate others that were never expelled.  See photograph below of digested mushrooms.

On Tuesday night, after I got home from transferring Bee to BEVS Vet Hospital, I went out in the woods around our yard looking for mushrooms with a headlamp.  I found one very close to the area where Bee normally “did her business”.  I dug it up, bagged it and brought to Terry at UVM again.  He identified it as the Amanita Bisporega or “Destroying Angel”.  See photograph below of the live one in the ground.  It looks like any ordinary mushroom you might find in your yard.  Terry suspects that this is the same mushroom as the ones that Bee vomited up, but he’s not positive at this time.

On Wed morning, the doctor from BEVS called to tell me that her liver enzymes and clot factors were off their charts and essentially unmeasureable.  They were giving her dextrose via IV to keep her blood sugar levels up along with a long list of other anti-naseau and anti-toxin medications.  On Wed afternoon, they gave her at least one blood plasma transfusion, but at 2:15pm the doctor called me and said that her vitals had taken a turn for the worst and I left work and headed over to be with her.  She stopped breathing on her own a short time after I arrived and they inserted intubation and began breathing for her.  I asked them to try to keep her with us until Leslie arrived as she had cut her business trip short and was in the air on her flight home at that time.  Bee’s heart stopped at around 3:20pm.  Leslie arrived at BEVS around 4pm.  We decided to have her remains cremated and they’re going to send the ashes back to us.

After posting the news throughout the ordeal on Facebook, we have received an incredible outpouring of support, prayers and thoughts from family, friends, and coworkers.  We also posted an ad on craigslist offering up for someone to make use of a big bag of her puppy food and puppy treats, since they’d otherwise go to waste.  Update 9/10: The puppy food and treats have been delivered to a woman in Burlington who rescues and places many dogs on her own.  We received numerous emails from strangers on craigslist sending their condolences and thoughts.  Many people have asked about the mushrooms and how they could avoid such a situation hence why we wanted to post this information.  When we asked Kathie Hodge from Cornell about what should be done about mushrooms growing in our yards, we received this response:

From: Kathie T. Hodge <kh11@cornell.edu>

Date: Thu, Sep 9, 2010 at 9:48 AM

Subject: Re: Digested mushroom

To: “davidjtepper@gmail.com” <davidjtepper@gmail.com>

Dear David, It turns out to be really hard to eradicate mushrooms. I used to jokingly advise that people who were sick of stinkhorns (smelly!) should just pave their yards.  But then I started getting emails about mushrooms lifting paving stones and pushing through asphalt.

Destroying angel mushrooms are symbionts of trees. The mushrooms that you see are just the fruits of a much larger organism that lives as a cobwebby mycelium in the soil.  It persists over many years. It forms partnerships with roots, exchanging micronutrients for sugars that the tree has made through photosynthesis.  Pulling up the mushroom fruiting bodies has no more effect on that mycelium than picking an apple would have on an apple tree. And since the mycelium is both widespread and deep in the soil, a fungicide drench would have to be ridiculously toxic to have any effect at all.

So all I can really recommend to parents and dog owners is to pull out mushrooms as you see them. This takes some vigilance, as mushrooms sprout quickly. Destroying angels have a kind of bulb at the base of the stem — make sure you get that too.  The environmental impacts of doing this are negligible.  I should also say that very, very few mushrooms are fatally poisonous, and that your dog was very unlucky to have eaten this particular species.

Best wishes, Kathie

Terry Delaney (UVM Horticulturist) is also going to send me some information about how to identify poisonous mushrooms and when I receive the info, I will post it here.  Update 9/10/2010: Terry sent me a follow-up email message today on how to help others identify toxic mushrooms.

You can also learn more about all kinds of poisons for pets on the ASPCA poison information website

From my point of view, I would suggest the most conservative path is to never let your children or pets eat any mushrooms or other plantlife found out in the “wild”.  I’m sticking with grocery store sold fungus only.  We opened a case with ASPCA Poison Control to be sure that this gets documented for national data and statistics.  Terry from UVM is also going to submit his findings to the ASPCA Poison Control Center on the case notes for this incident so that this data may be recorded in their statistics so that it may be of use or help to others.

Update 6:10pm:  If you read the following article and then click through to the Treatment section within the article describing treatment, you can see there may be the need for liver transplant for some cases of human patients to survive.  http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/167398-overview

Photos below of the digested mushrooms that she expelled at the lab at UVM and of the mushroom that I found in our yard late Tuesday night:

These are the two digested mushrooms that Bee expelled on Monday morning

Above are the two digested mushrooms that Bee expelled on Monday morning

This is a photograph of the mushroom I found in the yard on Tuesday night

Above is a photograph of the mushroom I found in the yard on Tuesday night. It is suspected to be the Amanita bisporigera or "Destroying Angel".

Bellabee on a canoe-camping trip with us five days before we lost her

Bellabee on a canoe-camping trip with us five days before we lost her

Update 9/21/2010:  I emailed some questions over to UVM Plant Biologist Terry Delaney with regards to how to deal with mushrooms in our yard in the event we adopt another dog or if there are kids playing.  Here are his responses.