Toxic mushrooms have killed several SLO County dogs
Poisonous mushrooms have been blamed for multiple dog deaths in San Luis Obispo County in recent weeks — and a Santa Cruz-based mushroom expert said it’s important to know what mushrooms cause harm.
Mike Maddux, who lives with his family on a ranch near Lake Lopez in Arroyo Grande, said his 10-year-old Patterdale Terrier named Brodie died last week within hours of eating mushrooms, shaking and convulsing before his distressing end.
“He was having seizures and wigging out,” said Maddux, whose 11-year-old son was particularly close to the dog. “We put him in the truck and took him to the vet. The vet did some tests and found out the toxins in Brodie’s body were due to mushrooms.”
Maddux said two other family dogs, Great Pyrenees puppies that were less than a year old, suffered similar symptoms a couple of months ago, dying overnight after falling ill so quickly the family couldn’t get them to a vet in time for an examination.
Owners of two Labradors in Los Osos also reportedly died recently from eating a type of mushroom called a “death cap” (Amanita phalloides).
“Last week, a couple were walking their two labs in the open area at the end of Palisades, near the Catholic church in Los Osos and the dogs found a patch of mushrooms and ate some of them,” the Meade Canine Rescue, a nonprofit in Creston, wrote in a March 4 Facebook post. “These mushrooms were the death cap mushrooms, and are fatal if consumed. Both dogs died and the brokenhearted owners have posted a warning at the end of Palisades.”
Mushroom expert weighs in
But while death caps are known to grow on the Central Coast and to be deadly, Santa Cruz-based naturalist Christian Schwartz — a UC Santa Cruz researcher with the Norris Center for Natural History who wrote the book “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast” — said multiple types of mushrooms can cause sickness and death.
Schwartz said death caps, which tend to grow in the fall, and the “destroying angel,” which typically grow in the spring, both are potentially lethal to humans and dogs. Another form of a deadly mushroom, among others, are inocybes, which are smaller, browner and harder to identify, he said.
It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what type of mushroom leads to a fateful outcome, Schwartz said. Some mushrooms are less toxic but still make people and animals sick.
Some poisonous mushrooms can even seem flavorful to dogs, Schwartz said, and he advises owners to train their dogs at a young age not to eat any mushrooms.
“Every year, I hear about dogs dying from eating mushrooms,” Schwartz said. “But if there is a spike in deaths, it could be a couple of things. There could be growths of way more poisonous mushrooms than usual in that area, or people need to be careful to see what’s causing those deaths, and whether it could be something else going on.”
Schwartz said it’s possible there could be a correlation between a rainier season and an increase in mushroom growth, including those that are poisonous. Schwartz also cautions people against picking wild mushrooms for meals or cooking.
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Schwartz said. “No one should be playing Russian roulette with what they’re eating.”
Mushrooms booming countywide
Maddux said he doesn’t use any poisons to eradicate pests or pesticides on his property, where he tends to cattle and goats. He has no other explanation, he said, but to think the dogs died from mushroom consumption, though he can’t be certain what type caused the harm.
He has also heard from others in the county who have lost dogs due to mushroom poisoning.
“I have seen them in Huasna, Lopez Canyon, High Mountain and on the Cuesta Grade, so it’s not just centralized just here (on his property),” Maddux said. “The point is, is they can potentially grow anywhere (throughout SLO County).”
Charlotte Meade, founder of the Creston-based rescue center said that their Facebook post generated more than 1,100 shares and an outpouring of comments and concerns from people around the country and Canada, including other pet owners who lost their dogs to mushroom toxins.
Meade said the rescue center’s staff has been removing new patches of mushrooms out of fear of toxins, and they’re careful where they let their dogs go.
“We watch our properties and watch where we’re walking the dogs,” Meade said. “There are a lot of mushrooms growing. We don’t let them run outside the fences.”
Education the key
Schwartz said the vast majority of mushrooms are non-toxic, and that people should embrace learning about mushrooms (as they might learn about a rattlesnake versus a garter snake) rather than fear them.
Schwartz said two websites in particular can be useful to identify mushrooms for safety reasons.
One is inaturalist.org, in which members of the public can take photos of mushrooms and an experienced naturalist will help identify them; another is mykoweb.com, which provides a host of information on the fungi of California.
Maddux said he wanted to speak out on his experience because it was heartbreaking for his family to watch their beloved dog die in front of their eyes, and he wants dogs, adults and kids to remain safe.
“My advice is to be aware,” Maddux said. “You just have to be a little more cautious than to just let them out to run around freely.”