Zeppelin, an energetic white Labrador retriever mix, occasionally can be found chomping on a stick at the dog park.
Her owner, Melissa Weber, wants to make sure her 6-year-old dog doesn't chew on anything else when she's outside.
"I've always heard about oleander being poisonous, but I didn't know a lot about other plants," said Weber, an office associate at University of Arizona.
Like many dog owners, Weber didn't realize the variety of plant species that are dangerous to dogs. Experts say there are more than 700 species of plants that can sicken or even kill pets.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, each year its Animal Poison Control Center answers more than 200,000 calls for help nationwide.
In 2009, the Arizona Poison Control and Drug Information Center received more than 2,200 calls regarding pet poisonings. And last year, Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center in Tucson received 113 calls about plant exposure specific to dogs.
The sad thing is that many pet poisonings can be avoided by taking simple precautions.
For example, when Weber adopted Zeppelin from the Humane Society about five years ago, she did her homework.
"I researched all the plants in my yard," said Weber, 47. "I found out that even some flowers are toxic to dogs."
Weber spoke to people she knew who were familiar with poisonous plants and pets. She also asked her veterinarian, and she researched the Web.
During her research, she discovered that the Rocky Mountain laurel in her yard sprouts pods that are toxic to dogs.
"Each spring when it blooms, I make sure to cut away the bean pods," she said.
"Dogs usually aren't that smart about what to eat."
Dr. Heather Connally has been a veterinarian since 2005 for the Veterinary Specialty Center Tucson. She said oleander exposure is probably the most common poisonous plant that dogs ingest, and symptoms can include vomiting, staggering and heart arrythmia.
"If caught in time, usually the symptoms can be reversed," Connally said.
Signs of poisoning in dogs can run the gamut. Certain plants might cause vomiting, drooling or diarrhea. Other plants cause more serious effects, even shutting down the kidneys, liver or heart.
People sometimes ask why dogs will eat these plants, and it's usually not because of taste. Sometimes it's out of curiosity, because a dog is a chewer or because of sickness.
"We don't have grass here, and sometimes when dogs feel nauseous they don't have that to chew on and they settle for something else," Connally said.
That's why it's important to be proactive and prevent things like that from happening. Dr. Elizabeth Weintraub of Sunrise Pet Clinic advises pet owners to check their yards for potentially toxic plants before anything occurs.
"Do not leave pets out unsupervised in yards for long periods," Weintraub said. "Young animals especially will tend to dig and chew when bored and underexercised, increasing the risk of plant ingestion."
Also, when trimming plants, Weintraub said to clean away clippings before allowing pets back into the yard.
Sometimes only certain parts of the plant are poisonous, such as the bulbs of tulips. Others, like oleander, are poisonous throughout.
And out of all the poisonous plants in Tucson, many veterinarians say oleander is the most common plant that dogs encounter.
Janet Galante, a dog trainer and owner of Sit! Stay! Play! dog day care, has clients ask her about poisonous plants.
"It is a constant worry," she said. "I give everyone a handout in my training classes."
Other plants, while not poisonous, aren't necessarily safe. Many cactus species, such as jumping cholla, can cause problems of their own.
Galante remembers the day a segment of jumping cholla embedded in the leg of her dog, Turk. Before Galante could get to the Viszla, he tried to pull it off - resulting in a $300 vet visit to remove spines from his throat, tongue and gums.
Weintraub of Sunrise Pet Clinic noted another poisonous plant gaining popularity in landscaping: sago palms. She noted that all potential exposures of this plant should be taken seriously, as ingestion of even one or two seeds could be lethal.
"The intoxication has two phases: initial gastrointestinal upset with a brief period of apparent recovery and then more severe symptoms of liver failure several days later," Weintraub said.
Keith Boesen is a pharmacist and director of the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of Arizona. He said the majority of plants in a typical backyard are not going to be problematic to dogs.
"We're not vets, but we try to provide information," he said. "Be aware of the plants in and around the home that dogs have easy access to. Try to set up some sort of barrier to prevent the dog from getting some sort of access to it."
When calls do come into the center, more often than not, there's not an easy answer.
"What's most common is the unknown plant," said Boesen, who owns two dogs himself. "That's when it becomes an investigation into what symptoms the dog is experiencing, from vomiting to odd behavior."
Sometimes tests are available for owners not sure what plant is making their pet sick. For example, an expensive oleander test exists, but you may need to start treatment before the test comes back. And while antidotes are available for some plants, they must be given in time to work.
"Know what plants you have, because we don't treat all of them the same," he said. "If you already know what it is, it speeds up the process."
Pet owners who don't know what their dogs have eaten are losing precious minutes trying to figure it out.
"Then you have to take a clipping of the plant to a nursery, or sending us photographs," Boesen said. "With the name, it takes that whole investigation part out."
Common poisonous plants in Arizona
• Castor bean
• Century plant
• Chinaberry tree
• Jimson weed
• Some types of lilies, especially to cats
• Mexican bird of paradise
• Lily of the valley
• Sago palm
• Tulips and hyacinths
Keeping your dog safe
If you own a pet, make sure you have a first-aid kit at home. Be sure to consult a veterinarian before administering first aid. Plus, a poison help line or your veterinarian might be able to tell if the product ingested was poisonous to begin with, what the true antidote is and if inducing vomiting is warranted.
• Hydrogen peroxide (3 percent)
• An oral dosing syringe or turkey baster
• Teaspoon/tablespoon set (to measure the hydrogen peroxide)
• Liquid hand-dishwashing detergent
• Rubber gloves
• Triple antibiotic ointment
• Vitamin E oil
• Diphenhydramine tablets 25 mg
• Ophthalmic saline solution or artificial tears
• Can of tuna packed in water or tasty canned pet food
• Sweet electrolyte-containing beverage
• Corn syrup
• Vegetable oil
What to do
Remove any plant parts remaining in the mouth and rinse around the mouth with water. Do not use a forceful stream from the hose directed at the back of the mouth to avoid forcing water into the animal's lungs. Allow the animal to drink a small amount of water.
Identify the plant your pet ate and call the poison center or veterinarian.
Take the suspected plant or remaining parts of the plant with you if going to the vet's office or an emergency clinic. Never try to make your pet vomit.
The following hotlines run 24 hours a day.
• Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (Tucson): 1-800-222-1222 .
• National Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435.
• Be connected with veterinary health professionals who are familiar with how different species respond to poisons and with treatment protocols.
• Pet Poison Helpline: 1-800-213-6680
You will be charged $39 per incident, which covers the consultation and follow-up calls.
Valerie Vinyard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org