It’s hard to believe a houseplant could harm a tough cookie like the Woytek family’s Lab mix, Amber. A survivor of Hurricane Ike, the young pup was diagnosed with distemper in the months after her adoption from the Houston SPCA in September 2008. But according to Laurie Woytek, Amber defeated the often fatal virus—and went on to form a tight bond with her canine “sister” and partner-in-crime, Scout, a one-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback mix.
Early last month, Laurie discovered that Amber had eaten parts of a sago palm plant. Sago palm—with its dark green leaves and hairy trunk—has become a popular houseplant in recent years, but unbeknownst to many green-thumbed pet parents, it’s also highly toxic to cats and dogs.
Immediately ill, Amber was hospitalized at a nearby emergency clinic. Says Laurie, “I was very scared, but thought, ‘She’s tough—she’ll make it through.’” After several days in the hospital, the emergency veterinarian delivered the heartbreaking news to the Woyteks—Amber had developed jaundice and life-threatening liver failure.
“We took Amber to our regular veterinarian to discuss our options with him,” explains Laurie. “She suffered seizures in the car on the way, and we ultimately made the very difficult, yet humane decision to let her go.”
Sadly, Amber’s story is all too common. Since 2003, the ASPCA has seen an increase by more than 200 percent of sago palm and cycad poisonings, and 50 to 75 percent of those ingestions resulted in fatalities. According to Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, veterinary toxicologist and vice president of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, all parts of the plant are toxic, not just the seeds or nuts, and common signs of ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, depression, seizures and liver failure.
Before the Woytek family said their final goodbyes to Amber, they took her home to see her best buddy, Scout. “As Amber lay still on the floor, Scout kept nudging her as if to say, ‘C’mon, get up,’” Laurie says. “They weren’t just ’sissies’—as we referred to them—they were best friends.”
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” reflects Laurie. “Amber is truly missed and will forever be in our hearts. She was our little princess.”
In memory of Amber, and to mark the end of National Poison Prevention Week, March 15-21, the ASPCA reminds all pet parents to stay informed about protecting pets from accidental poisonings. Please read our poison prevention tips online.