Karaka Berry Toxicity in Dogs

A Happy Ending To A Potentially Lethal Story

This summer has seen an alarming rise in the cases of Karaka Berry poisonings in dogs, with increasing cases reported by vets in January around New Zealand, including multiple deaths.The Karaka Tree  is widespread in the North Island and top of the South Island. It produces a fruit during the months of January to April, which turns from green to orange when ripe and contains the alkaloid poison Karakin within its kernel. The poison levels are variable and can remain active within the fruit for long periods of time after it has dropped from the tree and turned black. Cases have also been seen of dogs being poisoned from eating last season’s fruit.

The Karaka Berry is a major source of food for the wood pigeon, so it is easy for pet owners to assume that it is safe, however when consumed by dogs and other animals it is very toxic and causes initial signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea and pacing, followed by neurological problems, including limb stiffness, weakness, paralysis and seizures, often leading to death. There is no antidote for the toxin so the only treatment is hospitalisation to provide supportive care for the symptoms and use of activated charcoal to absorb the toxins.

Lulu the 4-month-old black Labrador puppy recently survived a Karaka Berry poisoning due to the quick thinking of her owner Kayla Cumiskey and a timely Facebook post. The pair were staying with a friend on Auckland’s North Shore when Lulu came inside with a paste like substance around her mouth, and then a few minutes later with a cracked kernel husk. Kayla had been tagged in a Facebook post just the day before about the dangers of Karaka Berries and thinking she had seen overhanging branches of a Karaka tree in the backyard she went outside to investigate to find that she was correct. A short while later Lulu began vomiting, so Kayla rushed her to the Emergency Vet where she was made to vomit further, placed on a fluid drip and given activated charcoal. By morning her condition had improved and she was able to go home. Other dogs around NZ have not been so lucky. Kayla now remains extra vigilant when walking Lulu, especially around Devonport where the trees are prevalent.

For reasons unknown the toxicity levels seem to be much higher this year, prompting Veterinarians across New Zealand to issue warnings to dog owners. Dogs are opportunistic foragers by nature and are known to scavenge for the berries, so owners are warned to keep their dog on a lead when being walked in areas where the trees are known to be.

Dr Graeme Ashby from Vets North Kumeu says, “Humans and dogs are particularly sensitive to Karaka Berry toxins and bees can be poisoned by the blossom. Pigs and cattle however, seem to be relatively impervious to the toxins. If you see your dog eat some berries and/or seeds, contact your vet as soon as possible.”

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Article written by Michelle Irwin

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