Cottage Q&A: Are mushrooms safe for dogs?

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Are mushrooms safe for dogs? Our new puppy loves to eat the ones on our property. She does, however, avoid certain mushrooms. Do dogs have an instinct for avoiding the poisonous ones? Can you provide us with more information on mushrooms that aren’t safe for our puppy to eat?—Darcy, Blindfold Lake, Ont.

“The majority of mushrooms are not toxic,” says Paul Kroeger of the Vancouver Mycological Society. Well, that’s good news. Except…there are thousands of species of wild mushrooms, so that still leaves a whole bunch that are toxic. And, while mushroom poisoning isn’t a major cause of mortality in pets, says Kroeger, “it is fairly frequently reported in dogs.” Depending on the mushroom and its toxicity, symptoms range from lethargy and uncoordinated movement to gastrointestinal problems, seizures, and coma. “Sometimes, serious symptoms are very slow to appear,” says Kroeger. “It can take 12 hours or more.” (If you suspect mushroom poisoning, get your pup to the vet ASAP.)

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You really shouldn’t trust your pooch’s judgement about which varieties are safe. “Dogs are generally most interested in the toxic mushrooms,” says Michael Beug, the chair of the North American Mycological Association’s toxicology committee. Some of these species are fishy- or meaty-smelling and therefore very appealing to a dog. “And a puppy, as opposed to an adult, that eats a toxic mushroom is at serious risk,” says Beug. It’s partially a matter of size: a medium-sized toxic mushroom might not have much of an effect on a large, healthy adult dog but could be deadly to a puppy (or a small breed).

Beug suggests that you learn to ID the various dangerous mushroom species. Hey, no problem, right? Along with mushrooms in the Inocybe genus, the Lepiota genus, and the infamous Amanitas—the Death Cap, the Destroying Angel, fly agaric (a.k.a. red-and-white toadstools)—there’s just Galerina marginata (extremely widespread and easily mistaken for non-toxic species) and Conocybe filaris (a.k.a. Fool’s conecap). Oh, but don’t forget about some of the Clitocybe species, the Boletus varieties, and at least a couple of the Scleroderma mushrooms. And the hallucinogenic species. And the false morels. And the true morels (safe for you, cooked; potentially dangerous for a dog if they get at them raw, says Beug). Also, you should know that some puffball mushrooms can harm dogs if they inhale the spores.

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This is getting to be a lot of damn mushrooms. Unless you were planning to get a degree in mycology anyway, a better option—other than, of course, keeping your puppy on a leash or fencing off the mushroom-filled areas—might be to routinely cull the property, say the experts. You can only pluck the fruiting bodies, unfortunately; mycelium, the underground vegetative part of fungi, is not easy to remove. “And you’ll have to comb the area thoroughly,” says Beug. “You’ll have to keep picking them, and monitor the space all the time.” Annoying chore, perhaps, but better than a sick puppy.

This article originally ran in the June/July 2020 issue of Cottage Life.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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