Safe From Sago | What Northwest Florida Pet Owners need to know

After a horrifying experience that cost the life of their beloved Boston Terrier, Marlin - one Northwest Florida woman wants you to know how to protect your dog.
a dog resting with its tongue out.
Marlin the Boston Terrier settles for the camera in this January, 2024 photo. Marlin ingested sago palm and died earlier this year. Now, his human advocates for awareness about the toxic plant.

Marlin, the dog, lived a good life. His human, Elizabeth Borschowa, and the rest of the family loved him. “He was literally the sweetest dog,” Borschowa said, “He didn’t lose a lot of his puppy qualities. He was a little bit of sunlight all of the time.” 

 

But, Marlin was ripped away from the Borschowa family when their beloved Boston Terrier ingested sago palm earlier this year. 

 

The family and their local veterinarian, as well as a specialist from Louisianatried everything they could to save Marlin. The pup was hospitalized for a week. They tried all sorts of medications, plasma infusions, and even feeding tubes. But ultimately, the toxic plant shut down Marlin’s liver. He died after a week of fighting the diagnosis. 

 

The family did everything to prepare their backyard and the area around their home for a dog – including scouting out the area for sago palms. But when they inspected their home again they noticed the tell-tale reddish shell of a Sago Palm. “we took [the shell] in, and they were like, ‘yeah, that’s a Sago Palm seed,” she said, “It was an incredibly painful lesson to learn – that you don’t even have to have them [on your property] yourself.”

 

Now, Elizabeth has made it her mission to raise awareness about the lethality of the plant that was imported from Japan in the 1950s to our area and represents a liver-killing threat for all animals – especially dogs. “If you talk to a vet, many times, people just don’t know. So they have the trees in their yard,” she said. Many of the trees, from her research, were planted in the area because they were hardy and could withstand the high temperatures and humidity of the Florida coast.

 

She hopes her dog’s story will convince people in the area to either remove their sago palmsor at the very least, keep a mindful eye on their trees for when they release their seeds into the area. 

 

The Experts 

Dr. Jason Harris, of the Bluewater Bay Animal Hospital, says that the Sago Palm is incredibly deadly, but he has had few cases in his practice – which spans about a decade. He says that sago palms are common, the risk is serious, but it doesn’t mean all animals are in immediate danger. “They’re very prevalent in this area,” Dr. Harris said, “owners need to know they are absolutely toxic.” Dr. Harris added that pet parents need to walk their dogs on a leash to reduce the chance that their pups could ingest a part of a sago palm and stay away from walking with their dogs in areas that have a lot of sago palms.  

 

The vet says most dogs that ingest the seeds or other parts of the plant have about a 10% survival rate – so awareness of what the plants look like is key

More About Sago Palms

 

Sago palms originated in Japan, on the Ryukyu Islands in the country’s southwest. Okinawa is part of this region. 

 

While it’s called a Palm, it’s a member of the Cycad family of plants. 

 

The neurotoxin in the plants can paralyze humans and kill many animals if it is ingested

 

According to The Veterinary Emergency Group, the main threat from the plant doesn’t come from the live sprouts, as they are not something animals want to eat. Typically, ingestion takes place because a dog finds a loose frond or other part of the plant that has been separated from the main body. 

 

The group adds that the neurotoxin can be lethal or cause irreparable damage to a pet within 15 minutes. This is why it’s so important to eliminate the plant anywhere your pet spends time unsupervised, like a backyard. 

 

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, these are the symptoms you need to look out for:

  • Gastrointestinal irritation (tummy troubles)
  • Depression
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Later symptoms include

  • Weakness
  • Wobbly gait
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Dark Urine
  • Yellow Coloration of the eyes or skin
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Increased drinking
  • Discolored Feces
  • Bleeding

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