Joan Merriam: Acorns, bulbs and mistletoe |

Joan Merriam: Acorns, bulbs and mistletoe

I’d planned to do a holiday-related column, but then heard a clattering on my deck…remembered an article I just read in Whole Dog Journal…and realized I needed to talk about something completely different.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been astounded at the extraordinary number of acorns that have been dropping over the last month. Every time I drive up my driveway I kill at least several dozen, and in my area where no one has natural gas, so many are falling that it sounds like errant schoolboys tossing pebbles at our propane tanks.

It’s definitely the Year of the Acorn.

So, what does that have to do with dogs? Furthermore, what do bulbs and mistletoe have to do with dogs?

So no matter if you’re planting spring bulbs, gathering acorns, or drying mistletoe for the holidays, keep in mind that just like every other season, our glorious fall can present unseen danger for our canine companions.

Let’s take a look:


Those of us who live with oak trees may have no idea that acorns can be dangerous to our dogs if they eat them. I grew up with both dogs and oak trees, and to my knowledge our dogs never had a problem.

That was probably because my particular dogs didn’t eat acorns. Many don’t … but many do, and that’s where the dangers arise.

Acorns (and even oak leaves) contain high levels of a chemical called gallotannin which can cause sluggishness, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea and occasionally even kidney failure and death. In addition, acorns that have lain on the ground for a long time may develop a toxic mold that can cause seizures, some of which may be fatal if they’re severe enough.

Acorns can also pose a serious choking hazard, even for larger dogs. Further, if your dog ingests enough of them or swallows them whole, it can result in a dangerous stomach or intestinal obstruction requiring surgery to resolve.

Finally, the “caps” of acorns, or even the nut itself, can get lodged in between your dog’s toes—not fatal, but really painful (as anyone who’s ever stepped on an acorn with bare feet knows!).


Fall is the season when we gardeners plant spring bulbs … but did you know that the bulb of many flowers in the Narcissus family (daffodils, jonquils, paper whites) can be extremely toxic if your dog eats them? (They’re also toxic to cats and horses.) These bulbs, the most poisonous parts of the plant, contain certain alkaloids which cause salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea, and in large quantities can result in convulsions, low blood pressure, tremors and cardiac arrhythmias.

My neighbor’s dog Bart was especially fond of daffodil bulbs, and after rushing him to the emergency veterinarian because of acute diarrhea and vomiting, his owners decided to forego the springtime display of these lovely flowers in the interests Bart’s health.

The bulbs of hyacinths and tulips pose the same kinds of hazards, plus tissue irritation to the mouth and esophagus. Ingestion can create depression, profuse drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea; and if your dog eats or chews on enough of them, can result in increased heart rate and difficulty breathing.

While in our area you probably won’t be planting Amaryllis in your garden, be aware that it too is part of the Narcissus family, and can cause the same sorts of symptoms as other plants in this species if your dog ingests the leaves, flowers, or bulbs.


That sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling during the Holiday Season may get you a quick kiss, but it can also be potentially toxic to dogs. While there are several varieties of mistletoe, the most toxic is the broadleaf mistletoe, which commonly grows on oak trees (especially the valley oak).

In small amounts, mistletoe leaves and berries can cause mild gastrointestinal signs like drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. But like acorns and bulbs, in large quantities can have much more severe effects such as low blood pressure, abnormal heart rate, hallucinations, seizures, collapse, and even death.

A different variety of mistletoe grows on pines, firs, and other conifers, although it looks nothing like what we commonly think of as mistletoe. Few studies have been done on this species, but it stands to reason that it could be just as toxic as the broadleaf variety. Regardless, it’s best to keep any mistletoe—even the dried plants—well out of your dog’s reach.

So no matter if you’re planting spring bulbs, gathering acorns, or drying mistletoe for the holidays, keep in mind that just like every other season, our glorious fall can present unseen danger for our canine companions.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.

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