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Top vet issues warning to pet owners as toxic plants thrive

THE chief vet has warned animal owners to be on the look-out for poisonous plants after the warm summer caused potential deadly weeds to flourish.

The plants can be particularly harmful to pets such as dogs and horses, who may eat them.

The summer's fine weather has seen flora flourish across the country, but many plants which are commonly found in gardens and the countryside can cause serious health problems for animals.

Chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: "Scotland is looking especially verdant this summer but animal owners need to be mindful that such lush and abundant greenery contains hidden dangers.

"Many plants commonly found in gardens and the Scottish countryside are poisonous to pets and, if eaten, can cause sickness and even death, although thankfully such cases are rare."

The warning comes just weeks after an animal welfare charity warned dog walkers to beware of the dangers of toxic plants following a spate of deaths among pets who had eaten poisonous weeds.

Ms Voas said: "Some of these toxic threats are well known, such as ragwort, yew and foxgloves. But there are also lesser-known risks to look out for including sycamore seeds - which have recently been discovered to be noxious - and hemlock water dropwort, also known as poisonous parsnip, which is particularly profuse this summer.

"It is important that animal owners fully understand these potential perils for their pets and that they are responsible for their animals' wellbeing.

"In very exceptional cases Scottish ministers can, under the Weeds Act, require landowners to take action to stop some poisonous plants spreading but this is limited to a very small number of specified plants and is deployed only when there is a clear and direct threat, for example to livestock or horses."

She added: "The onus is therefore on animal owners to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to minimise the risk of pets falling ill or even dying after accidentally ingesting a poisonous plant and to seek prompt veterinary advice if they suspect their animal may have been poisoned."

Six dogs are thought to have died in Helensburgh in Argyll and Bute and one in Largs, Ayrshire, this year after consuming hemlock water dropwort, a weed that is said to be the most poisonous in the UK. It grows on marshy ground or on the banks of waterways.

Dog owner James MacDonald's eight-month-old Cairn terrier, Taggart, was among the victims of the plant when he died after chewing on some at the popular beauty spot of Tarbet on the banks of Loch Lomond last month. Mr MacDonald said his dog passed away within an hour of eating the shrub. It was the pup's first walk in the countryside.

Ariel Brunn, veterinary surgeon at the Dogs Trust charity, said the best course of action to keep pets away from harmful plants was to stick to paths during walks and avoid letting them loose in the undergrowth.

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