Black Walnut Trees Can Poison Your Dog
For those of you who do not know, Thor is my Black English Labrador Retriever. Jeannie, my girlfriend, brought him home from a professional breeder. She actually did this without my knowledge because I was still hurting over the loss of Dakota Sunrise, a yellow lab she had taken in who had been badly abused and mistreated.
We have a huge backyard for the dogs to play in. We also have a tan-colored Cairn Terrier. Because we live in a court, our larger yard is bordered by five, count 'em, five other yards. One individual (isn't there always one) has seemingly never taken care of her trees. In one corner of her yard is a very tall and strong Black Walnut tree.
What Is a Black Walnut Tree?
If you're not sure what sort of tree this is, it produces green fruits that contain the walnut. They actually look very much like crab apples but are very solid and can be deadly if they hit you from a great height. In fact, on two occasions I have heard them fall and take a window out of another neighbor's shed! That same neighbor had to call a tree company on another occasion because this woman's foliage was leaning over their house and was beginning to topple.
My Dog's Experience With Black Walnuts
My difficulties with the Black Walnut began when Thor was just 6 months old. He found one of those green fruits and tore the husk off of it. At the time, I had no idea what sort of tree it was and what sort of danger it presented to our animals. As a bit of a tree hugger, I am reluctant to cut down any healthy tree if it isn't totally needed.
After recognizing Thor's proclivity towards playing with the Black Walnuts, I made every effort to remove them from my yard. Toward the end of summer, they begin to drop and it becomes a nonstop rain of destruction! I was still working at the time, so I couldn't be as on top of the situation as I would have liked.
Then Thor got very sick. His eyes glazed over and drool was hanging from either side of his mouth and he froze in his footsteps. Suddenly every step was a struggle. I had no idea it was the Black Walnuts. I recognized that look though. I have seen it in the eyes of those who have partaken of dangerous substances like LSD. I knew then it was something he had eaten.
After the first two to three hours, Thor began to drink large amounts of water. He seemed better initially, but then he ran into our bedroom. He made a beeline for me. I am not sure why, but he felt that it would be ok to throw up as long as it was near me. Maybe he knew there was little he could do that would make me overreact. I never blame an animal or a child for their actions. you simply deal with the moment and move on.
After several more vomiting episodes, Thor had done what labs are known for. They realize they ate something bad and they drink a large volume of water in order to make themselves sick. In the past, we had rarely ever had an animal so young. Jeannie has ever been incapable of turning away a stray. These lessons were never learned by either of us although we have had many pets. I won't mention how many she has had in her life. As a farmer's daughter, she literally had barns full of homeless strays.
We learned what we should have already known, and that was keep your dog away from Black Walnuts! Also, we learned that he could have died! It is literally a poisonous plant which will spell the end of even other plant life that grows too close to it!
I thought I had it all figured out. I was wrong. A huge branch from that tree had been hanging over our yard depositing its ugly, poison fruit all over our yard. I did not want another episode, so I had been very diligent in removing them. Thor had learned his lesson, though. He no longer bothered with them except to occasionally toss one in the air. I thought Thor had it all figured out.
I was wrong again. I had promised myself and Jeannie that I would cut that branch down. The problem was it was very high up and I would have to go near the top to cut it. Not afraid of heights, I endeavored to do this, but with a chainsaw stalling and sputtering out in one hand, it became a frustrating effort, to say the least. I turned then to the bow saw and cut it down the old fashioned way. The tough tree limb was the size of a small tree. It left branches and twigs scattered everywhere.
While I cut the log down to the size town ordinance required, Thor helped me order the big branches by moving them to the other side of the yard. He has always done this. I am not sure if he is simply trying to get me to chase him or he is actually trying to help but he is a big help either way. Even with the bigger logs and branches he cannot move easily, he helps me carry by grabbing on and following my course. It's great laugh!
If he ever asks to get paid for this labor I do think I will remind him how many biscuits he eats.
After finishing up a couple hours, later all seemed well. Thor played long into the evening and seemed fine. A few hours later his eyes glazed over. He stood in front of the door with twin strings of drool hanging inexorably downward. I recognized that look. I knew instantly what happened and wanted to punch myself right in the face!
Thor had been chewing at the sticks and twigs eagerly. he had even gone over and licked some sap from the biggest logs. Now Thor is older. He will be two years old in two months. He also weighs a hefty 90 lbs. He had not ingested the fruit, but apparently the sap is enough to do the job! In fact, after calling the vet, Jeannie learned that all tree sap is poisonous to cats and dogs! They are drawn to it because of the sugar, not knowing the trip they are in for. Then the vet mentioned he had lost four other dogs so far this year. He said that since we had no real winter, the trees were giving off sap at the wrong time.
After the first two hours, Thor looked better, but his strength was gone. He couldn't take a step. Now that he is a big fella, being sick makes it tougher to get around. While everyone else was asleep, I could not convince him to take another step. I got a blanket and laid it on the ground and sat down with him for the next two hours. He was restless and jumped at every sound. I knew he wasn't getting any better in the chill night. I woke up Jeannie so she could hold the doors open while I picked the big boy up. Thank god my back is still strong, that's all I have to say!
By morning, Thor was able to stand on his own and by evening, he was able to run and play. He never did go through the vomiting phase this time, thank all that's holy. He then slept off the residual exhaustion of his long night.
Black Walnut Trees must not be allowed to stand in residential areas. If you have trees that are seeping sap, one way to keep your dog away from it is to build a taller landscape box around the trunk to close it off. Other ways are to wrap them with chicken wire and lattice. Do what you have to do. No pet deserves that horrible sickness or possible death.
Just another tip from Barnsey. Do with it what you will.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.