We receive many enquiries regarding the ingestion of daffodil bulbs and flowers (Narcissus species) during the Spring months, and although most cases result in only mild signs, serious effects can occur occasionally.
All parts of the plant contain alkaloids and glycosides, although they are most concentrated in the bulb; the exact mechanism of toxicity is not fully understood, although even small doses can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. In addition, the bulb contains calcium oxalate crystals, which is a mechanical irritant and can facilitate the entry of other irritant substances and allergens into tissues. Effects can vary from gastrointestinal upset of varying degrees, lethargy and pyrexia in mild cases to hypothermia, hypotension, bradycardia and dehydration in more severe cases. Contact with the sap of the plant can lead to the development of pruritis or erythema. Treatment is essentially supportive, with emphasis on rehydration, if necessary.
Other bulbs, such as Grape Hyacinth (Muscari species), Tulip (Tulipa species) and Primrose (Primula vulgaris) are considered to be of low toxicity and ingestion will probably cause nothing more than mild gastrointestinal upset. It is unlikely that treatment or observation in the veterinary surgery will be required.
Spring Crocus (Crocus species) is of a similarly low toxicity, although the Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale) is highly toxic due to the presence of colchicum; however, as the name suggests, these bulbs flower in the Autumn rather than the Spring.
Mother’s Day this year is on March 19 and some flowers used in bouquets, particularly lilies, are a risk to pets.