Throughout Autumn and Winter, we receive many calls involving animals (mostly dogs) ingesting red berries, whilst on a walk or in the garden. It is often difficult to identify the species of plant, and therefore identify whether ingestion is a toxicological risk.

Cotoneaster species (as seen on the left), is an evergreen low-growing shrub/tree commonly found in gardens and public parks. The plant bears an abundance of round bright red berries from June or July onwards which may remain on the plant until winter. Dogs and cats often remain well following ingestion of Cotoneaster berries, but gastrointestinal signs may occur. There is a potential for cyanogenic glycoside toxicity if a large quantity has been ingested, but severe Cotoneaster poisoning is rare and more likely to occur in herbivores.

Yew (Taxus baccata, English yew) is a slow-growing, evergreen shrub/tree found throughout the UK. The seed is enclosed in a fleshy aril that is green when unripe and red, or sometimes yellow, when ripe. The aril is often misidentified as a ‘berry’ and the seed is usually visible through it. All parts of the plant are toxic, including dried clippings, with the exception of the fleshy red (or yellow) arils. Sudden death is the most common sign in livestock, but few severe cases have been reported in dogs. In VPIS cases half the dogs remained well. Gastrointestinal upset with vomiting and diarrhoea is common in dogs. In severe cases, cardiovascular dysfunction may occur.

The VPIS can advise on specific treatment for animals with clinical signs; we may also be able to assist in the identification of unknown red berries.