On Memorial Day morning, Encinitas resident Ronnie Steinau was talking on the phone when she noticed her and her husband’s pet dog, Luna, had picked something up in the backyard and began chewing on it.
Several hours later, Luna began vomiting and by noon the next day, the Steinaus were forced to put their approximately 8-year-old pet out of her misery.
“I was devastated,” Ronnie Steinau said of the loss of Luna, a probable dachshund-beagle mix that had been rescued from the streets of Tijuana.
Their veterinarian concluded Luna had died of poisoning from consuming a seed from a sago palm in the couple’s yard.
“We knew they were somewhat poisonous, but we didn’t know how poisonous they were,” Steinau said.
Alissa Daulat, who lives in the same northeast Encinitas neighborhood as Steinau, said her family’s pit bull, Saber, began violently throwing up the day after Christmas.
Veterinarians suspected the 12-year-old dog had swallowed something causing internal issues and eventually liver failure, and gave him numerous medications, Daulat said. Nothing, however, halted Saber’s decline and the Daulats had him euthanized on Jan. 16.
“It was horrible,” she said. “He was the biggest sweetheart. He had so much personality. He was part of our family. ...
“(His death) left a feeling of nonclosure because we didn’t know what was wrong. We thought maybe he had eaten rat poison or maybe somebody poisoned him.”
When she heard about the Steinaus’ experience, she concluded Saber had most likely died of sago poisoning.
The property on which she and her husband moved to in December encompasses a dozen sago palms and the family’s dog had easy access to the seeds that drop from the plants.
“You don’t realize there are things so dangerous around you,” said Daulat, the mother of a 9-year-girl and 7-year-old boy. “(A sago’s) like a femme fatale — something incredibly beautiful and incredibly deadly. ... They are ticking time bombs. All’s it takes is one seed.”
Sago is the popular name for cycads, which are evergreen plants that grow in warm states and are widely used as ornamental yard plants.
According to the article “Sago Palm Poisoning” by veterinary Dr. Lynn Buzhardt of VCA (formerly Veterinary Centers of America) on the website vcahospitals.com, cycads contain the toxin called cycasin, which attacks the liver and causes a broad range of symptoms to humans as well as pets.
“All parts of the Sago Palm are poisonous, but the seeds (nuts) are the most toxic to pets,” Buzhardt writes.
Cycasin irritates the gastrointestinal tract, causing drooling, vomiting and diarrhea, often leading dogs and cats to refuse to eat.
If left untreated soon after the poisoning occurs, the animal is in danger of incurring liver failure, leading to the collapse of other organs.
Other symptoms in pets include bloody feces, nose bleeds, lethargy, yellow coloration of skin and gums, accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, abdominal pain, increased thirst and urination, bruising and neurological signs such as depression, circling, paralysis, seizures and coma.
Humans also are susceptible to the toxin, especially young children who might be tempted to taste the palm seeds.
Both Steinau and Daulat say they were unaware of the threat to their animals, a danger heightened by the prevalent use of sagos in landscaping throughout the region.
Immediately after Luna’s death, Steinau said, she looked at the sago tree that had been in her backyard for 22 years and said, ‘I hate you. I hate you.”
She had the plant removed and destroyed, though it was probably worth hundreds of dollars.
Daulat said she also is having the sagos removed from her property
She and Steinau said they are committed to carrying on a public awareness campaign through homeowners associations, civic organizations, nurseries, and other avenues.
“I started telling people that for children and pets, this is a horrible plant to have around, and they’re everywhere,” Steinau said. “A lot of people have no idea. We’re trying to get the message out to everyone.
“I’m calling it Luna’s message.”
For more information and to volunteer to help spread Luna’s message, contact Steinau at Rsteinau@roadrunner.com or call 760-753-5566.