Pet Improvement: Magnificent fungi, healing to toxic

The Pacific Northwest is rich with forests and trails that people and pets explore. Yet under each footstep and paw print is a living network of organisms hard at work. Each tree appears separate but is connected through its roots to other trees and to a vast mycelium network. This is a sprawling fungal highway that can go in every direction for miles.

The trees and fungi are intelligent and constantly communicating through this network. If the tree needs minerals or carbon dioxide the fungi will hunt to provide these nutrients. Underground they can dissolve rocks and pierce insects to draw out the necessary components. Fungi also decompose dead animals and pass along the food. The tree, in return, gives the fungi sugar.

Above ground the fruiting body of the fungi are the cap, stem and gills. Mushrooms have been used for thousands of years for their medicinal healing properties. There are approximately 38,000 known species, and of these, 270 species are believed to contain therapeutic active components. The Asian cultures rely heavily on them, particularly in traditional Chinese medicine.

Some top medicinal mushrooms are reishi, chaga, maitake, shiitake, cordyceps, lion’s mane and turkey tail. These mushrooms are believed to help with anxiety, cognition, inflammation, aging, heart health, energy, immune strength and more. In the last 20 years, the pet market has seen a boom in mushroom products, particularly for boosting the immune system and use in cancer prevention.

Mushrooms typically are packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants, if grown and processed correctly. Care should be taken about where they are harvested. The fruits can absorb radiation, chemicals, heavy metals and lawn care products creating unhealthy concentrations. Purchasing organic products from a reliable manufacturer or growing them yourself is the recommendation. 

The North American Mycological Association (NAMA) states that although 99 percent of mushrooms are considered safe with minimal toxicity, 1 percent can be highly toxic to pets. It is believed that mushroom poisoning is under-reported in the Pacific Northwest.

The death cap mushroom, Amanita phalloides, contains amatoxins, and is the most common cause of potentially fatal poisoning in pets according to NAMA. It’s believed that dogs take special interest in this mushroom because of the fishy odor. Other species that can be lethal are the Inoybe and Clitocybe, which contain the toxin muscarine. Some species can be toxic to pets but not people.

Amanita muscaria, frequently seen on the central Oregon coast with its bright red cap and white speckles, is also eaten by dogs and may attract cats due to the fishy odor. Muscaria and pantherine can cause a deep coma-like sleep. According to NAMA, most dogs will recover and should not be euthanized.

Other symptoms of poisoning are mild to severe gastrointestinal distress, salivation, urination, diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, tearing and more. Often symptoms are delayed for up to 24 hours. For very specific information please visit

NAMA recommends that, if you believe your pet has been poisoned, you first contact your veterinarian or pet emergency hospital. Next, try and get a sample of the mushroom. Put the material in a paper bag of waxed paper but not plastic. Note where the mushroom was growing to help determine if your pet has been poisoned by chemical uptake. For more detailed information please go to

Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]


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