Most dogs love to chew, especially puppies who gnaw on anything and everything to help their adult teeth break through. If you found Dexter chewing on the bamboo growing in your garden don't worry; it won't hurt him. However, you may have heard that bamboo is toxic to dogs. Why the confusion? Because there is a plant commonly mistaken as being part of the bamboo family (due to its name) that you should definitely keep away from your pooch. Read on to find out more.
Big or Small, Bamboo for All
There are more than 100 species of bamboo, ranging from towering to petite in size. Most bamboos prefer tropical climates, but some hardy versions can survive temperatures below zero F. Low growing bamboo makes a nice ground cover and is great for controlling soil erosion; tall bamboo can act as a windbreak or a natural privacy screen. If you've chosen this rapid grower for your landscape, you can rest easy because the ASPCA lists bamboo as a plant that's non-toxic to dogs and cats. Dexter may enjoy gnawing on a stray shoot.
Heavenly Bamboo: Not Heavenly
If you've heard bamboo could poison Dexter, it's likely in reference to "heavenly bamboo" or "sacred bamboo" which isn't bamboo at all. Heavenly bamboo is a pretty, easy to care for shrub, popular in the Pacific Northwest. It's a semi-evergreen plant, changing colors with the season: moving from a spring pink, to light green in the summer, to a bronze-purple shade in the fall to bright crimson in the winter. During its pink phase, it also sports pretty white blossoms, followed by red berries. Though it's a beautiful choice for your landscape, it's one to beware of; the ASPCA lists it as toxic to dogs and cats.
If Dexter makes his way into the heavenly bamboo and decides it's a good snack choice, he could become quite ill. The red berries contain cyanogenic glycosides, which can cause vomiting and stomachache; increased blood pressure, heart rate and temperature; respiratory failure; shock and dark red mucus membranes. Call your vet or the pet poison helpline if Dexter eats these poison berries; if he has seizures, has difficulty breathing or loses consciousness, he needs to see the vet immediately. If he ever eats something suspicious, take what he ate to the vet to assist in diagnosis and treatment.
It's a basic fact of life: dogs and puppies are going to chew. Some dogs will always gnaw on something, so it's smart to teach your pooch what's appropriate for him to chew and what isn't. The safe choice is to discourage him from chewing on all plants, as it's hard to know exactly what's toxic and what isn't. As well, you don't want him chewing on your new shoes, though it does give you an excuse to buy more. Encourage Dexter to chew safely by providing him with appropriate chew toys. Avoid toys with small pieces, such as buttons or bells, that can break off easily and be ingested by Dexter. Look for toys that have a little give in them so his teeth don't break off if he chews exuberantly. The toy should be able to withstand his chewing; if he tears it to pieces, throw them away so he doesn't eat the bits.
By Betty Lewis
ASPCA: Heavenly Bamboo
WSU Whatcom County Extension Plant of the Month: Heavenly Bamboo
American Bamboo Society: Species Source List
Pet Poison Helpline: Heavenly Bamboo
VetStreet: How to Make Chewing Safe for Your Dog
Organic Gardening: Bamboo: A Guide
About the Author
Betty Lewis has been writing professionally since 2000, specializing in animal care and issues, business analysis and homeland security. Lewis holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from West Virginia University as well as master's degrees from Old Dominion University and Tulane University.