Can Dogs Eat Elderberries?

Can dogs have elderberries? ¹

You like walking your dog, especially in the lush, woody areas. Who doesn’t? It’s so green and smells so good. The grass is thick underfoot, and there are all sorts of shrubs and trees with tasty berries and fruits serving as nice snacks for fur kids and humans alike.

But, some of them are poisonous. Which ones, and how do you know? What happens if your dog eats elderberries? Some people say they’re great and even make them into herbal medicines. Some say it will absolutely kill your dog, and you should stay as far away as you possibly can.

So, which is it? Well, turns out it’s both…

What is an Elderberry?

Elderberries are the dark purple fruit grown in the European elder tree, and they’re mainly used to make medicine. However, there’s not much scientific evidence supporting this use. You could also use ripe elderberries in cooking, specifically when making jams, jellies, and pies, or for making wine and tea. They’re not the same as the American Elder, Dwarf Elder, or Elderflower.

Are Elderberries Good For Dogs?

Ripe elderberries are fantastic for dogs. They grow pretty high up in the tree, so your pup probably won’t be able to reach them unless it’s berry season. That’s when the ripe berries fall from the tree, littering the ground below. 

Elderberries are rich in all sorts of goodies, like Vitamins A and C, bioflavonoids (antioxidants), iron, and iodine. These are all good for your pup’s health, boosting his immune system and generally giving him a leg up. Eating too many berries might give him the runs, though, since it’s not a common ingredient in natural dog food.

Fun fact: elderberries are kind of like beetroot in that they’ll discolor your pup’s poo for a bit. If your Rover chowed down on some elderberries, prepare for some purple-colored parcels on the lawn.

Elderberries boost your pup’s immune system and ease inflammation. It also works to reduce stress and maintain heart health

Are Unripe Elderberries Toxic for Dogs?

Unripe or uncooked elderberries aren’t great for people, causing vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. That sucks. What about our fur kids, though? Unripe elderberries contain trace amounts of cyanide, which is obviously a big no-no for both dogs and people.

When your pup eats enough unripe elderberries, it could kill him in less than an hour. So, if you suspect that your pup had any, treat it as an emergency and get him to the vet ASAP.

Are Other Parts of the Elderberry Plant Toxic For Dogs?

When people ingest elderberry leaves and stems, they could experience diarrhea and vomiting, and nausea.

Elderberry leaves and roots contain trace amounts of cyanide, so neither you nor your pup should eat them. They’re extremely poisonous and can kill your pup in less than an hour if he ingests enough of it. So, if your pup had any of it, get him to the vet ASAP.

Symptoms of Elderberry Poisoning

Elderberry poisoning is a scary thing, and it works quickly. This is due to the amygdalin in the plant – it’s a form of cyanogenic glycose, which forms hydrogen cyanide in our intestines. That’s what kills us or our pups when we eat the wrong parts of the elderberry plant. For most animal species, a dosage of two milligrams per kilogram body weight is fatal.

Cyanide toxicity shows within 15-20 minutes, depending on your pup’s size and how much he had. This could be fatal within 30-45 minutes if left untreated. Signs to look out for include

·         Coma

·         Cherry red blood

·         Dilated pupils

·         Difficulty breathing

·         Diarrhea

·         Decreased blood pressure

·         Excessive drooling

·         Nausea

·         Fluid build-up in the chest and abdomen

·         Rapid heart rate

·         Shock

·         Seizures

·         Bitter almond smell on breath

·         Tremors

·         Vomiting

·         Sudden death

Most of these symptoms overlap with other types of poisoning, so telling the vet what your pup ate is crucial in correctly diagnosing and treating the problem. Key giveaways are the cherry red blood, and bitter almond smell on your pup’s breath since these are unique to cyanide poisoning.

What To Do if My Dog Has Elderberry Poisoning?

If you suspect elderberry poisoning, your first port of call is rushing to the vet since time is not your friend here. If you can, take a sample of the berries, leaves, and stem with you for identification. The vet will do a quick examination to confirm possible cyanide poisoning.

Unfortunately, detecting cyanide in your pup’s blood or urine takes a few hours. For this reason, your vet won’t wait for test results since your pup will be long gone by then. He’ll jump into treatment ASAP to ensure your pup’s best chance of survival.

He’s likely to administer amyl nitrate with thiosulfate as an IV injection. These will generally work if your pup’s heart is still beating. Note that these two antidotes on their own are also toxic to dogs, so misdiagnosis could also be fatal to your pup.

The vet will probably administer Vitamin B12 since it binds the cyanide into an inert chemical compound, flushed out with urine.

Then, there are the supportive treatments, restoring your pup back to health and helping his body fight this shock. These include IV fluids to combat dehydration, along with electrolytes and sugars. He could even administer oxygen since that is especially helpful.

Will My Dog Recover From Elderberry Poisoning?

If you don’t get your furkid to the vet in time, he likely won’t make it. Some pups do, but these are rare. Suppose your pup survives the first two hours after he got elderberry poisoning. In that case, he’ll probably recover completely and live to a ripe old age.

Recovery depends on how much elderberry (or parts of the plant) your pup ate, how quickly treatment started, and how big your pooch is. It’s also possible that some cyanide stayed behind in his body. This would get absorbed in the guts later, causing elderberry poisoning symptoms all over again. Yikes! That’s why your vet will probably request a follow-up check, just to be sure your pup is okay. Here, he’ll pay special attention to behavioral changes and neurological disturbances.

Are Other Wild Berries Toxic For Dogs?

The American Elder shrub grows dark purple berries, similar to Elderberries. These are used in many foods and drinks, such as pies, jellies, wine, and juice. 

Dwarf elders also grow berries, and these are definitely not meant for dogs. They’re used in purgative herbal medicines, so your poor pup will definitely get the runs from eating these. If you spot your pup snacking on dwarf elderberries, get him to the vet ASAP.

Blackberries are a big favorite for dogs, and we get it! These yummy berries go well with just about anything. Luckily, they contain lots of goodies and are actually healthy for dogs.

Black Bryony and its cousin, White Bryony, should be avoided at all costs. These climbing plants are highly poisonous and will cause severe diarrhea when eaten. If you suspect that your pup had these berries, or any other part of the plant, get him to the vet ASAP.

Dogwood berries are small, dark, sour berries. They’re not poisonous per se, but they cause irritation in the gut. If your dog had too many of them, he could start vomiting.

Rosehip is another goodie on our list. These are rich in Vitamin C. Dogs typically don’t eat much of them since they’re pretty hairy inside.

In Closing

Ripe elderberries are brimming with good nutrients and are made into medicines for humans and dogs alike. Unfortunately, unripe elderberries and the rest of the elder plants are incredibly poisonous for dogs and humans. It causes cyanide poisoning, lethal in less than an hour if left untreated. That’s super scary! So, if you suspect that your pup chowed down on some suspect berries, take a sample of the plant, including berries, leaves, and stem (if you can), and rush him to the vet without delay.

Luckily, if your fur kid survives the first two hours after he chomped those berries, he’ll probably recover completely, living to a ripe old age.

Photo credits

¹ Photo by ceit wonders on Unsplash