Trouble, a 2 year old female spayed Chihuahua, and Mischief, a 5 year old female spayed terrier mix, came to see me after their owner noticed that both were covered in a sticky substance and squinting and pawing at their eyes after being in the backyard.
On examination, I found a colorless dried sticky substance on their heads, faces, and necks and both dogs had moderate to severe blepharospasm (squinting of the eyes), swollen red conjunctiva (lining of the eyes), and were tearing excessively. They were both having obvious eye pain. I questioned the owner about what type of plants she might have in her yard and what the dogs might have gotten into. She was unaware of any dangerous plants or hazards in the fenced yard. I asked her specifically about a plant called "Fire Stick" or Spineless Pencil Cactus and showed her a picture of the plant. Yes! She did have one of these succulents in her backyard but was not aware it was dangerous to dogs. The plant contains a toxic latex sap that oozes from the plant when the stems are broken and can cause severe irritation to the skin, eyes, and the mouth if ingested. The sap is not only irritating for dogs, but for humans too so it is highly recommended to wear gloves when handling this plant and it should not be kept indoors to limit exposure.
The Treatment Plan
I immediately got to work helping Trouble and Mischief with their poor painful eyes. I placed several drops of a numbing agent into both eyes for immediate pain relief and once that took effect (10 seconds later) I flushed the eyes thoroughly and copiously with sterile eye wash. I also carefully teased away the sap from their skin which thankfully had been protected from the sap by their thick fur. The sap can cause severe dermatitis if it comes in contact with skin. I dispensed a topical antibiotic drop for the owner to place in both eyes to prevent infection and also sent them each home with an E-collar to prevent rubbing at the eyes.
Thankfully, both Trouble and Mischief went on to make a full recovery in just a few days. I am assuming that the dogs were playing and chased a ball or lizard into the bush which disturbed the thin branches releasing the sap. The owner decided it would be best to remove the plant from her yard so this didn't happen again in the future. I agreed! While this plant is beautiful and colorful and grows easily here in San Diego county, it is a hazard for both pets and people alike.
The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country; however, if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.