During this time of year, wild mushroom ingestion is one of the most common reasons that pet owners phone the Animal Poisons Helpline. Australia and New Zealand are home to over 10,000 mushroom species and whilst only a small percentage of these are known to be poisonous, all wild mushroom ingestions should be considered serious until proven otherwise. As we are once again entering the ‘mushroom season’, the Helpline is anticipating a further increase in cases over the next couple of months.

Ingestion can result in a spectrum of clinical signs depending on the species and toxin involved. Whilst many wild mushroom ingestions result in either no signs or purely a gastroenteritis like syndrome, some mushrooms can be associated with potentially life-threatening effects including liver (and less frequently kidney) failure. Liver damage can occur from a number of mushroom species across Australia and New Zealand, most notoriously from Amanita phalloides or the death cap mushroom. Death caps have been found growing in the ACT, SA, TAS, VIC and the north island of New Zealand (most frequently around the Auckland region). There have also been recent sightings of growth in Albury, NSW.

The fungi pictured is Aseroe rubra, more commonly known as the starfish fungus or anemone stinkhorn. Aseroe rubra is a well distributed stinkhorn, frequently found growing in NSW, VIC, QLD, TAS and both the north and south island of New Zealand. This fungi has an exposed spore mass that smells like faeces or rotting meat. The putrid smell attracts flies, which help spread the fungal spores and assist the fungi to reproduce. Like other stinkhorns, these fungi are highly attractive to pets and even those with fussy eating habits have been known to readily eat them.

Please be cautious when walking your pets during this time of the year, particularly in the days following heavy rains. Keeping dogs leashed during walks can be an effective measure to reduce wild mushroom ingestion. Where possible, remove any mushrooms from your own yard before pets have a chance to eat them. In the case of wild mushroom ingestion, please phone the Animal Poisons Helpline immediately for advice even if your pet appears well.

The Animal Poisons Helpline provides free advice to pet owners in Australia and New Zealand and can be reached on 1300 869 738 (AU) or 0800 869 738 (NZ). If you are a member of a veterinary team in Australia or New Zealand, you can join the Animal Poisons Centre For Vets Facebook group which is regularly updated with toxicology tidbits and poisoning trends. We thank the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development for supporting this post.