A charming and traditional cottage garden shrub, the bleeding heart plant (Dicentra spectabilis) adorns North American properties with graceful arching stems of puffy, rosy-pink hanging hearts. But this beauty has an ornery side. If your dog eats even a little bit of this old-time perennial, he’s likely to order up an old-fashioned bellyache with a side of itchy skin.
The foliage and roots of the bleeding heart plant contain alkaloids -- toxic substances that can cause loss of coordination, tremors and drooling when small amounts are ingested. These substances can produce gastrointestinal distress, and some dogs may experience dermatitis. One of the bad guys is isoquinoline, a dedicated multitasker. It’s not only a gastrointestinal irritant, it’s a convulsant that toys with the central nervous system. Sizeable doses of this little imp add difficulty breathing, seizures and potential for death to the already bubbling cauldron.
If you believe that your dog has eaten part of the bleeding heart plant, call your veterinarian right away. The doctor may wish to give you instructions for purging the material from the dog’s stromach and delaying the absorption of the toxin by the intestinal tract. Recommendations are specific to the dog’s age, weight and breed. If you can’t reach your veterinarian, call the ASPCA’s 24-hour, 365-day Animal Poison Control hotline at (888) 426-4435. A consultation fee is typical, but the call could save your dog’s life.