It’s time to landscape around the property again. What’s that one common shrub that seems to line everyone’s property making the place seem more alive and symmetrical? That would be called the yew plant! Two of the most common evergreen shrubs used are the Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata) and the English Yew (Taxus baccata). These plants contain small, flat, leaves and seed cones with a beautiful, fleshy red covering called an aril.
These plants are gorgeous pieces of landscape art, as they can be trimmed to any shape or size to fit one’s personal preference. Maintenance is often required, as most of the time, these shrubs have lim bs that grow at different rates and need to be clipped to keep them healthy and symmetrical. For many farmers, these leaves and seeds may seem like a nice treat to farm animals. Feeding the animals trimmings also seems like an easy way to clean up. Unfortunately, this is a very common and deadly mistake, made all too often.
Yew shrubs contain a deadly toxin known as taxine. The entire plant, besides the aril, is considered to contain this toxin. While most of our domestic animals are also affected by consuming the yew plant, including dogs, cats, and pigs, we are mostly concerned about grazing animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. This plant is considered extremely tasty to them, so if left in or near a pasture, these animals will likely seek out grazing on it.
Ingestion of the yew plant results in death quickly. It only takes a few leaves to poison even the largest of horses and cattle. The toxin targets the heart, causing it to slow normal electrical functions until it cannot adequately beat anymore. Another sign of poisoning is swelling, resulting in loss of coordination and balance while walking.
The best, and only way, to prevent yew poisoning is to not feed shrub clippings to your cattle or horses, or any animal for that matter. Yew bushes should be kept away from pastures or barns where livestock and horses are kept. Any clippings should be picked up and thrown away immediately. Although yews are lovely, easy shrubs to have around, it is important to make sure we are keeping all of our animals safe.
If you suspect that an animal of any kind has ingested part of a yew plant, please seek emergency care from a veterinarian and call Pet Poison Hotline immediately, as this can be life-threatening.
Madison Golden, Pet Poison Helpline DVM student extern, Iowa State University, Class of 2024
Samantha Koch, CVT, Veterinary Information Specialist II, Pet Poison Helpline
PET POISON HELPLINE
Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center based in Minneapolis, is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals, and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s per incident fee includes follow-up consultation for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com.