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Kim Crugnale's dog, Karma, went into her yard Tuesday, where she grazed on the foliage.

"Unbeknownst to us, she ate the mushrooms," Crugnale said.

The dog was soon sick.

The pet owner's veterinarian and his staff "did their best to stabilize Karma and keep her alive," Crugnale said.

But the dog died a few hours later.

Area vets are split over whether more dogs this summer are suffering sickness after consuming mushrooms, or whether this is an annual event during northern Arizona's monsoon.

Some haven't seen dogs displaying nausea, vomiting and diarrhea where mushrooms are a likely factor; others have seen repeated cases, and more of them this year.

The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center has also had two cases in Coconino County related to people who had eaten possibly toxic mushrooms this year; the agency doesn't handle pets.

Local mushrooms are less toxic than most others in northern points of the United States, but some can damage kidneys, livers, or cause organ failure.

"We get calls every year," said Director Keith Boesen of the Drug Information Center.

AVERAGE RAINY SEASON

Flagstaff has had an average rainy season since the start of the monsoon in early July, with about 6 inches of rain at Pulliam Airport. The normal for the monsoon to date is about 5.6 inches.

It's not that this is a really exceptional year for mushrooms, said Northern Arizona University Professor Kitty Gehring, who studies plant and fungal ecology.

"It is certainly a good year, but we have not observed some of the species we often see this time of year in the abundance of past years. Some may come up later, as the monsoon season got off to a slower start," she wrote in an email.

She and each of her graduate students have dealt with questions on poisonings in the past, and often receive requests to identify mushrooms over the phone (they don't do that).

"One thing we wanted to make sure everyone realizes is that most fungi are not toxic and play important roles in the functioning of ecosystems. However, because there are a small number of extremely poisonous mushrooms, it is important to keep pets from consuming mushrooms and people should only eat wild mushrooms after identification by an expert," she wrote.

Though this list is not exhaustive, Gehring advises people to watch out for toxic Chlorophyllum molybdites and Amanitas.

"Members of the genus Amanita are frequently observed in our area and are characterized by a ring on the stalk" and an underground, cup-shaped formation (only evident with careful digging).

"The white Amanitas are the most deadly around here," Gehring wrote. "They associate with forest trees and are beneficial to them," and have distinctive green spores.

Rotting mushrooms will also cause illness, even non-toxic ones, she said.

CASES AT THREE CLINICS

Alpine Animal Hospital, Kaibab Veterinary Clinic and Canyon Pet Hospital all report cases of suspected mushroom poisoning in local dogs this summer.

"The mushrooms are very ubiquitous this year thanks to all of this moisture. There have definitely been several confirmed cases and many suspect cases," wrote Flagstaff veterinarian Monet Martin. "Thus far, it appears to be mild symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea) ,but there is definitely potential for more life threatening effects. We usually treat them all like they are deadly if we know that a mushroom is ingested. That means induce vomiting, administer charcoal, and treat symptomatically."

Other veterinary offices haven't seen any suspected cases.

Vets and pet owners don't always know what makes a pet sick, because they can't always tell what a dog has eaten.

Crugnale's vet, Conley Westover, advises pet owners to take mushrooms out of their yards, and he says he has seen more poisoning this year than most others.

No one knows why the mushrooms are attractive to pets, or if they're a curiosity.

"Dogs seem to explore a good bit of the universe with their mouths and that has a lot to do with it," Westover said.

The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center is at (800) 222-1222.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at ccole@azdailysun.com.

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