NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - An unassuming Sago Palm looks like a nice yard accessory, but if your pet eats any part of it, even just a piece of the leaf, it could kill them.
The plant is toxic and many times lethal; a hidden threat to animals that may be hiding in plain sight right in front of you in your front yard. And most locals probably see them on almost every street in almost every neighborhood in the Grand Strand.
"A $25 plant ended up costing me my best friend... almost another best friend, cause it wasn't labeled," Taylor Smith said.
On December 23, Taylor and Tiffany Smith's family dog Walter passed away. When he got sick, the veterinarian's at the animal hospital he was rushed to didn't know what was wrong.
"So they gave him a fluid shot and brought him back [home]," Taylor said.
Walter's condition worsened through the next day, "Forgetting where he was," Taylor explained. "He lost his bowels, couldn't control himself, and ended up to the point where I sat on the couch with him for the last few hours before we took him back to the hospital and he was just a vegetable. Just laid there breathing and drooling... and throwing up. Within four hours of us getting there, he died."
No one knew what killed Walter then, but it became clear two weeks ago when the Smith's dog, Wilbur, also got sick.
Taylor watched Wilbur take a bite out of the one of the Sago Palm's in the backyard, but didn't think anything of it. The Smith's were unaware of the lethal effect the tree can have on dogs. But when Wilbur started throwing up, Taylor had Deja vu.
"And there was palm frond in it, just little fronds of it,"Taylor described.
So he did a quick Google search. "The first thing I saw was - call poison control and get him to the emergency hospital immediately," he said.
"Within three hours of eating it, he had already started to show signs of liver failure. Liver values had skyrocketed," Taylor recalled. "He was 65 pounds at the time, and he ate less than 2 inches of the plant. And it wasn't the seeds which are the most toxic. It was just the top part of a new frond that had sprung up out of it. And it did that much damage in that little time. In four hours, it was to the point where they considered him early stage liver failure."
Wilbur survived, but many dogs aren't as lucky - like Walter. Taylor said the veterinarian's had no idea the Sago Palm had caused the illness. "I honestly think if we hadn't called poison control, we would have lost another dog."
The veterinarian's that treated Wilbur are the same who treated Walter in December, and they realized the Sago Palm tree was to blame for Walter's death.
"Poison control told us it could be deadly up to 36 hours after they ingest it," Taylor added.
Taylor said it is hard to believe how few people know about the risks of the tree, "Majority of the people that I've talked to were not aware. Some of the people in the landscaping business around here knew of it, didn't know how toxic they were, just that they were bad for dogs."
He removed them all from his yard the night Wilbur got sick, "Standing out with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, digging up plants in the yard cause I couldn't lose another dog to that."
But what Taylor said he finds most disturbing is that when he bought the plants - there was no warning they were toxic when he bought them from Lowe's.
"There's no reason that poisonous, toxic plants shouldn't be labeled. No reason."
The Smith family says since Wilbur got sick, many of his neighbors have taken their Sago Palms out of their yards and are replacing them with other plants. And if the loss of one dog and near loss of another can help save another family's pet, then it wasn't in vain.
"We got lucky," Taylor said. "I got lucky that I jumped on my phone and checked it out. Or else, I would have never known."
The Smith's set up a page to accept donations for Wilbur's medical bills, which continue to mount as his recovery is ongoing. To contribute, visit here.