Giant Hogweed is an invasive plant that is an increasing nuisance and can pose a serious health risk to people and pets.
The recent story of a dog in Sheffield that sustained serious skin burns following exposure to Giant Hogweed highlights the serious risk this plant now poses.
A close relative of Cow Parsley, Giant Hogweed originates from Southern Russia and Georgia. It was first introduced into Europe in the 19th Century. It was added to the collection at Kew Gardens in 1817 but, being invasive, it escaped from cultivation and had entered the native environment by 1828
It can reach over 3 m in height and, although it is not an unattractive plant, its sap causes photodermatitis or photosensitivity where the skin becomes very sensitive to sunlight and can suffer blistering, pigmentation and long-lasting scars.
Following exposure to the sap, painful blisters can start to develop rapidly. The severity of the signs is dependent on the amount of contact with the sap. A dog’s hair-coat will offer some protection but sparsely haired areas such as the nose, muzzle and ears can be worst affected.
Unfortunately there is no specific antidote to the chemicals in the sap but these blisters can be very painful indeed and so pain relief is essential. As the severe blistering develops, it can be prone to becoming infected so Vets will often use antibiotics to deal with the risk of secondary infection.
Giant Hogweed is an increasingly common problem in parks, woods and on riverbanks and canal-sides around the country.
Although exposure to the toxic sap can happen at any time of the year, the burns are particularly severe in the summer months as UV rays, which cause the skin to blister, are particularly strong.