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Archive for October, 2012

In my last column, I discussed plants that contained calcium oxalates. This time I will cover plants with various saponins as the toxic component. Again, most animals will avoid these plants, but some hard heads can’t resist.

Animals that ingest the fruits of these plants, usually berries, will demonstrate signs of gastric upset, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Some animals may rub against these plants and will develop, with repeated skin exposure, an allergic dermatitis.

As always, if you believe your pet interacted with one of these plants please take it to your veterinarian and explain the circumstances.

Plants from the Asparagus family contain sapogenins. Included in this family are Asparagus, Asparagus Fern, Emerald Feather, Emerald Fern, Plumosa Fern, Lace Fern, Racemose, and Shatavari.

Various Holly plants contain saponins including; the American Holly, the English Holly, the European Holly, Oregon Holly, Inkberry, Winterberry and Spanish Thyme. Both the leaves and berries of these plants are toxic and ingestion can result in gastric upset.

Aloe (Aloe vera) plants contain saponins and ingestion can result in gastric upset, anorexia (loss of appetite), tremors and, at times, a change in urine color. Ingestion of the Baby Doll Ti Plant, also known as the Ti-Plant, Good-Luck Plant and Hawaiian Ti Plant, can result in vomiting, sometimes containing blood, depression, anorexia, hypersalivation and, in cats, dilated pupils. Ingestion of  Buckeyes or Horse Chestnuts can result in severe vomiting and diarrhea, either depression or excitement, dilated pupils and, in severe cases, wobbly gait, convulsions and even coma. Cyclamen (Sowbread) contains terpenoid saponins and eating this plant will result in gastric upset. Ingestion of large quantities of the tubers of this plant can result in abnormal heart rhythm, seizures and even death.

The foliage of the English Ivy (Branching Ivy, Glacier Ivy, Needlepoint Ivy, Sweetheart Ivy, California Ivy) is more toxic than the berries. Ingestion of the leaves will result in gastric upset. The toxic substance in these plants are triterpenoid saponins.

Dracaena, also known as Corn Plant, Cornstalk Plant, Dragon Tree and Ribbon Plant, are toxic when ingested. Ingestion can result in gastric upset severe enough to have blood in the vomitus. Contact with the Coffee Tree (Wild Coffee, Geranium-Leaf Aralia) can result in dermatitis, ingestion with gastric upset and depression. If your dog or cat ingests portions of the Yucca it may develop gastric upset. Interestingly grazing animals, horses, cattle, sheep can develop liver disease and secondary photosensitivity if they eat enough of the Yucca. Unless severe drought conditions exist, grazers will avoid these plants.  The Hosta (Plantain Lily, Funkia) is included in those plants with saponins and ingestion can result in gastric upset.

The specific toxic substance in the Bird of Paradise  (Peacock Flower, Barbados Pride, Poinciana, Pride of Barbados, Dwarf Poinciana) has not been identified but ingestion of this plant can result in intense oral irritation resulting in hypersalivation, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing and, in severe cases, incoordination. Rabbits eating this plant have died. The Buttercup (Butter Cress, Figwort) contains the irritant protoanemonin and ingestion can result in gastric upset and a wobbly gait. The many varieties of Chrysanthemums can contain sesquiterpene, lactones, pyrethrins and other irritants and can result in gastric upset. Pinks (Carnations, Wild Carnation, Sweet William) contain an unknown irritant that can cause mild gastric upset.

Two plants, the Poinsettia and the Pencil Cactus are often identified as toxic. The Poinsettia is especially bad-mouthed around Christmas time, but the toxicity of these plants is generally over-rated, their sap is a mild irritant.

The truly dangerous plant, a favorite of mystery writers, is the Black Nightshade (Nightshade, Deadly Nightshade). This plant, Solanum nigrum, contains saponins but also contains solanine, and atropine-like substances. Ingestion can result in hypersalivation, loss of appetite, severe GI upset, diarrhea, drowsiness, depression of the central nervous system, confusion, behavioral changes, weakness, severely dilated pupils and a very slow heart rate. Your pet would have to ingest a lot of this plant to cause death and because the toxic components are so irritant this usually will not happen.

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I found my kitten chewing on a houseplant, is this dangerous?

Maybe, the most important aspect of potential poisoning, from any source, is dose. How much was the animal exposed to per pound of body weight? Kittens and puppies will chew on almost anything. Mainly because of their size, young animals are more susceptible to toxic substances. Fortunately, most animals, especially dogs and cats, after a small taste, will avoid eating most dangerous plants. However, we animal lovers know that some dogs will eat anything and even some cats are less than discerning.

Many plants contain toxic substances. On their website, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center lists well over 300 potentially toxic plants. I was very surprised to find the names of plants that I recognized and didn’t know were potentially dangerous, others I knew to advise animal owners to avoid.

There are so many potentially poisonous plants I cannot possibly mention all of them in one column, so I have decided to do a series. First, let’s talk about those plants that contain insoluble calcium oxalates. Most of the plants that accumulate calcium oxalate accumulate the insoluble form of the compound. Ingestion of these plants results in irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth, tongue and lips accompanied by an intense burning sensation. Animals afflicted usually drool excessively and may vomit and have difficulty swallowing.

Most of the Philodendrons accumulate these oxalate crystals including; the Saddle Leaf Philodendron, also known as Horsehead, Cordatum, Heartleaf, Panda Plant, Split Leaf, Fruit Salad Plant, Red Emerald, Red Princess and Fiddle Leaf and the Cut leaf Philodendron also called the Hurricane Plant, Swiss Cheese Plant, Ceriman, Mexican Breadfruit and Window Leaf Plant.

Various Dieffenbachia, contain insoluble calcium oxalates. These include; the Charming Dieffenbachia, Dumb Cane, Giant Dumb Cane, Spotted Dumb Cane, Tropic Snow, Exotica, Exotica Perfection, and the Gold Dieffenbachia.

Many of us have Schefflera growing in our homes. My wife has been nurturing one, and it’s offspring, for more than thirty years. The Schefflera (Umbrella Tree, Australian Ivy Palm), the Octopus Tree and the Star Leaf all contain insoluble calcium oxalates.

A host of plants, all classified in the Araceae family, harbor these substances. These include; the Flamingo flower also known as; Devil’s Ivy, Pothos, Golden Pothos, Taro Vine, Ivy Arum, Marble Queen. Other Araceae are the Caladium, also known as; Elephant Ears, Malanga, Stoplight, Seagull, Mother-in-law Plant, Pink Cloud, Texas Wonder, Angel-Wings, Exposition, Candidum, Fancy-leaved Caladium, and Alocasia. The Flamingo Lily (Tail Flower, Oilcloth Flower, Pigtail Plant, Painter’s Pallet) and various species of Calla including; Calla Lily, Pig Lily, White Arum, Trumpet Lily, Arum Lily, Garden Calla, Black Calla, Solomon’s Lily, Wild Calla, Wild Arum, and the Mauna Loa Peace Lily. This family also includes the Nephthytis (Arrow-Head Vine, Green Gold Nephthytis, African Evergreen and Trileaf Wonder). Arums including; Lord-and-Ladies, Wake Robin, Starch Root, Bobbins and Cuckoo Plant accumulate oxalates.

On some of our area hikes, my now ten-year old granddaughter has shown me Skunk Cabbage (also known as Skunk Weed, Polecat Weed, Meadow Cabbage, Swamp Cabbage). The Chinese Evergreen has insoluble oxalate crystals as do the Greater Ammi (Bishop’s Weed, False Queen Anne’s Lace). Finally, there are over a thousand species and ten thousand hybrid Begonias that can accumulate these crystals, ouch!

It doesn’t end there. Some plants contain soluble rather than insoluble calcium oxalates. Ingestion of these plants can result in excessive salivation, tremors and even kidney failure. Plants with the soluble calcium oxalates found in their leaves include; Rhubarb (Pie Plant), Sorrel (Dock) and Moss Rose (Wild Portulaca, Rock Moss, Purslane, Pigweed, Pusley). Don’t let your pet munch on the leaves of these plants.

If you believe your pet has been grazing on any of the plants described please take the animal to your veterinarian and bring along a sample of the plant for identification.

I’m far from done. In follow-up columns, I will let you know about plants that contain saponins, alkaloids, glycosides, volatile oils, deadly ricin, and at least thirty other toxic substances. It’s a scary world we live in and it’s not just the politicians.

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She was back again. Sweetness was a thirteen-year-old collie dying from chronic interstitial nephritis. Each time the Watkins family brought her in, I thought her long struggle was over.

Mr. Watkins carried her in, struggling despite the fact she had been shedding pounds off her originally much too plump frame for the past several months. Mrs. Watkins was trying to comfort their thirteen-year-old daughter Emily.

“She only lasted six days this time Doc,” Mr. Watkins announced.

I glanced at Sweetness’ chart. “I see that.”

I was treating the dog with intravenous fluids to flush her body of the metabolic toxins that accumulated because her kidneys were no longer functioning properly. The first time I treated her she lasted for almost a month with a special diet and fresh clean water always available. She drank a lot, urinated a lot and with restricted activity seemed to do pretty well. The next time I treated her she lasted a little over two weeks, the third time was six days ago.

“Can’t you do something else?” sobbed Emily. “This isn’t working she’s so weak and just sleeps all the time and won’t play with me.”

“There must be more you can do Doc,” Mr. Watkins insisted. “You know cost is not a problem for us.”

I glanced out the front window at their barely operational car. I also knew the neighborhood they lived in and the state of disrepair of their home.

“We can try peritoneal lavage that might work. I can smell the urea on her breath, she’s very toxic. Actually, she needs kidney dialysis and a kidney transplant but neither are available for dogs. Most people who need those treatments can’t get them.” It was 1963.

“Do what you can Doctor,” Mrs. Watkins chimed in. “We’re not ready to give up on her you know she and Emily were babies together.”

“OK, leave her with me and I’ll see what I can do.”

After they left, I reviewed my veterinary school notes on peritoneal lavage and started the treatment. Sweetness encouraged my efforts with a single-thump of her tail on the treatment table. I finished infusing the dialysis solution I mixed up and started drawing it off. Two hours later, I removed all the fluid I could retrieve and she seemed slightly improved. She rolled up on her sternum and gave my hand a lick. I took some blood to check her kidney function again and found it was only slightly improved. I put in an intravenous drip and decided to see if I could flush her out again. Over the next several hours she seemed to improve, then regress. I couldn’t leave but couldn’t think of anything more to do, so I just maintained a vigil and kept the intravenous fluids running. At three in the morning, she took a final breath.

Still wondering what more I could possibly have done I called the Watkins home to tell them Sweetness had passed. Without saying anything about my diligence, I wanted them to know I gone the extra mile with her.

“OK Doctor,” said Mr. Watkins. I could hear Emily crying. “I’m certain you did all you know how to do.”

“That’s true, what do you want to do with her body?”

“We anticipated this, we’ll send someone. How much is the bill?”

I felt guilty about Sweetness dying, not knowing what more I could have done.

“Uh, let’s see,” I had spent at least eight hours working on the dog and used over a hundred dollars of drugs and supplies.

“I think a hundred and fifty will cover it.” I felt guilty about charging so much.

“Uh, just a minute, I added wrong, a hundred will do it.”

“OK Doc, I’ll get a check to you in a month or so.”

The next morning a man drove up to the clinic in a Nash Rambler. A sign on the driver’s side door advertized “Paradise Pet Cemetery”. He opened the back, took out a cart then took out a polished wood casket and placed it on the cart.

“I’m here for Sweetness Watkins,” he announced.

“Follow me,” I said. “That’s a very nice casket, just curious, how much is this costing the Watkins?”

“Four hundred and fifty, plus perpetual care, paid in advance,” he smiled. “Mind if I leave some business cards with you for future clients?”

That was the last time I felt guilty about legitimate fees.

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