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Posts Tagged ‘Poisonous plants’

The deadly Sago Palm (Coontie Palm, Cardboard Palm, Cycads and Zamias) is extremely poisonous to animals and humans if ingested. Dogs and Cats are particularly at risk since they seem to find the plant very palatable. Clinical signs usually develop within twelve hours of ingesting the plant and may include signs of gastroenteritis, generalized weakness, seizures and hepatotoxicity (liver damage) characterized by icterus (yellow color of the mucous membranes and sclera of the eyes), and ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen). Pets may appear bruised, have nose bleeds, bloody stools with bloody discharges from the anus in the absence of fecal matter. The Animal Poison Control Center of the ASPCA says fatality rates can be between fifty and seventy-five percent from ingestion of this plant. Over the past five years, the incidence of reported pet poisonings from the Sago has increased markedly. All parts of the plant are toxic but the seeds contain the highest concentrations of ceasing, the major toxin and responsible for the gastrointestinal damage, but these plants also contain Beta-methyl amino L-alanine, a neurotoxin, and an unidentified toxin observed to cause hindlimb paralysis in cattle.
It is particularly important to get your animal to a veterinarian immediately if you suspect it has ingested any portion of the Sago Palm, but veterinary care is highly recommended following exposure to any of the plants mentioned in this series.

There are about two hundred and fifty different species of plants in the Ericaceous family including; Rhododendrons, Azaleas, and Rosebays. Others include; Andromeda Japonica (Lily-of-the Valley Bush) Black Laurel (Dog Hobble, Dog Laurel, Fetter Bush, Sierra Laurel, Staggerbush and Male berry). Depending upon the time of year and the specific plant, ingestion of only a few leaves can cause problems. Horses and cattle will usually not eat these plants, unless nothing else is available, but sheep and goats seem more inclined. The Grayanotoxins found in these plants interfere with normal skeletal and cardiac muscle function as well as normal nerve function. Clinical signs can appear within a few hours following ingestion and in usually include gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines), hyper salivation (drooling), anorexia (loss of appetite), diarrhea, abdominal pain, depression, and weakness. These signs progress to loss of coordination, stupor, leg paralysis, weak heart rate and the animals can become recumbent for two days or more. If untreated the animals may become comatose and die.

My wife and I have had Coleus, also known as Indian Borage, Bread and Butter Plant, Spanish Thyme, East Indian Thyme, Stinging Thyme, Country Borage, Winterberry and many other common names, growing in our home for years. This plant contains essential oils and ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, either can occasionally be bloody, anorexia and the potential for photosensitivity. Many cultivars of Eucalyptus also contain essential oils (eucalyptol) and can cause irritation of the mucous membranes resulting in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea followed by depression and weakness. The Bergamot Orange (Bergamot, Citrus Bergama) contains essential oils and psoralens and ingestion can cause gastroenteritis and photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight).

Cow Parsnip (Giant Hogweed) contains Furanocoumarins causing photosensitization resulting in an ulcerative (ulcers) and exudative (pus) dermatitis as well as eye problems. Brunfelsia (Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Kiss-Me-Quick, Lady-of-the-Night, Franciscan Rain Tree, where do they get these names?) contain the toxic principle Brunfelsamidine which can cause gastroenteritis, coughing lethargy, in coordination, tremors and seizures with signs lasting for days.

Cowbane, also known as Water Hemlock and Poison Parsnip contains Cicutoxin. Ingestion can cause gastroenteritis, fever, extreme abdominal pain, tremors, dilated pupils, respiratory depression and death. Angelica Tree (Hercules Club, Devil’s Walking Stick, Prickly Ash, Prickly Elder) accumulate Aralin. Horses, dogs and cats can develop skin and oral irritation, hyper salivation, and gastroenteritis following exposure to this plant.

Solanaceae plants include the Tomato, European Bittersweet (Climbing Nightshade, Deadly Nightshade) and the Ornamental Pepper (Natal Cherry, Winter Cherry, Jerusalem Cherry). Ingestion can result in gastroenteritis with possible GI ulceration, seizures, depression, respiratory depression, hypotension (low blood pressure), shock, weakness, and dilated pupils. Another toxic plant in the Solanaceae family is Nicotiana (Tree Tobacco, Tobacco, Mustard Tree). This plant contains nicotine and ingestion can result in hyper-excitability followed by depression, gastroenteritis, in coordination, paralysis and death.

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The story continues. Just a reminder, the toxicity of any substance is dependent upon the dose, the greater exposure the greater the toxicity. If you suspect your pet has ingested any of these plants get him or her to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Plants belonging to the family Amaryllidaceae, the Kaffir Lily (Clivia Lily, Clivies, Caffre Lily, Cape Clivia, Kilvia), Daffodils (Narcissus, Jonquil, Paper White) the Barbados Lily (Amaryllis, Fire Lily, Lily of the Palace, Ridderstjerne) and the Hyacinth (Garden Hyacinth) all contain lycorine and other alkaloids. Ingestion of these plants results in gastric distress with hyper salivation (drooling), vomiting and diarrhea. Ingestion of large quantities of the plant, particularly of the bulbs, can cause convulsions, low blood pressure (hypotension) tremors and cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).

The Autumn Crocus (Meadow Saffron) contains colchicines and other alkaloids. Ingestion of this plant can result in irritation of the oral mucous membranes (everything in the mouth and throat) bloody vomiting, diarrhea, shock, multi-organ damage and bone marrow suppression. This one is nasty!

The Yarrow plant (Milfoil) contains glycoalkaloids, monoterpenes and sesquiterpene lactones, all alkaloids and all toxic. Ingestion can result in vomiting, diarrhea, depression, loss of appetite (anorexia) and drooling. The Morning Glory contains at least four different indole alkaloids. After eating this plant your pet can show signs of GI upset, agitation, tremors, disorientation, ataxia (trouble with balance while moving) anorexia. The seeds of Yarrow can cause hallucinations.

The Burning Bush (Wahoo, Spindle Tree) contains both alkaloids and cardenolides. Ingestion can result in GI distress, abdominal pain and weakness. Large doses can result in cardiac (heart) arrhythmias. Bittersweet (Limbing Bittersweet, Waxwork, Shrubby Bittersweet, False Bittersweet, Climbing Bittersweet and American Bittersweet) contains euonymin and sesquiterpene alkaloids. Ingestion of Bittersweet can result in weakness, convulsions and severe gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines).

Over eighty species of Larkspur can be found in North America, most west of the Mississippi River, but are cultivated as an ornamental almost everywhere. In nature the dwarf or low Larkspurs live on lowland slopes and grasslands and are generally less than three feet tall. Tall Larkspurs can grow to four to six feet and are usually found on upper slopes of mountain locations. These plants contain diterpene alkaloids and are more toxic to horses than other species. However horses will no usually consume these plants unless drought conditions exist and there is little else to eat. Dogs and cats have been poisoned from these plants but it is a rare occurrence. As the plant matures it is usually less toxic. Ingestion can result in neuromuscular paralysis along with gastroenteritis, muscle tremors, stiffness, weakness, and convulsions. Animals can die from either cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Ragwort (Golden Ragwort) contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids. It is not palatable but again can be a problem for animals that graze during drought conditions. Dogs and cats will usually not bother this plant, but there are some strange pets out there and poisonings have been reported. Ingestion causes liver failure, and many neurological problems associated with liver failure.

Periwinkle (Running Myrtle, Vinca) contain vinca alkaloids. Ingestion of this plant results in gastroenteritis and depression with moderate intake, tremors, seizures, coma and death if large quantities are consumed. The Lobelia (Cardinal Flower, Indian Pink) contains the alkaloid lobeline. Animals that ingest this plant can develop gastroenteritis, depression and abdominal pain. Large quantities can result in cardiac arrhythmias.

Ambrosia Mexicana (Jerusalem Oak, Feather Geranium) and Bittersweet (American Bittersweet, Waxwork, Shrubby Bittersweet, False Bittersweet, Climbing Bittersweet) may contain euonymin and sesquiterpene alkaloids. Animals ingesting these plants can show signs of gastroenteritis, depression, weakness and convulsions.

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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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