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The American holly is a member of the Aquifoliaceae family and is known to the world by its scientific name: Ilex opaca. American Holly is found in temperate to subtropical areas of the world and shares the same family genus as evergreens, shrubs, and trees. American Holly is commonly called Christmas holly due to its bright red colored berries and dark green colored, spiny leaves. Additional names given to American holly include; winterberry, inkberry, organ holly, European holly and English holly.
American holly poisoning in cats involves the ingestion of the yuletide plant, causing a plant intoxication. American holly contains potentially lethal substances in its spiny leaves including cyanogens, methylxanthines and saponins. Upon ingestion, these substances cause a great deal of gastrointestinal upset characterized by vomiting and diarrhea. A cat owner can identify an American holly poisoning through clinical signs the feline will display including; excessive head shaking, drooling and lip smacking. No documentation has been made of American holly poisoning being fatal to felines, but the damage caused to the gastrointestinal system poses great threat to the feline’s health.
The initial symptoms a feline will display after consuming American Holly are related to mucosal discomfort from the plant’s spiny leaves. The feline may begin to shake her/his head vigorously, drool excessively, and repeatedly smack her/his lips together. As the plant makes its way down the esophagus and into the lower digestive tract, the feline experiences further discomfort as the plant material is passed through defecation. Secondary symptoms of American holly poisoning in cats are listed below:
American holly poisoning in cats is caused by the direct ingestion of the leaves or berries of this Aquifoliaceae plant. The leaves and berries of the American Holly contain potentially toxic substances of cyanogens, methylxanthines, and saponins. Although the leaves and berries contain a low toxicity level, the effects that plant has on a feline can be hazardous to his or her health.
Diagnosing an American holly poisoning in cats is difficult if the cat owner did not see the ingestion of the toxic element take place. There is no specific test available for identifying American holly poisoning in cats, so your veterinarian’s diagnosis will be based on ruling out other possible causes of your feline’s current symptoms. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, review of the feline’s medical history, and a consultation with the pet owner. It will be important for you to inform the veterinarian about your feline’s recent actions and exposure to American Holly, as this information will aid in ruling out other possible causes. The clinical signs that American holly poisoning cause usually pinpoints the condition, but the veterinarian will want to conduct a series of diagnostic tests to ensure your cat is truly suffering from an American Holly poisoning and not a more severe underlying condition.
Diagnostic tests the veterinarian will likely request to be performed on the feline include:
Although there is no known antidote to counteract an American holly poisoning, immediate veterinary care can ensure a positive recovery. The key in treating an American holly poisoning in cats is removing the ingested plant from the cat’s gastrointestinal system. Medication to encourage the cat to vomit is likely to be prescribed, such as hydrogen peroxide. The veterinarian may also prescribe a diuretic drug to encourage the feline to pass the toxic plant through the stool. If the veterinarian feels the toxin has entered the cat’s bloodstream and needs to be flushed through the urine, intravenous fluids will be started upon clinical arrival. If your cat has continuously vomited or has experienced severe diarrhea, fluids may also be administered to replace the feline’s level of hydration. As the spines of the American Holly’s leaves can cause esophageal irritation, Kapectolin may also be administered to coat the inside of the throat and stomach.
Felines generally make a full recovery from an American Holly poisoning in 24 hours. However, if your cat has not received any veterinary attention, it will take much longer for the feline to recover. American Holly contains a low amount of toxic chemicals and almost all cats make a full recovery. Cases of large ingestions of the American Holly plant and very young or very old felines may have a less positive prognosis.
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