What is Bird's Tongue Flower Poisoning?
The bird's tongue flower (scientific name: Strelitzia reginae) is also known as the 'bird of paradise' flower. This is because of its superficial resemblance to a flying bird. It is a popular ornamental plant throughout the world due to its extremely pleasing aesthetics and pleasant aroma. However, some animals (including cats) can find the chemicals contained within the plant's seeds and fruit to be quite poisonous, provoking symptoms that can be very uncomfortable.
Symptoms of Bird's Tongue Flower Poisoning in Cats
Whilst bird's tongue flower poisoning is not usually fatal, owners should try to get their pet medical attention as soon as possible. This is because the secondary effects of some of these symptoms can lead to grave complications if left untreated.
- Unwillingness to be touched
- Refusal of offered food
Strelitzia reginae should not be confused with a different flower also referred to as the ‘bird of paradise’, Poinciana gilliesii, which is substantially more poisonous to cats.
Poinciana gilliesii can cause:
- Excessive Salivation
- Irritation of the Mouth
- Loss of Coordination
Causes of Bird's Tongue Flower Poisoning in Cats
Strelitzia reginae poisoning generally stems from the acidic nature of the seeds and fruit. Whilst this is not usually an irritant to external tissue, it can alter the pH level of the stomach enough to lead to vomiting as the body attempts to remove the cause of the problem. Poisoning stemming from Poinciana gilliesii, however, is more serious for two reasons. The first of these is an increased acidic quality, which is responsible for the excess salivation and the swelling and inflammation of the mouth tissues. The second, more important factor is the level of tannins contained in the plant. Tannins are a nephrotoxic chemical that both damages regular cells and disrupts the ability of the nervous system to effectively send signals through the body (causing loss of coordination). In large enough quantities, this toxin will cause direct damage to the kidneys and liver, in some cases, causing their failure and even death.
Diagnosis of Bird's Tongue Flower Poisoning in Cats
The disparity between the symptoms of Poinciana gilliesii and Strelitzia reginae poisoning should allow a vet to easily differentiate between the two and act accordingly. That is, provided the owner is relatively certain that a type of bird of paradise flower is the root cause. The vet can also analyze the chemicals present in a sample of the cat's blood in order to identify the problem once a physical inspection has ruled out an obstruction of the gut.
Treatment of Bird's Tongue Flower Poisoning in Cats
The main way to treat poisoning in cats is to intravenously introduce more liquid into their body. This practice is known as fluid therapy. By doing this, the vet will be able prevent dehydration due to loss of fluids to extended periods of vomiting. A more direct effect of fluid therapy is that it will provoke the 'flushing' of the offending chemicals from the body via urination.
Recovery of Bird's Tongue Flower Poisoning in Cats
Once the symptoms have started to abate, the cat will usually be able to return home (though more severe cases may require a follow-up visit with the vet in order to monitor their rate of recovery). The owner should make sure that the cat's activity levels are kept to a minimum for several in order to give it plenty of energy to recover from the ordeal. The cat should at first only receive small portions of food in order to avoid overtaxing its stomach. Total recovery time can typically be estimated at roughly two weeks.