What is California Ivy Poisoning?
When eaten by a cat, the leaves, and berries of the California ivy create a toxic reaction. This is due to the many different triterpenoid saponins and the highly allergic falcarinol which are found mainly in the foliage of the plant. Triterpenoid saponins are types of hederagenin made up of numerous forms of acid which cause a foaming reaction to occur. These saponins are often used in detergents or beverages for their foaming effects, however in cats, this chemical reaction translates into an instant, painful irritation and burning of the mouth when ingested. The saponins directly affect both the digestive and the respiratory mucous membranes.
California ivy is a very common plant found all over North American gardens. It is also used often in floral pots and arrangements for its glossy, pointed leaves. California ivy develops small flowers that later turn into berries. Its Latin name is Hedera helix and it stems from the Araliaceae family of plants. California ivy is known by many names, including English ivy, sweetheart ivy, glacier ivy, branching ivy and needlepoint ivy. The plant is native to Europe, but grows well in most climates. It is viny in growth, often found climbing up walls, fences or trees.
Symptoms of California Ivy Poisoning in Cats
The amount and severity of symptoms that develop will vary greatly depending on how much ivy has been eaten by the cat. If the plant’s juices touch the skin of a cat, external symptoms will also manifest. All signs to watch for include:
- Excessive drooling
- Pawing at the mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive thirst
- Dilated pupils
- Impaired coordination
- Hyperthermia (increased body temperature)
- Bradycardia (slowed heartbeat)
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Redness of the skin
- Blisters (external or in the oral cavity)
Causes of California Ivy Poisoning in Cats
As this plant is found all over the country, both in gardens and in many indoor plant arrangements, cats may be exposed to California ivy in and out of the home. Due to the very bitter taste of the plant, and the instant burning sensation that follows ingestion, most cats will not eat more than one bite of California ivy.
Diagnosis of California Ivy Poisoning in Cats
If your cat begins to display symptoms of poisoning or if you have witnessed it eat a portion of California ivy, bring it into a nearby veterinary clinic to be assessed. The veterinarian may ask for your cat's full medical history to help differentiate a California ivy poisoning from other health issues with similar symptoms. You may also be asked about what type of house plants are in your home and what plants grow in your garden.
A complete physical examination of the cat will be performed to note all symptoms. While listening to the cat's heart with a stethoscope, your vet may find a slowed heartbeat and low overall blood pressure. A detailed examination of the cat's mouth will also be needed to reveal any blisters or general irritation. Full blood work may be run including a complete blood count and a biochemical profile to rule out all other possible health problems.
Treatment of California Ivy Poisoning in Cats
Treating a cat who has eaten California Ivy will mainly revolve around relieving symptoms that have manifested. Extreme allergic reaction can also take place alongside a poisoning from this plant, and hospitalization may be required.
Intravenous fluids may need to be administered in cats who have eaten California ivy, as they sometimes will avoid eating and drinking because of painful mouth blisters. Fluids can also help flush toxins out of the body.
Removal of Stomach Contents
The vet may choose to remove any remaining plant material in the stomach by inducing vomiting with hydrogen peroxide or by pumping the stomach with a gastric lavage.
This may be given to the cat to absorb and bind toxins present in the gastrointestinal tract. The charcoal allows the toxins to pass through the body without being digested.
Various medications may be given to the cat to alleviate extreme irritation of the digestive system. These may include Kapectolin, which coats the stomach lining or Sucralfate, which causes a thick paste to form between the stomach and its contents.
Recovery of California Ivy Poisoning in Cats
The severity of the illness will vary depending on how much plant material has been ingested. Because cats are relatively small in body size, they are more susceptible to the effects of toxins. There are no reported fatalities from California Ivy poisoning in cats. All symptoms should disappear in a few days and the cat will be allowed to return home.
Check all planters inside the house to ensure none of them contain ivy. It may be the safest course of action to remove it from outdoor gardens as well. Keeping your cat indoors will prevent it coming into contact with California ivy and other toxic plants in other people's gardens.