What is Cardboard Palm Poisoning?
The cardboard palm plant contains cycasin, a carcinogenic toxin that causes mutation of genetic material. Poisoning from the cardboard palm plant can cause sudden death in cats and should be treated as a veterinary emergency. Take your cat to the vet right away if you suspect it is showing signs of cardboard palm poisoning.
The cardboard palm is a type of cycad plant recognized by its long, flat leaves. The leaves have a slightly fuzzy texture, and the plant can grow to be about three feet tall. Although native to Mexico, the cardboard palm can be easily grown as a house or garden plant in warm climates. The cardboard palm was also introduced to Florida, where it may grow wild in some regions.
Symptoms of Cardboard Palm Poisoning in Cats
Cardboard palm poisoning is an extremely serious and life-threatening condition for cats. Symptoms usually manifest within the first 24 hours following ingestion. However, if you suspect your cat has ingested the plant, you should not wait for symptoms to appear.
General symptoms include:
- Bloody vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Dark feces
- Excessive drinking
- Bruising of the skin
Signs of gastrointestinal hemorrhaging
- Lethargy and weakness
- Signs of abdominal pain
Signs of liver damage and/or failure
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Changes in behavior
Causes of Cardboard Palm Poisoning in Cats
The primary cause of cardboard palm poisoning in cats is ingesting the plant. Every part of the plant contains cycasin, including the seeds, leaves, and stems. The seeds contain the highest levels of cycasin and are therefore the deadliest part of the plant. Ingesting only one seed can cause sudden death in some animals. It is unclear how much of the plant your cat needs to ingest in order to become poisoned. To ensure the best prognosis, always assume that ingesting any part of the cardboard palm in any quantity will be life-threatening for your cat.
Diagnosis of Cardboard Palm Poisoning in Cats
It is a good idea to call your vet before you arrive to let them know they will be treating an emergency case of poisoning. If you can, take part of the plant to the vet with you. If you have an estimate of how much of the plant your cat ingested, this can be helpful when making the diagnosis, but not necessary. Always let your vet know how long your cat has been experiencing symptoms.
Presentation of symptoms may be sufficient to make the definitive diagnosis. Your vet may utilize standard diagnostic testing, including blood and urine analysis, to confirm poisoning. If liver damage is suspected, abdominal x-rays, ultrasounds, and biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Cardboard Palm Poisoning in Cats
Treatment for cardboard palm plant poisoning will begin right away, and your cat will usually be hospitalized for a minimum of 24 hours. Unfortunately, no antidote currently exists for cycasin. Treatment will rely heavily on intensive supportive care. Intravenous fluid and nutritional therapy is usually started immediately to correct fluid imbalances. Plasma transfusion may be required for cats that are severely ill. Inducing vomiting may help clear the body of the toxin if diagnosed shortly following ingestion.
After vomiting has been induced, your vet will administer activated charcoal, which will absorb toxins to be expelled through the digestive system. Additional medications, usually given via injection, may be administered to prevent damage or failure of the liver and/or gastrointestinal tract. Other therapies or drugs may be recommended on an individual basis.
If acute liver failure has already occurred, your vet will prescribe medication to manage and improve liver function. These may include antibiotics, antioxidants, antiulcer, diuretics, and lactulose. Dietary changes may also be recommended to improve liver function and to prevent your cat from eating plants in the future.
Recovery of Cardboard Palm Poisoning in Cats
Recovery and prognosis may vary depending on how quickly the poisoning was diagnosed and treated. You should ensure your cat has a warm place to recover on the return home, and always follow your vet’s instructions regarding post-treatment care and dietary changes.
If your cat ingested the cardboard palm during its outdoor activity, you may want to limit your cat’s outdoor access to prevent future poisoning. If you bought or grew the cardboard palm as a house or garden plant, remove it immediately. Before making any plant purchases, you should always research whether the plant you hope to purchase is toxic to cats.
Your vet will usually schedule a follow-up appointment within ten days of treatment. During the appointment, your vet will take blood tests to monitor healing and to ensure no additional organ damage has occurred.