What is Cardinal Flower Poisoning?
Lobeline is toxic to cats and affects the autonomic ganglia, a group of nerve cell bodies in the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system communicates between the central nervous system in the brain and spinal cord and other parts of the body. You should take your cat to the vet immediately if you suspect it has experienced cardinal flower poisoning.
The cardinal flower, also known as lobelia and Indian pink, is a member of the Campanulaceae family. Many plants in this family belonging to the Lobelia genus contain lobeline, which can be poisonous to many animals, including humans, in large doses. The cardinal flower is native to the Americas and flowers during the summer. Recognize the cardinal flower by its vivid red, white, or pink flowers. The flower was formerly used by Native Americans as a medicinal remedy for lung conditions such as bronchitis and asthma. The petals of the flower were often brewed in tea or prepared for topical use as a salve. Today, lobeline – in small doses – is thought to help cure drug addiction in humans.
Symptoms of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Cats
While it is unclear whether cardinal flower poisoning is life-threatening for cats, you should always treat any type of poisoning as a veterinary emergency. You should seek immediate veterinary attention as soon as you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Signs of depression
- Signs of abdominal pain
- Irregular heart rhythm
Causes of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Cats
The main cause of cardinal flower poisoning in cats is ingesting the plant. Lobeline, the active ingredient in the cardinal flower, has been likened to nicotine because they cause similar reactions in the peripheral nervous system. First, it stimulates the autonomic ganglia of the peripheral nervous system before it causes paralysis of the autonomic ganglia. Little is known about how much of the flower your cat needs to ingest in order to become poisoned. However, it is best to be on the safe side and assume that ingesting any part of the flower in any quantity will cause poisoning.
Diagnosis of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Cats
Before you arrive, you should call your vet to inform them that they will be treating an emergency case of poisoning. If you have access to the plant, you should take a sample with you when you go to the vet. An estimate of how much of the flower your cat ingested is useful for 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 for making the definitive diagnosis. However, since symptoms are typically non-specific, additional testing will be required to confirm the diagnosis. Standard diagnostic testing, including blood analysis, urinalysis, and blood chemical profile can confirm the diagnosis. Additional diagnostic testing, including x-rays and ultrasound, may be required if other underlying conditions are suspected.
Treatment of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Cats
Treatment may vary depending on the severity of poisoning and whether or not there are any underlying conditions. Intravenous fluid and nutritional therapy is usually started immediately to correct any fluid imbalances, if present. Your vet will usually monitor your cat’s heart rate to ensure optimal heart function during treatment. Inducing vomiting may or may not be helpful in clearing lobeline from the body as lobeline itself is an emetic, or a substance that induces vomiting. Activated charcoal may be administered to prevent the absorption of toxins.
Medications to reduce vomiting and/or diarrhea may be administered. Other medications may be recommended or prescribed on an individual basis. Dietary changes may also be recommended for cats that frequently eat plants, as this can be a sign that they may not be receiving adequate nutrition.
Recovery of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Cats
Recovery and prognosis may vary depending on the severity of poisoning and how quickly it was diagnosed and treated. Many cats that have been diagnosed and treated quickly may recover from poisoning, usually within 24 hours.
If your cat came into contact with the flower through its outdoor activity, you may want to limit their outdoor access to prevent future poisoning. If you purchased or grew the flower as a house or garden plant, you should get rid of or destroy the plant immediately. It is always a good idea to research prospective plant purchases to ensure they are not toxic to cats. If your vet has recommended dietary changes, you should make sure you follow any recommendations to prevent your cat from eating potentially poisonous plants in the future.
For mild cases of poisoning, follow-up appointments may not be required. Your vet may schedule follow-up appointments as needed if the poisoning has caused a serious secondary condition.