What is Cherry Poisoning?
Cherry plants are a part of the Rosaceae family and are found in the genus Prunus. Common names of the cherry tree or shrub include the cherry laurel, black cherry, choke cherry, prunus, wild cherry, ground cherry and domestic cherry. Cherry plants are common in North America, as well as several other geographic regions.
Cherry poisoning in cats is caused by consuming any portion of the cherry tree or shrub that is not the ripe pulp that we consume as a food product. All other parts of the cherry plant are considered toxic including the seeds, blossoms, stems, leaves and cherry pits. Cherry poisoning will cause symptoms of bright red gums, difficulty breathing, dilated pupils and shock that can lead to eventual death.
Symptoms of Cherry Poisoning in Cats
Cherry poisoning generally causes a mild to moderate level of toxicity in cats, however, a feline that has consumed a large amount of cherry plant material will develop severe clinical signs. Symptoms are listed below:
- Bright red mucous membranes
- Inadequate oxygen levels
- Difficult breathing
- Dilated pupils
Causes of Cherry Poisoning in Cats
All parts of the cherry plant other than the ripe fruit are considered toxic to cats, including the seeds, blossoms, stems, leaves and pits.
The toxic component of the cherry plant is cyanide. Cyanide inhibits cytochrome oxidase, which is an important enzyme needed for cellular oxygen transport. Therefore, the cat’s cells cannot pick up oxygen to carry throughout the body and the various bodily organs will have deficient oxygen support.
Diagnosis of Cherry Poisoning in Cats
The best way to diagnose cherry poisoning in cats is to witness the feline consuming the plant. If you do witness your cat licking, chewing or eating any part of the cherry tree that is not the cherry itself, take part of the plant with you to your cat’s veterinary appointment. If you have not witnessed plant consumption, the veterinarian will base his or her diagnosis on your cat’s presenting clinical signs. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, a review of the feline’s medical history, and a consultation with the pet owner.
Unfortunately, cherry poisoning symptoms mimic the symptoms of other cyanide poisoning and nitrate poisonings, so your veterinarian will need to conduct a diagnostic differential. The easiest way for a veterinarian to rule out a nitrate poisoning is to take a sample of your cat’s blood and examine its color. When a feline is suffering a cyanide toxicity, the blood will be a bright red color, whereas a nitrite toxicity will cause the feline’s blood to turn a dark brown color. The veterinarian will also check your cat’s oxygen levels, as a decreased oxygen supply is a common sign of cherry poisoning in cats.
Treatment of Cherry Poisoning in Cats
As cherry poisoning prevents the uptake of oxygen to the cells, the veterinarian may begin treatment with oxygen supplementation. Fluid therapy may also begin to flush the cyanide from the body and methylene blue may be administered intravenously as well. Methylene blue works by reducing the ferric iron in hemoglobin (red blood cells) to the ferrous state. Therefore, this therapeutic agent converts methemoglobin cells that don’t carry oxygen into hemoglobin cells that will once again be receptive to oxygen transport. The veterinarian may pair the use of methylene blue with mineral oil. Used as a cathartic, mineral oil can aid in a faster defecation and speed up the removal of toxic material from the feline’s gastrointestinal tract. The treatment series put in place by the veterinarian may be repeated as symptoms persist.
Recovery of Cherry Poisoning in Cats
If a diagnosis was promptly made and treatment was effective, a feline has a good chance of surviving cherry poisoning. However, if the clinical signs were not noticed until the lethal chemicals of the cherry plant were further absorbed, the feline’s chance for making a full recovery is guarded to poor. The best prevention method of cyanide toxicity in felines is to removal all cherry trees from your cat’s environment or keep the feline confined when you are not home.