What is Coleus Poisoning?
The coleus plant can be poisonous to your cat, even if it simply brushes up against the leaves or flowers. Coleus contains an essential oil toxic to cats and dogs, which can cause skin irritations and burns if not diagnosed and treated right away. Additionally, if your cat eats any part of this plant, it will also develop gastrointestinal symptoms. The poisonous oils from this plant can also cause respiratory depression or slowed breathing, which can be potentially fatal to your pet.
Symptoms of Coleus Poisoning in Cats
The essential oils in a coleus plant are quickly absorbed into your cat’s system, allowing it to become very sick very quickly:
- Loss of appetite or anorexia
- Vomiting (may be bloody)
- Diarrhea (may also be bloody)
- Pawing at the skin of the face and mouth
- Skin redness is visible underneath cat’s fur
- Burns on facial skin, tongue and gums
- Cat is physically weak
- Body tremors
- Cat walks with difficulty
- Lethargy and physical weakness
- Hypothermia (low body temperature) after ingestion of a large amount of coleus)
- Breathing difficulty
“Coleus” is an umbrella name for several plant varieties, including:
- Spanish thyme
- Country borage
- Bread and butter plant
- Stinging thyme
- Indian borage
- East Indian thyme
All of these varieties can be poisonous for your cat, so be zealous in making it difficult for your pet to get access to them. With some cats, this may not be possible.
Causes of Coleus Poisoning in Cats
Most cats are choosy about what they eat. Other cats aren’t as discriminating and will try just about everything, not knowing that some plants, such as coleus, are poisonous for them. Boredom, curiosity, and easy access to landscaping and indoor plants may influence how likely your cat is to eat coleus and become vulnerable to poisoning.
Diagnosis of Coleus Poisoning in Cats
If you caught your cat nibbling on a variety of coleus, you’ll have an advantage when you take it to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. Cut a small sample of the plant so your vet can begin the most appropriate treatment right away.
Your cat may already be sick, showing some symptoms of exposure to coleus. If so, your vet may ask you to collect a sample of vomit or stool for examination or testing. Because of the risk of breathing problems, don’t delay getting your cat to the vet. Getting to the vet in less than three hours improves your cat’s chance of recovery.
Once in the exam room, the vet will complete a full physical exam of your cat and take urine and blood samples. All the testing done allows the vet to make the most appropriate diagnosis and begin proper treatment for your feline.
Treatment of Coleus Poisoning in Cats
Once you realize your cat has eaten from a coleus plant and been poisoned, don’t begin first aid treatment at home. Some plant substances can make home remedies dangerous. Allow the vet to provide the treatment.
While vets may induce vomiting or try to neutralize some poisons with activated charcoal, these treatments can actually be dangerous with the essential oils present in all coleus plant varieties. Instead, treatment will be aimed at suppressing your cat’s body’s desire to vomit. Your pet will be given an anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) medication. It will also receive fluids intravenously, allowing veterinary staff to closely observe its condition. If your cat was able to eat enough of the plant (or brush up against it, get oils on its fur, then lick it off), it may have trouble breathing. If your cat’s breathing is compromised, the vet will add oxygen therapy to the cat’s treatment.
Because the essential oil in coleus is so irritating, your vet will also examine your cat’s skin, mouth, gums, tongue and gastrointestinal tract, looking for irritation. If this is happening to your cat, the vet will treat this as well. Cats with severe skin and mucous membrane irritation should stay overnight in the vet’s clinic for observation and needed treatment.
Recovery of Coleus Poisoning in Cats
Cats whose coleus poisoning has not been treated right away are at high risk of developing damage to their kidneys or liver. This may lead to complications which may be fatal for your feline.
The amount of coleus your cat ate or came into contact with also affects its ability to recover and return to a normal, active life. If the cat ate a small amount, it is more likely to recover. Quick treatment also helps your cat to avoid developing organ damage, which makes its chances of recovery better.
Once your cat has recovered from its poisoning symptoms, take it to your vet for follow-up examinations. At home, remove all coleus plants and indulge your cat’s love of nibbling greenery with cat-safe grasses.