What is Deadly Nightshade Poisoning?
Deadly nightshade (also commonly known as 'belladonna') is a notoriously poisonous species of plant that is native to Europe but is also found in parts of North and South America. It typically can be found in dense undergrowth such as hedgerows and forested areas due to the fact that its seeds are almost exclusively spread via bird droppings. Needless to say, consumption of deadly nightshade poses a serious health risk to both humans and animals alike.
Symptoms of Deadly Nightshade Poisoning in Cats
It is lucky (for the purposes of diagnosis) that the symptoms of deadly nightshade poisoning are so pronounced. This will give owners ample time to get their pet to a veterinary clinic so that they can receive medical attention.
After ingesting the deadly nightshade, the cat will quickly begin to exhibit the classic signs of nausea (pacing, irritability, and gagging) before starting to vomit. There will typically be no visible change in color of the vomit itself, but there may be a small amount of blood present due to irritation of the digestive tract. Vomiting can be a major contributor to dehydration, especially when paired with the other symptoms of deadly nightshade. For this reason, owners should make sure that their cat has ready access to water in order to replenish some of the lost fluids.
The cat may also begin to defecate uncontrollably as the body attempts to purge the deadly nightshade toxins from its system. Owners may notice a small amount of blood in the resultant feces. The main danger posed by diarrhea is the risk of dehydration. The liquid content of the expelled feces will quickly drain the body of the water that is vital to its ability to function. Keeping the cat hydrated in the wake of a bout of diarrhea is very important to ensuring its health.
A tell-tale sign of deadly nightshade poisoning is an involuntary widening of the pupil. Also noticeable will be a markedly reduced pupillary response to light, with the pupil remaining wide even when exposed to bright lights.
Excessive salivation is also an effect of ingesting belladonna. Although not necessarily an issue by itself, extended periods of drooling can, in conjunction with vomiting and diarrhea, cause a rapid loss of fluid from the body and lead to dehydration.
Deadly nightshade poisoning can additionally cause the cat to appear very subdued and apathetic in its behavior. This is partly due to exhaustion from the aforementioned symptoms, but is also due to general disorientation and lack of coordination. Owners may also notice a degree of muscular weakness and loss of motor function in affected cats.
Slow Heart Rate
Deadly nightshade can have a direct effect on the cardiovascular system. This will typically manifest as a slow heartbeat, but can also result in audibly labored breathing.
Causes of Deadly Nightshade Poisoning in Cats
The main chemical responsible for the dangerous symptoms of deadly nightshade poisoning is called 'solanine'. Solanine mainly causes direct damage to cell membranes (causing internal bleeding), but also inhibits the function of neurons in the central nervous system in a similar manner to neurotoxins. By this mechanism, the solanine causes the vomiting, diarrhea, slowed heart rate and loss of motor function that is characteristic of deadly nightshade. Additionally, the plant also contains an amount of atropine. Whilst typically used as an antidote to poisoning, in deadly nightshade it causes some unpleasant side effects, including dizziness, pupil dilation, and nausea.
Diagnosis of Deadly Nightshade Poisoning in Cats
Upon arrival at the clinic, the cat will typically be subject to a full examination by the vet in order to confirm their symptoms. If deadly nightshade has not already been identified as the cause of the problem, then the vet may opt to conduct a full blood panel test in order to confirm the diagnosis. Additionally, the vet will typically try to ascertain the manner in which the symptoms presented themselves by asking the owner. It is worth preparing for these questions in advance, in order to provide good quality information so as to speed up the diagnosis.
Treatment of Deadly Nightshade Poisoning in Cats
Fluid therapy will typically be started in order to both replenish liquid lost to vomiting and diarrhea and to 'flush' the toxins from the cat by provoking urination. The vet may also choose to administer active charcoal to the stomach in order to absorb any toxins in the digestive tract. Depending on the severity of the poisoning, the vet may choose to administer drugs to counteract the effects of atropine, though the viability of this method varies on a case-by-case basis.
Recovery of Deadly Nightshade Poisoning in Cats
In many cases, deadly nightshade poisoning will prove fatal. For this reason, the vet will typically opt to keep the cat under observation for several days or weeks depending on their response to treatment, so that any complications can be quickly dealt with. After returning home, the cat's diet should be kept as bland as possible for some time, so as to give the digestive system ample time to recover. It will also be important to constrain the cat's levels of activity, so that they conserve their energy and heal properly.