What is Devil's Backbone Poisoning?
This plant is so toxic that even the water in the collector bowl can become toxic. Within a few hours of eating the plant, your cat develops symptoms. If your cat doesn’t receive immediate veterinary treatment, signs of cardiac difficulty can appear if it ate enough of the plant. Death can take place within 12 to 24 hours, but some animals have lived for as long as four or five days after being poisoned.
Devil’s backbone, which is also known as Kalanchoe, mother-in-law plant, Mother of millions and chandelier plant, is poisonous and potentially deadly for cats. The scientific name for devil’s backbone is Kalanchoe daigremontiana. This houseplant contains a toxin similar to digitalis, which is a heart medication used for animals and people with heart conditions.
Symptoms of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Cats
A few hours after ingesting any part of devil’s backbone, your cat will begin having the following symptoms:
- Dilated pupils
- Abnormal heart rate
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Cold extremities (limbs are cold to touch)
The more of this plant that your cat eats, the more severe its symptoms are likely to be. The poisoning is also more likely to be fatal, because your cat’s cardiovascular system is so impacted by the bufadienolides or cardiac glycoside toxins are present in a higher volume in your cat’s body.
Causes of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Cats
The glycosides in devil’s backbone are used in smaller doses in heart medications. If your cat ingests any part of this plant, it is at risk of developing cardiac symptoms, which could be fatal unless you take it to the vet right away. Cardiac glycoside toxins are dangerous because they interfere with the balance of electrolytes in the muscles of your cat’s heart. Every part of this plant is considered to be poisonous.
Your cat may begin nibbling at devil’s backbone if:
- It has little mental stimulation
- Your houseplants are easily accessible (even hanging a plant won’t outsmart your cat)
Diagnosis of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Cats
Your vet will give a full physical to your cat when you bring it in after it has eaten Devil’s Backbone. Diagnosis will be much easier if you saw your cat eating the plant, if you can remove plant material from its mouth, or if the vet can find evidence of plant material in your cat’s vomit.
Your vet will have to rely on clinical signs of poisoning to make a definitive diagnosis because there are no specific tests that help to confirm a diagnosis of poisoning by Devil’s Backbone. The vet’s laboratory can use chromatographic assays that will point out the presence of cardiac glycosides. Once your vet knows your cat ate devil’s backbone, they will test your cat’s potassium levels; if this is too high, it can be fatal for your cat.
Treatment of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Cats
The vet will give your cat supportive and symptomatic treatment for its poisoning symptoms. If it hasn’t begun to vomit, the vet will perform gastric lavage to clean out its stomach. Once the cat has emptied its stomach, it will be given activated charcoal, which absorbs the remainder of any poisons in your cat’s stomach.
Your cat will also be given intravenous fluids to keep its heart functioning normally. Because your vet knows your cat ate something with a cardiac poison, they will not give intravenous fluids containing calcium. The calcium will reinforce the effects of the cardiac glycosides still in your cat’s system. The vet will also place your cat into a cage to encourage it to stay quiet and calm.
If your cat has begun to experience cardiac arrhythmias, your vet will frequently listen to its heart and monitor its heartbeat with an EKG. Your cat will also receive drugs such as procainamide hydrochloride, potassium chloride, atropine or lidocaine hydrochloride, which help to keep its heart from going into cardiac arrhythmia. If your cat’s poisoning and cardiac symptoms are severe, it may receive a digoxin antidote.
Recovery of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Cats
Poisoning by devil’s backbone can be potentially deadly for your cat. If you managed to catch it eating from the plant or if you realized its symptoms were severe and got it to your vet right away, it has a chance of survival.
The treatments available treat your cat’s symptoms and help to reverse cardiac arrhythmias. Once your cat has gone back home, try to keep it from becoming too active as it continues recovering.
Before your cat comes home, remove the devil’s backbone and any other poisonous plants from your home. Take your cat to the vet for any necessary follow-up appointments so the vet can monitor its cardiac health.
Provide safe greens for your cat, such as cat-friendly grasses (wheat, oat and rye grasses). Grow several and place them in your cat’s favorite lounging areas so it can nibble greenery without the risk of becoming ill from a poisonous plant.