What is Dwarf Poinciana Poisoning?
The greyish-green leaves of the dwarf poinciana contain a form of hydrogen cyanide which, when mixed with water components inside the body, becomes highly toxic. The seeds and flowers contain different toxins that can cause adverse effects on cats. These toxins include tannins, saponins and three different glutarimide compounds (sesbanamides A,B and C). Ingesting dwarf poinciana usually only produces gastrointestinal symptoms, however if the toxins become absorbed into the bloodstream, the saponins can cause the kidneys, liver and blood cells to degenerate. This can lead to a potentially life-threatening situation.
The dwarf poinciana, often called the peacock flower, red bird of paradise or the Pride of Barbados, is an evergreen shrub that is native to Mexico. It produces gorgeous, brightly colored groups of flowers in reds, pinks, oranges and yellows that bloom from spring until fall. Because of these flowers, many of southwestern states in the U.S. use dwarf poinciana in landscaping. It thrives in climates with full sun and dry heat, not surviving temperatures colder than 28°F. Dwarf poinciana's scientific name is Caesalpinia pulcherrima and it is part of the Leguminosae (legume) family of plants.
Symptoms of Dwarf Poinciana Poisoning in Cats
Consumption of the dwarf poinciana's leaves may cause an almost instant gastrointestinal response. Eating the seeds may lead to a several hour delay until symptoms begin to show. This is more dangerous, as it means the body has already digested the plant material. All signs to watch for include:
- Diarrhea (may contain blood)
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive drooling
- Pawing at the mouth
- Muscular weakness
- Shallow and rapid breathing
- Racing pulse
Causes of Dwarf Poinciana Poisoning in Cats
If you live in a hot and dry climate somewhere along the south or western states and your cat is allowed outdoors, there is a heightened risk that it may come into contact with dwarf poinciana in surrounding gardens or parks. Cats who have curious personalities and younger kittens may be more prone to sampling portions of the plant. The bitter tannins in the leaves generally prevent large amounts being consumed, however it should be noted that eating as few as 20 or so seeds can be lethal for a cat.
Diagnosis of Dwarf Poinciana Poisoning in Cats
If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, or you have witnessed it eating plant material, bring it to a veterinary clinic or animal hospital immediately. If you saw the cat eating part of a plant, but are unsure of what it was, bring a small clipping with you so that a veterinarian can identify it. You will likely be asked to provide your cat's medical history in cases where poisoning is suspected but consumption of the plant was not seen. This can help your veterinarian to rule out other health problems with symptoms that may mimic dwarf poinciana poisoning.
The veterinarian will then likely perform a complete physical examination of the cat, noting all manifested symptoms. Listening to the heart with a stethoscope may reveal an irregular or fast pulse, and listening to the lungs may show the cat is only taking shallow breaths. Full blood work will be run including a complete blood count to show the amount of cells in the bloodstream and a biochemical profile measuring other minerals present. Urinalysis can be used to monitor the condition of both the liver and the kidneys.
Treatment of Dwarf Poinciana Poisoning in Cats
There is no specific treatment to relieve a cat who has been poisoned by dwarf poinciana ingestion. The best course of treatment will deal with specific symptoms that have arisen and how to stabilize the cat to give it the best chance for survival.
Remove Stomach Contents
If you witnessed the cat eating plant materials and not much time has passed, removing all contents of the stomach can be an effective way to get rid of the toxins. If the cat is conscious, a small amount of hydrogen peroxide may be given to induce vomiting. A gastric lavage (or stomach pumping) may also be used. This treatment may not be effective for cats who have ingested dwarf poinciana seeds hours before symptoms began to show.
This may be given to help bind all remaining toxins together and prohibit the body from absorbing them. The poisonous materials should then be able to pass through the intestines.
Administering fluids intravenously and replacing electrolytes can help to rehydrate the cat and give it as much strength as possible. The toxins may also be flushed out faster with IV fluids than if the body was left to process them on its own.
Recovery of Dwarf Poinciana Poisoning in Cats
When it comes to dwarf poinciana poisoning, the faster that treatment is administered, the more likely that the cat will be saved. Overall prognosis will depend on how much plant material was eaten, and whether it was the seeds or leaves of the plant. The best defense against dwarf poinciana poisoning is prevention, which may require you to keep your cat indoors where you can monitor which plants it is exposed to.