What is Elephant Ear Poisoning?
While this plant is commonly eaten after it has been cooked, when raw it contains toxins capable of making most mammals quite ill. This is because elephant ear contains calcium oxalate, which exists as sharp crystals that are released when the plant is chewed. These sharp crystals then poke through the oral and throat tissues, all the way down to the stomach. This creates swelling all along the esophagus. Other components of the plant may also cause an allergic reaction in some cats. Even touching an elephant ear may cause skin irritation. Poisoning from this plant is rare, however, some cat fatalities have been reported.
The elephant ear plant, also known as the taro, caladium and malanga, is a perennial herb known for its large foliage which resemble the ears of an elephant. It's Latin name is Colocasia esculenta and it is of the Araceae family of plants. Elephant ear is often used in gardens for its unique leaves, which can be solid green, green and red, or bluish in color. They can grow to absolutely gigantic sizes, with some specimens containing leaves far larger than a human, reaching up to nine feet in height.
Symptoms of Elephant Ear Poisoning in Cats
In most cases, symptoms will begin to manifest right after the plant has been eaten. If plant material has come into contact with the eyes, they also will become inflamed. All signs to watch for are listed below.
- Swollen tongue, eyes or lips
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive drooling
- Pawing at the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarse vocalization
- Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
- Cardiac abnormalities
- Kidney failure
Causes of Elephant Ear Poisoning in Cats
Elephant Ear can be found growing in many gardens across the United States. Because it is such an unusual looking plant, it has gained mass popularity among landscapers. Cats who are allowed outdoors have a heightened risk of being exposed to elephant ear. A large amount of the plant must be consumed for the cat to be poisoned, which generally does not happen due to the immediate burning of the mouth that happens when the plant is chewed.
Diagnosis of Elephant Ear Poisoning in Cats
If a large amount of elephant ear has been consumed, the situation should be treated as a medical emergency. Take your cat to a veterinary clinic or animal hospital immediately. Be prepared to provide the cat's full medical history, as this may be necessary to help confirm the cat's condition as a poisoning and not an existing health problem. If you saw the cat eating a plant but are unsure of what it was, bring a small sample along with you so that the veterinarian can identify it. You may be asked if your cat is allowed outdoors and what kind of plants grow in your garden.
The veterinarian will then perform a physical examination to see the extent of the poisoning in the cat. If the cat's vital functions are compromised, treatment may be started to stabilize the animal before a diagnosis has been made. Blood will be collected from the cat for tests to be run such as a complete blood count and a biochemical profile to measure the amount of electrolytes remaining in the bloodstream. Urinalysis may be performed to assess how the kidneys are functioning. When listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope, the vet may note abnormalities in both the heartbeat and the breathing.
Treatment of Elephant Ear Poisoning in Cats
As no specific antidote exists for Elephant Ear Poisoning, the main goal will be to address symptoms in the cat and keep it as comfortable as possible.
Wash Exposed Areas
If the eyes or mouth are experiencing extreme irritation from contact with the elephant Ear plant, they will need to be flushed with water to provide relief.
If the cat has experienced gastrointestinal upset for a long period of time, it may begin to dehydrate. Administering fluids intravenously can help hydrate the cat and replace electrolytes that have been lost. The cat's breathing and organ function should be monitored throughout the episode.
Certain medication can be given to the cat to help ease the symptoms of elephant ear poisoning. Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine can be administered if the cat is experiencing allergic reactions from exposure to the plant. Either Kapectolin or sucralfate may be given to ease gastrointestinal irritation by coating the lining of the stomach.
Recovery of Elephant Ear Poisoning in Cats
Illness from elephant ear poisoning may last up to two weeks, but the most severe symptoms usually pass in the first 24 hours. Overall prognosis depends on the amount of the plant that was ingested and if any kidney damage was sustained. Relatively few cat fatalities have been reported due to elephant ear poisoning, however, it can happen.
Many people who love having the elephant ear plant around their home take extra efforts to make sure it is in a spot that can not be reached by a cat. Some choose to remove the plant altogether to err on the side of caution. Keeping your cat indoors can help prevent it from being exposed to elephant ear growing in other people's gardens. As this plant has a very memorable appearance, become familiar with it so that you can easily identify it and keep your cat safe.