What is European Holly Poisoning?
Even though European holly poisoning is not usually life-threatening, you should always take your cat to the vet if you suspect they have ingested a poisonous plant. Immediate treatment will relieve your cat’s discomfort and ensure the best possible prognosis.
The European holly plant – also known as English holly, American holly, inkberry, and winterberry – is a common household plant that people use to decorate during the winter holidays. Recognize the European holly by its clusters of vibrant red berries and spiky leaves. European holly contains saponins, which are poisonous to several species of animals including cats. Saponins are quite common in many plants, but can cause moderate poisoning in domestic pets and horses.
Symptoms of European Holly Poisoning in Cats
Symptoms of European holly poisoning can be nonspecific and typically manifest quickly after ingestion. Take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Signs of depression
- Lethargy and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Head shaking
- Smacking lips
Causes of European Holly Poisoning in Cats
The primary cause of European holly poisoning in cats is ingestion. The leaves and berries of the plant contain the lowest level of toxins, but are still poisonous to cats. European holly also contains the toxic substances methylxanthines and cyanogens in addition to saponins. These substances increase heart rate and cause inflammation respectively. High concentrations of cyanogens can result in paralysis in cats. The spiky leaves cause mechanical injury, and head shaking and lip smacking occur as a result.
It is unclear how much of the plant your cat needs to ingest in order to become poisoned. However, if you believe your cat has ingested European holly in any quantity, you should err on the side of caution and seek immediate veterinary attention.
Diagnosis of European Holly Poisoning in Cats
Calling your vet before you arrive to inform them that they will need to treat an emergency case of European holly poisoning will help your vet prepare to make the diagnosis. If you purchased the European holly as a decorative house plant, take it with you when you go to the vet. If you witnessed your cat ingest the plant, provide your vet with an estimate of how much of the plant your cat ingested, if possible.
Let your vet know how long your cat has been experiencing symptoms. Presentation of symptoms may be sufficient to make the definitive diagnosis. Your vet can confirm European holly poisoning by using standard diagnostic testing methods, which usually include blood and urine tests. Other tests may be utilized based on your cat’s symptoms.
Treatment of European Holly Poisoning in Cats
Treatment may vary depending on the amount of the plant your cat ingested, the severity of poisoning, and the symptoms present. Your vet can advise you on a treatment plan based on your cat’s specific case.
There is currently no antidote available to counteract the effects of European holly. Mild cases of poisoning may be treated with supportive intravenous fluid and nutritional therapies if fluid imbalances are present. Inducing vomiting will help purge the toxins from your cat’s gastrointestinal tract. Activated charcoal or other gastric absorbents may be administered to absorb any toxins in the stomach and bloodstream. If vomiting continues, your vet may administer anti-vomiting and/or anti-nausea medication. If your cat has suffered inflammation, your vet may prescribe corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory medications to manage symptoms.
Severe cases of European holly poisoning in cats are rare. However, if your cat has ingested European holly in large quantities, hospitalization may be required. Treatment will vary on a case-by-case basis.
Recovery of European Holly Poisoning in Cats
Recovery and prognosis may vary depending on the severity of poisoning and the symptoms present. Most cats recover from mild cases of plant poisoning within twenty-four hours.
It is unlikely that your cat will come into contact with European holly through outdoor activity since the plant is native to Europe and Asia. If you purchased the European holly as a house plant, you should remove it immediately. Since cats are renowned for being wily creatures that are able to access hard-to-reach places, moving plants stay on the safe side and don’t use authentic holly plants to decorate your home during the holidays. You should always research plants before making any purchases to make sure they aren’t toxic to your cat.
For most mild cases of poisoning, follow-up appointments usually aren’t necessary. For severe cases of poisoning, follow-up appointments may be scheduled as needed to monitor healing.