What is Fern Palm Poisoning?
The fern palm is a member of the Cycadaceae plant family and is known throughout the world by its scientific name, Cycas revoluta. Fern palms are found growing in their natural habitat of tropical to subtropical areas, but are commonly used as ornamental houseplants around the globe. Common names given the to fern palm are cycads and the sago palm.
Fern palm poisoning in cats is a type of plant toxicity caused by direct or indirect ingestion of any portion of the fern palm plant. Ingestion of the fern palm can result in liver failure, internal bleeding and clinical signs associated with the central nervous system. Aggressive treatment from a licensed veterinarian is essential to survival, but even with treatment, the survival rate of feline fern palm toxicity is only 50 percent.
Symptoms of Fern Palm Poisoning in Cats
Clinical signs of a fern palm poisoning in cats will occur within 15 minutes after ingestions and, if treatment is not received, will result in liver failure within two to three days and eventual death. Symptoms cat owners should watch for if ingestion of the fern palm is suspected are listed below:
- Lack of appetite
- Vomiting blood
- Dark stool
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
- Diarrhea containing blood
- Liver failure
- Abnormal abdominal fluid accumulation
- Abdominal pain
- Black-tarry stools
- Weakness ataxia
Causes of Fern Palm Poisoning in Cats
Fern palm poisoning in cats is caused by direct or indirect ingestion of any portion of the fern palm plant. The primary toxic component of the fern palm plant is cycasin, but it also contains toxic element B-methylamino-l-alanine. All portions of the fern palm plant are considered toxic to felines, but it is the seeds that contain the highest formulation of the active toxic agents. Consuming only one or two seeds from the fern palm plant can result in fatality.
Diagnosis of Fern Palm Poisoning in Cats
The best way to diagnose a fern palm poisoning in a cat is to witness the feline consuming the plant. If you do witness your cat licking, chewing or eating a fern palm plant, take the plant with you to your cat’s veterinary appointment. If you have not witnessed plant consumption, the veterinarian will base his or her diagnosis off your cat’s presenting clinical signs. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, review of the feline’s medical history and a consultation with the pet owner. The easiest way for a veterinarian to rule out other possible underlying diseases causing your cat symptoms is to perform a differential diagnosis. Diagnostic tests the veterinarian will likely request to be performed on the feline include:
- CBC (complete blood cell count)
- Biochemical profile (blood work)
- Blood smear test
- Urinalysis (examination of urine)
- Fecal floatation test
- Fecal examination
Treatment of Fern Palm Poisoning in Cats
Fast and aggressive treatment is essential for fern palm poisoning in felines. The main goal of treating a fern palm poisoning is to eliminate the substance from the feline’s body and blood before it causes liver failure, or causes harm to the central nervous system. In order to accomplish this, the veterinarian will need to administer medication to induce vomiting and/or give the feline an activated charcoal solution to bind with the toxic plant chemical, to later be passed in fecal form from the body.
To further eliminate the toxin from the blood stream, the veterinarian will likely start your cat on fluids given intravenously to replenish lost fluids and aid in the elimination of the toxin.
Recovery of Fern Palm Poisoning in Cats
Aggressive treatment from a licensed veterinarian is essential to survival, but even with treatment, the survival rate of feline fern palm toxicity is only 50%. The prognosis can become more positive if the ingestion of the plant was witnessed and the cat owner took the cat to seek immediate veterinary medical attention. If the ingestion of this plant was not witnessed, the diagnostic process will take time and allows the toxin more time to reach the liver and central nervous system. If you own a fern palm in your home or known of one in your area, discourage your cat from consuming the plant. Keep the feline indoors if the fern plant is in the area or remove the fern palm from your home, as most fern plant toxicity cases result from indoor plant consumption.