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What is Grass Palm Poisoning?

Grass palm contains saponins, to protect the plant from pests. These saponins are toxic to pets. The plant is bitter tasting and not highly toxic; it is unlikely that a cat would ingest enough of the plant to cause severe toxicity. However, if they do sample the plant, cats may exhibit some symptoms of poisoning. If your cat ingests grass palm, as with any other toxic plant, you should seek veterinary care and advice immediately as individuals can experience severe symptoms.

Grass palm is an ornamental evergreen also used as an ornamental grass, grown in warm climates. Its scientific name is Cordyline australis, and it also goes by the common names giant dracaena and palm lily. When mature, it resembles a tree with several branches from a single trunk, producing heads of long grass like foliage and cream-colored flowers. The red sensation variety has long, bronzy-red foliage and is very popular for its ornamental qualities. Although primarily kept for ornamental purposes, it has been used for medicinal purposes in the past.

Symptoms of Grass Palm Poisoning in Cats

Saponin compounds in grass palms produce gastrointestinal, and occasionally neurological, symptoms in cats including:

  • Vomiting* 
  • Diarrhea* 
  • Depression
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Salivation/drooling
  • Dilated pupils (tends to be specific to cats)

*There may or may not be blood present in vomit and stool.

Causes of Grass Palm Poisoning in Cats

Grass palm, an ornamental and sometimes medicinal plant is cultivated in subtropical and tropical areas. It may be used in garden and household planters as an ornamental grass. This plant contains saponins to protect itself from insects, microbes, and fungi. These saponins are mild to moderately toxic to cats and other pets. Due to its bitter, unappetizing taste, it is unlikely to cause life-threatening poisoning in a cat, as they are unlikely to ingest a large quantity. However, sampling the plant can cause symptoms of poisoning in your cat. A cat that is weakened from another medical condition may be more affected and experience severe illness.

Diagnosis of Grass Palm Poisoning in Cats

As with all plant poisonings, if your cat ingests an unfamiliar plant, take a sample with you to the veterinarian for identification. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and take a medical history of a cat presenting with symptoms of toxicity. Vital signs will be monitored and necessary tests such as blood, urine, and radiographs required to rule out other medical conditions and identify organ dysfunction will be ordered. Based on ingestion of grass palm followed by symptoms and the absence of other conditions your veterinarian will make a diagnosis of poisoning and initiate treatment.

Treatment of Grass Palm Poisoning in Cats

Treatment for saponin poisoning from grass palm usually involves treatment of symptoms and providing supportive care. Any plant in the oral cavity of your cat will be removed and if vomiting is not already occurring your veterinarian will induce vomiting with xylazine or hydrogen peroxide, which are emetics in cats (medications that induce vomiting). Activated charcoal may be administered to prevent absorption of the toxins in the gastrointestinal lining.

To treat gastrointestinal symptoms, medication such as Kapectolin or sucralfate may be administered to coat the stomach lining. If dehydration occurs in your cat, intravenous or subcutaneous fluids will be administered to rehydrate your cat. Any medication required to provide support to organs being affected by toxicity will be provided.

Recovery of Grass Palm Poisoning in Cats

Prognosis for saponin poisoning from grass palm is good and with supportive treatment, your cat will usually recover in a few days. If a large amount was ingested or toxicity was severe and organ failure resulted, which is rare, prognosis is more guarded. A diet to support gastrointestinal symptoms and functioning may be recommended for a few days after poisoning to ensure that your pet's gastrointestinal symptoms are addressed. Ensure that grass palm plants are no longer accessible to your cat so poisoning does not reoccur.