What is Groundsel Poisoning?
Groundsel is a species of weed belonging to the same family as the daisy which can be found across the world. It is commonly regarded as a pest due in part to its unappealing looks and resilient nature, but more commonly because of its propensity to grow in recently disturbed earth (i.e. agricultural land and gardens). It is also regarded as quite dangerous due to the toxins that are present in all parts of the plant and which can cause serious health problems in many animals, including cattle, humans and felines.
Symptoms of Groundsel Poisoning in Cats
Groundsel poisoning is especially distinct because of the slowness with which the symptoms present themselves. Whereas most plants cause a violent reaction to their ingestion within a couple of hours, groundsel poisoning stretches the process over the course of several days. This makes it slightly easier for a vet to diagnose, but also means that the poisoning can be especially dangerous if left untreated.
After eating the groundsel plant, the cat will start to exhibit signs of nausea, including aversion to food, sensitivity to being touched, a foul temper and isolating itself from other members of the household. After a number of hours, the nausea will progress to vomiting as the cat attempts to expel the toxins from its digestive tract. Vomiting causes a rapid loss of fluid from the body, and can lead to dehydration (which in turn can cause organ failure). As a means of preventing this, the owner should look to provide as much extra water as possible for the cat to drink and thereby replace the liquid that it has lost.
A number of hours later, the cat will also begin to violently evacuate its intestines in an attempt to remove the groundsel material from its gut. This is largely involuntary and will result in much liquid being forced from the body in a short space of time. Because of this, extra fluids should be given to cats suffering from diarrhea as a means of preventing the onset of dehydration and the associated health problems that it can cause.
Loss of Coordination
As the poisoning progresses, owners may notice that their pet will begin to seem dizzy and uncoordinated in their movements, unable to walk from place to place with their usual precision. They may also exhibit signs of weakness when attempting to move objects or scale furniture. The groundsel poisoning can also cause them to seem unusually lazy, with the cat preferring to sit in one place and ignore its surroundings for long periods of time.
Eventually, the cat will begin to exhibit signs of damage to its liver. Owners may notice that the cat's eyes or skin will take on a jaundiced yellow color as the body becomes unable to process certain compounds and they start to build up in the bloodstream. Serious damage will also provoke renewed vomiting and diarrhea, with the stool appearing dark in color due to hemorrhaging and blood appearing in the vomit. Left untreated, this liver failure can prove fatal as the body becomes unable to filter out various toxins.
Causes of Groundsel Poisoning in Cats
Groundsel plants produce chemicals known as 'pyrrolizidine alkaloids' as a means of warding off predators. Whilst many plants produce these alkaloids as a form of insecticide, the groundsel is one of the few where the toxin concentration is high enough to harm larger animals. At first, the toxins will simply cause the repeated bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, but as the body metabolizes the pyrrolizidine alkaloids over a period of days, they will begin to build up in and cause serious damage to the tissues of the liver. At this point, the animal will begin to exhibit a jaundiced appearance that will cause most owners to take them to a vet. However, because of the delayed action of groundsel poisoning, the animal's chances of survival are mainly centered on what quantity of the plant they have eaten. For most cats, however, the dosage will be quite low as it is most commonly ingested whilst eating the body of a smaller herbivorous prey animal that has been grazing on the groundsel.
Diagnosis of Groundsel Poisoning in Cats
The vet will most likely want to know about the timeline of the appearance of the symptoms and their progression in addition to noting a summary of the cat's health history and daily habits. For this reason, it is recommended that owners try to have some information available prior to attending an appointment, as it will help immensely with speeding up the diagnostic process. The vet will then perform a physical examination of the cat to determine the severity of its symptoms. They may also take a blood sample for laboratory analysis, so that the exact toxins present in the bloodstream and liver can be identified.
Treatment of Groundsel Poisoning in Cats
The main way in which groundsel poisoning is dealt with is by removing as much of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids from the cat's system as possible. This will mean that the vet may choose to pump the cat's stomach to remove any remaining pieces of the plant before administering a dose of activated charcoal to absorb the residual toxins. They will also opt to start fluid therapy on the cat. This entails using an IV drip to directly put fluids into the cat's body, thereby staving off the effects of dehydration and simultaneously diluting the toxins present in the body. This will also cause urination, causing yet more toxins to be expelled.
Recovery of Groundsel Poisoning in Cats
Overall, the rate of recovery depends on the severity of the individual case of poisoning. Most animals will make a full recovery within a couple of weeks, but some will require ongoing treatment and permanent changes to their diet. The vet will typically want to schedule follow-up appointments every few days in order to monitor the cat's recovery. They will also recommend confining the cat to the house for a period of time and feeding it the plainest diet possible. This will make sure that the cat gets plenty of rest for its digestive system and is not eating foreign objects during the recovery process.