What is Hibiscus Poisoning?
It is also because of these spectacular flowers, and the seed pods that follow the blossoms, that this plant is used medicinally. Humans have long used dried out flowers or seed pods in teas to cure many ailments. The issue is that the bounty of minerals found in these plants can quickly overwhelm the internal system of a small animal, such as a cat, causing illness after consumption. While the exact toxin responsible for this reaction is unknown, the gastrointestinal upset that some cats experience after eating hibiscus blossoms or pods may be due to the high levels of manganese in the plant, which in large doses can be harmful.
The hibiscus is a very common plant kept in many homes and gardens for both its beautiful appearance and its medicinal uses. It is native to Asia, but can survive the winters in most American climates. Scientifically, it is referred to as “Hibiscus syriacus” of the Malvaceae family but it is commonly called “Rose of Sharon” or “Rose of China”. Hibiscus grows as a shrub or small tree, with strong wooded stems. It is deciduous, so it loses and regrows its large green leaves once every year. The reason that this plant is so well-loved has to do with the gigantic, colorful blossoms that it produces, which can grow up to 6 inches wide. They come in an array of colors, including red, pink, orange and yellow. The long stamens of the flower give them a very memorable shape.
Symptoms of Hibiscus Poisoning in Cats
Cats who ingest hibiscus blossoms may experience distress in their digestive system shortly after the plant has been eaten. These symptoms are generally mild and not long-lasting. Signs to watch for include:
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Hibiscus Poisoning in Cats
Cats or kittens with a curious nature may have many opportunities to come in contact with a hibiscus plant. Many people keep hibiscus in pots inside the home, while others plant large shrubs of it in their gardens. If your cat is allowed outdoors, it very well may come into contact with Hibiscus, as it is likely that the plant is growing somewhere in your neighborhood. A large amount of plant material would need to be eaten for toxic effects to occur.
Diagnosis of Hibiscus Poisoning in Cats
If you witness your cat eating hibiscus, or if you notice obvious damage has been done to the plant or its blossoms, gastrointestinal upset should be expected. If you did not witness your cat eating any plants and it has now begun to display signs of illness, take it to your veterinarian so that it may be professionally assessed. You will be asked to provide the cat's full medical history to help identify and rule out potential causes of symptoms. You may also be asked what plants you keep in and around your home, and if your cat is allowed outdoors.
The veterinarian will then perform a complete physical examination of the cat to look for any abnormalities. While examining the oral cavity, the vet may look for bits of plant material stuck between the teeth or under the tongue. This may be quite visible if the cat has been chewing on the brightly colored flowers of the Hibiscus. Blood samples will be collected so that a complete blood count and a biochemical profile can be run. These tests measure cell counts and mineral levels in the bloodstream and will help reveal any health issues in the cat. Urinalysis will also be performed to assess what the body is expelling with the urine, and how the liver and the kidneys are functioning.
Treatment of Hibiscus Poisoning in Cats
In most cases, treatment will not be needed after a cat consumes hibiscus, as symptoms should pass on their own. If a very severe reaction occurs, treatment to stabilize the cat will be needed, although chances of this happening are low.
If the cat has been actively ill for a long period of time, it may become dehydrated from expelling fluids without properly replenishing them. If this happens, intravenous fluids may be needed to rehydrate the cat. It will need to be hospitalized throughout this treatment.
Recovery of Hibiscus Poisoning in Cats
Most cats who consume hibiscus plant material will only experience a mild bout of illness that passes within 48 hours. Monitor your cat through this time and provide it with fresh water as often as possible. If the cat has not recovered in two days, take it to your veterinarian so it may be checked for further complications. If you keep hibiscus in your home, do all you can to make it inaccessible to your cat. Keeping your cat indoors may be the only way to protect it from interacting with toxic plants growing in neighborhood gardens. Familiarize yourself with common toxic plants in your area so that you can easily identify them and protect your pet.