What is Indian Hemp Poisoning?
Indian hemp poisoning in cats is a form of plant toxicity resulting from direct or indirect ingestion of any portion of the Indian hemp plant, including the pollen, roots, stem and leaves. A feline can also be poisoned by drinking contaminated water that held the Indian hemp plant, such as from a vase. The Indian hemp plant contains toxins called cardiac glycosides that directly interfere with the heart’s electrolyte balance. Clinical signs are, therefore, usually cardiovascular but can also be neurological and gastrointestinal. The Indian hemp plant grows in most areas of North America and can commonly be found in fields, woodland areas and roadside ditches, which provides easy access for a cat to consume.
Symptoms of Indian Hemp Poisoning in Cats
The Indian hemp plant contains toxins called cardiac glycosides, because they interfere with the hearts electrolyte balance directly. Due to the poison’s direct focus being the heart, a feline will develop clinical signs of Indian hemp poisoning that are centered around the heart muscle and functions. Common signs of a feline Indian hemp poisoning include the following:
- Body weakness
- Blue colored mucus membranes (an indication of inadequate blood oxygen levels)
- Decreased appetite
- Pupil dilation
- Elevated pulse
- Life-threatening high potassium levels
- Irregular heartbeat
- Abnormal heart rate
Causes of Indian Hemp Poisoning in Cats
Indian hemp poisoning in cats is caused by the direct or indirect ingestion of the Indian Hemp plant. All portions of the Indian hemp plant are considered toxic including the pollen, roots, stem, leaves and petals. Some cases of Indian hemp plant toxicosis have even been reported to have occurred from a feline drinking the vase water in which the plant was placed in the home.
The toxic components of the Indian Hemp plant are naturally-occurring poisons; bufadienolides and cardenolides. These two types of poisons are called cardiac glycoside toxins, which interfere with the heart’s electrolyte balance of the contracting muscle. In veterinary medicine, drugs like digoxin and digitalis affect the heart in a very similar way to the Indian hemp plant’s bufadienolides and cardenolides. A lethal dose is estimated at 0.5 grams per kilogram of the feline’s body weight, but adverse reactions can result in lower dosages.
Diagnosis of Indian Hemp Poisoning in Cats
Diagnosing an Indian hemp poisoning case is tricky, as there is no true way to identify this type of plant toxicity and the symptoms that the toxins cause the feline to develop mimic other serious heart conditions. Actually seeing your cat consume the Indian hemp plant may be the only way to pinpoint an Indian Hemp plant poisoning, so make sure to inform your veterinarian if the feline has consumed part of this plant or inform the doctor if the cat has access to the plant. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, review of the feline’s medical history, where cardiovascular changes are to be noted. As cardiovascular irregularities could be linked to a variety of underlying causes, your veterinarian will want to conduct a differential diagnosis to eliminate other possibilities. 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
- Chest radiograph
- Urinalysis (examination of urine)
- Fecal floatation test
- Fecal examination
Treatment of Indian Hemp Poisoning in Cats
Indian hemp poisoning in cats has an antidote know as digoxin-specific Fab fragments. The treatment is rather expensive and is only used in severe, life-threatening cases of plant toxicity. If your cat is not in a life-threatening state of Indian hemp plant toxicity, the veterinarian will want to encourage the feline’s body to eliminate the toxin. An emetic drug will be administered to encourage the feline to vomit. If your cat has not vomited, activated charcoal will likely be administered by the veterinarian. Activated charcoal will bind with the toxic agent and prevents the body from further absorption of the plant chemicals. The feline’s treatment may end with intravenous fluids to flush the toxin from the blood and restore his or her hydration. Vomiting and diarrhea will cause the cat’s fluid levels to drop significantly, therefore, intravenous fluids are almost always given.
Recovery of Indian Hemp Poisoning in Cats
The recovery time and prognosis of an Indian hemp plant poisoning in cats depends on the amount of plant material consumed, which part of the plant was consumed and the particular plant (some plants of the same species have a higher toxicity level than others). The key to a positive prognosis is early detection and immediate veterinary medical care.