What is Japanese Yew Poisoning?
If you suspect your cat has ingested any part of the Japanese yew plant, take it to the vet immediately. Ingestion of Japanese yew can kill animals quickly. For the best chances of survival, your vet will need to induce vomiting within thirty minutes to an hour following ingestion. Unfortunately, most cases of yew poisoning are often diagnosed post-mortem.
The Japanese yew is an evergreen plant that is toxic to many animals, including dogs, cats, and horses. Recognize the Japanese yew by its clumps of red berries and its long, thin leaves. The toxic principles of Japanese yew are taxines A and B and volatile oil. These substances primarily affect heart function. During the winter months, there are higher concentrations of taxines A and B found in the Japanese yew.
Symptoms of Japanese Yew Poisoning in Cats
Symptoms of Japanese yew poisoning will manifest rapidly and will require immediate veterinary attention. Be aware of the following symptoms, and rush your cat to the vet immediately as soon as you notice them:
- Lethargy and weakness
- Difficulty breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Collapse or coma
- Unusual or aggressive behavior
- Changes in heart rate and blood pressure
Causes of Japanese Yew Poisoning in Cats
The primary cause of Japanese yew poisoning in cats is ingestion. Toxic taxines can be found in every part of the plant, including the leaves, seeds, stems, and berries. The only part of the plant which isn’t toxic is the seed covering, also known as the aril. Your cat is unlikely to consume large quantities of the plant because volatile oil produces an unpleasant taste. However, it is important to note that ingesting even a small amount of Japanese yew will cause serious symptoms very quickly. Poisoning can occur even if your cat just chews on the leaves. Larger animals can collapse as soon as fifteen minutes following the ingestion of Japanese yew, so emergency treatment is imperative to increase your cat’s chance of survival.
Diagnosis of Japanese Yew Poisoning in Cats
It is a good idea to call ahead and let the vet know they will need to treat an emergency case of Japanese yew poisoning. If the Japanese yew is a house plant, take a sample of it with you when you go to the vet. Having an estimate of how much of the plant your cat ingested may be useful to your vet for making the diagnosis, but is not necessary.
The vet can confirm Japanese yew poisoning using standard diagnostic testing, most commonly through blood and urine tests. Your vet may also conduct a stomach acid test to confirm the presence of Japanese yew leaves or taxines. Your vet may recommend other tests based on your cat’s symptoms, particularly if heart damage is suspected.
Treatment of Japanese Yew Poisoning in Cats
Treatment will begin immediately, and may vary based on the amount of the plant your cat ingested as well as the extent of poisoning. There is currently no antidote for Japanese yew poisoning.
Your vet will first induce vomiting to clear the taxines and volatile oil from your cat’s system. If your cat has ingested larger quantities of the plant, inducing vomiting may not be possible as it can cause problems for the cardiac and nervous systems. In these rare cases, your vet may recommend pumping your cat’s stomach instead. In cats suffering from dehydration or other fluid imbalances, intravenous fluid therapy may be started right away. Activated charcoal may also be administered to absorb any undigested taxines in the stomach. If your cat is having seizures or has acquired significant damage to the gastrointestinal tract, medications to treat these symptoms may be prescribed. Other treatment methods may be utilized based on the specific symptoms present.
Recovery of Japanese Yew Poisoning in Cats
Recovery and prognosis may vary depending on the success of treatment and the severity of poisoning. In most mild cases of plant poisoning, cats can recover within twenty-four hours. Since yew poisoning is often more serious, the prognosis may be guarded.
Japanese yew is often purchased during the holiday season as a decorative house plant. However, it is highly toxic for cats and can kill them very quickly if ingested, so it not recommended for use in homes with cats. Never assume that your cat cannot reach a toxic plant. It is always a good idea to research plants before purchasing to ensure they do not contain substances that are poisonous to your cat.
For cases of mild Japanese yew poisoning that are diagnosed and treated quickly, follow-up appointments may or may not be required. If your cat has sustained damage to the cardiac or nervous systems, your vet will schedule follow-up appointments as required to monitor heart function and ensure no toxins remain in your cat’s gastrointestinal tract or bloodstream.