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What is Leatherflower Poisoning?

Fortunately, this plant has a bitter, burning taste which discourages your cat from nibbling too much of it. Even knowing that, it’s vital that you get your cat to the vet immediately after consumption of leatherflower. Some of the effects of this poison are similar to those of digitalis, a known heart medication.

The plant has an unusual defensive mechanism: when an animal, such as your cat, damages any part of the plant, it releases protoanemonin, stopping your cat from continuing to nibble on it. This substance causes almost instant pain to your cat’s mouth, esophagus and to the mucosa lining its gastrointestinal tract. As this irritation progresses, your cat can develop rashes or blisters in its mouth or throat.

Leatherflower, also called Clematis texensis, has the potential to be deadly to your cat. Coming from the Ranunculaceae family, leatherflower contains the cardiac glycosides hellebrin, hellebores and helleborein. It also has saponosides and the ranunculoside derivative, Protoanemonine.

Symptoms of Leatherflower Poisoning in Cats

You’ll notice that your cat develops several obvious symptoms after eating leatherflower:

  • Excessive salivation or drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting and purging
  • Tingling of its mouth and throat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Idioventricular rhythm
  • Bundle-branch block (your cat experiences a delay in the pathway that carries electrical impulses that make its heart beat)
  • Ventricular fibrillation (the lower chambers of your cat’s heart simply quiver, not pumping blood through its body)
  • Asystole (cat’s heart flatlines, not beating)
  • Increased aggression
  • Delirium
  • Convulsions
  • Death after respiratory collapse

Causes of Leatherflower Poisoning in Cats

All parts of the leatherflower plant are poisonous because it contains Protoanemonin. This substance is slightly soluble in water and is known to cause nausea. While every part of this plant is poisonous, its leaves are believed to be the most toxic.

Once your cat chews the leaves, it will feel irritation on its lips and in its mouth. If it manages to eat a large amount, it will experience a burning sensation in its mouth.

Other poisonous actions include a digitalis-like effect (Digitalis is a heart medication). This medication is responsible for causing all of the above cardiac symptoms in cats or other animals that eat leatherflower. 

Diagnosis of Leatherflower Poisoning in Cats

Once you realize your cat is ill, you need to get to the vet as quickly as possible. If you suspect the cat ate a leatherflower plant, put a small sample into a plastic bag and take this to the vet. If the cat has begun to have diarrhea and vomit, gather samples of both, as they may help the vet make the correct diagnosis of your cat’s illness.

Try to give your vet the most accurate history of how your cat became so ill. Because of the cardiac symptoms, treatment needs to begin just as quickly as possible.

Before giving your cat a physical, the vet will rinse its mouth out to flush any remaining plant particles. These may be contributing to its mouth irritation and nausea.

Your vet will also order blood work, looking for any other health conditions that could be worsened by leatherflower poisoning.

Treatment of Leatherflower Poisoning in Cats

If you even suspect that your cat has been poisoned by a leatherflower plant, your vet needs to induce your cat to vomit to purge the remaining plant bits in its stomach. He may also wash out your cat’s stomach to get rid of any remaining pieces of the plant. Once these have been done, the vet will give activated charcoal to your cat. This binds to the toxins so they won’t go through your cat’s body.

Antacids will be given to your cat to help relieve its gastrointestinal symptoms. The vet will also give your cat one of several demulcents (substances that coat your cat’s irritated stomach to allow it to recover) such as glycerin, honey, pectin or syrup.

Once these treatments have been given, the vet and his staff will closely monitor your cat’s condition, looking for more serious symptoms (cardiac or nervous system) won’t develop.

If your cat did manage to eat a large amount of this plant, the vet will treat your cat’s symptoms and help it to begin recovering. If the cat does begin to show cardiac symptoms, the vet may give atropine, either intramuscularly or through an IV to stabilize its condition. 

Your cat’s kidney function will also be monitored; it will also be continuously monitored for any developing cardiac arrhythmias. 

Skin or mucus irritation can be treated by gently washing your cat’s skin and fur to help soothe the burning and irritation.

Recovery of Leatherflower Poisoning in Cats

If the bitterness and burning that result from eating leatherflower stop your cat from eating very much, its chances for recovery are good. Once it has been treated and brought home, it should be able to resume its normal life, with one significant change: the plant that poisoned your cat should be removed so it won’t accidentally eat from it again.

As you are looking for plants to replace the leatherflower, ask your vet for a list of cat-safe replacements. In addition, invest in several cat-friendly grasses that your cat can safely eat, such as wheatgrass, rye and oat grass. Tempt your cat to nibble from these grasses by planting several large planters that allow it to lounge in the grass and nibble at will.