What is Maiden's Breath Poisoning?
Maiden's breath (also commonly known as baby's breath) is an aromatic flowering shrub that is native to the southern hemisphere. Nowadays, however, it is a popular ornamental plant used by many gardeners in warm and temperate regions across the world. That said, the plant can be quite poisonous to both animals and humans. Although not especially toxic to felines, the chemicals within maiden's breath can still produce some pretty unpleasant symptoms if ingested.
Symptoms of Maiden's Breath Poisoning in Cats
Luckily, the symptoms of maiden’s breath poisoning are quite visible, meaning that they will catch an owner’s attention quickly. Upon noticing a combination of these symptoms, it is advisable to seek medical assistance.
Vomiting: Shortly after eating part of the maiden's breath plant, the cat will begin to exhibit signs of nausea. This will cause a noticeable aversion to food, an unwillingness to be touched and may cause the cat to isolate itself from other members of the household. Within a short space of time, this will develop into full blown vomiting as the cat's body attempts to purge the contents of its stomach. Although not usually dangerous by itself, throwing up can cause the cat to lose large quantities of water. This can in turn lead to dehydration, meaning that owners should make extra water available for their cat to drink and stay healthy.
Diarrhea: The second most noticeable symptom caused by maiden's breath poisoning is diarrhea. Within a couple of hours of consuming the maiden's breath plant, the cat will begin to void its bowels as an automatic response of its body to the toxins contained therein. Much like vomiting, diarrhea can cause a large amount of fluid to leave the body in a short space of time. In an animal as small as a cat, this can quickly lead to dehydration, meaning that owners should be fast to make replacement liquids available for the cat to drink and thereby avoid serious complications.
Salivation: As the chemicals present in the maiden's breath plant start to irritate the mouth, owners may notice that their cat will start to excessively salivate. This can present either as regular drooling or as a foam that builds up around the mouth and nose. The saliva is produced in an attempt to dilute and flush the irritants away from the sensitive tissues of the face, and can lead to a surprisingly large amount of fluid being lost. Additionally, this drooling can be accompanied by a degree of redness around the lips and nose of the cat.
Skin Irritation: A distinctive feature of maiden's breath poisoning is the contact dermatitis that the sap of the plant is commonly found to produce. This manifests as an itchy red rash on the cat's skin and will normally cause the cat to scratch itself excessively in an attempt to quell the sensation. Although this can cause the cat to become quite unwilling to be touched, it is safe for the owner to inspect the rash, as the dermatitis will not be spread by contact with anything other than the maiden's breath plant.
Causes of Maiden's Breath Poisoning in Cats
There is a degree of misconception surrounding the exact cause of maiden's breath poisoning, with many people believing that the chemical 'gyposenin' is to blame due to its common presence in plants closely related to maiden's breath. In fact, the real culprit is 'saponin'. Saponin is produced mainly as a means of keeping the plant clear of microscopic parasites, but also has a repellent effect on larger animals due to its detergent-like chemical makeup. The toxin directly attacks tissues it encounters by bonding with and rupturing their cell walls. It is responsible for both the irritation to the cat's skin and mouth, as well as the damage and discomfort caused to the digestive tract if swallowed.
Diagnosis of Maiden's Breath Poisoning in Cats
Owners should try to attend the veterinary clinic with information regarding the cat's medical history, their normal behavior and the circumstances surrounding the poisoning ready for the vet to hear. Being able to answer questions on these subjects will help speed up the diagnostic process considerably. The vet will most likely be content with just using a physical examination of the animal in order to determine the nature and severity of the condition. However, they might also want to take a blood sample for laboratory testing and visually inspect the digestive tract via imaging scans if the symptoms seem particularly pronounced.
Treatment of Maiden's Breath Poisoning in Cats
Due to the high risk of dehydration that maiden's breath poisoning creates, the first part of the treatment will be to replace the fluids that the cat has lost to vomiting and diarrhea. This is most commonly achieved via fluid therapy, whereby liquid is intravenously administered to the cat. This will have a secondary effect of eventually causing urination and helping the animal to expel much of the saponin in its system. The vet may also choose to administer a dosage of activated charcoal to absorb the toxins that may remain in the cat's gut, thereby ceasing much of the irritation. Due to the mild nature of the dermatitis, the vet will typically choose to allow this to clear up by itself, rather than prescribing a cream or salve that may prove difficult for the owner to apply.
Recovery of Maiden's Breath Poisoning in Cats
Once the cat has returned home, it will be necessary to limit their activity levels for a few day by confining them to the house. This will let the cat regain its strength and devote its energies towards recovery rather than physical exertion. It may also be advisable to feed them a bland, easily digestible diet for a week or two so as to not further irritate the stomach. In all, the majority of cats will recover within the space of several days and will not require a follow-up visit to the vet unless they have developed some sort of secondary complication that requires further attention.