What is Meadow Saffron Poisoning?
This plant poses a particular threat to cats due to the colchicine toxins and other alkaloids that are found inside of it. The leaves and fruit of meadow saffron contain the highest level of toxins, but all parts of the plant should be regarded as poisonous. Humans have cultivated meadow saffron throughout the ages for medicinal purposes, although toxic reactions have resulted from human consumption as well. Colchicine causes red blood cells in the body to clot, creating blockages that can cut off circulation to major organs. This can result in total organ shut down, which can be fatal to the victim.
The meadow saffron goes by many different names, including “autumn crocus” and “naked lady”. Scientifically, it is known as the “Colchicum autumnale” of the Colchicaceae family of plants. This plant grows from a bulb and emerges from the earth in late summer. The dark green leaves of the Meadow Saffron can grow over a foot in length. It is loved by gardeners for its interesting purple, pink or white flowers that bloom throughout the fall. Meadow Saffron is native to North Africa but can be grown in many climate zones throughout the United States.
Symptoms of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Cats
Symptoms can develop immediately after meadow saffron has been ingested or be delayed, showing up several hours after consumption. As soon as symptoms begin to manifest, seek emergency medical care for your cat. All signs to watch for include:
- Vomiting (may contain blood)
- Watery diarrhea
- Tarry stools
- Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
- Oral irritation
- Rapid pulse
- Bowel and kidney failure
- Respiratory failure
Causes of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Cats
Meadow saffron may be found growing in gardens in your neighborhood. From late summer until early winter, this plant is above ground and accessible to any cat allowed outdoors. Even a small taste of meadow saffron can cause severe gastrointestinal distress in a cat because of its relatively small body size. If dug up and eaten, the bulbs may also cause negative reactions in the body.
Diagnosis of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Cats
If you suspect your cat has eaten Meadow Saffron, rush it to a nearby veterinary clinic or animal hospital immediately. Consuming even a small portion can be life-threatening for a cat. If you saw your cat eating a plant but are unsure if it was meadow saffron, bring a small clipping of it with you to be identified by the veterinarian. Be sure to keep it in a bag so that any plant juices do not transfer from your hands to your mouth or to the cat. The time of year will be taken into consideration during diagnosis, as meadow saffron only emerges in the fall. Treatment to stabilize the cat may begin before a diagnosis has been made.
Providing your cat's full medical history can assist the veterinarian in providing aid to your cat and ruling out potential causes of symptoms. A complete physical examination will then be performed on the cat. The veterinarian will likely listen to your cat's heart and lungs, noting any abnormalities in pulse or breathing. Blood will be taken from your cat so that standard tests may be run to determine the overall health of the animal. These tests often include a complete blood count and a biochemical profile to measure all levels in the bloodstream. Urine may also be collected so that the function of the cat's liver and kidneys can be assessed.
Treatment of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Cats
Meadow saffron poisoning should be treated as a medical emergency. The faster that treatment can begin, the better chance the cat has of surviving the incident. If the cat does not receive care, it is quite possible that it will die from the toxic reaction caused by the colchicine.
This should be given to the cat as soon as possible to absorb all of the harmful toxins that have accumulated in the body. The activated charcoal then traps the toxins and allows them to exit the cat through the digestive tract without being broken down by the body.
The cat's stomach will then be pumped using a solution of potassium permanganate, which cleans out the stomach in addition to removing its contents.
The cat will need to be kept hydrated throughout treatment. This may mean that intravenous fluids have to be administered to keep the cat stable. The cat's breathing should also be monitored and assisted if necessary.
Recovery of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Cats
The prognosis for a cat who has been poisoned by meadow saffron depends entirely on how much of the plant has been eaten and how quickly treatment was received. Fatalities have been reported from meadow saffron consumption. If organ damage has occurred, it is likely to be permanent. This could result in the cat needing lifelong medication or treatments to help the affected organs function better.
If you have cats, consider not growing meadow saffron in your garden. Any outdoor cat may be at risk if it lives in an area where meadow saffron can grow. It may be best to keep your cat indoors to protect it from meadow saffron and other toxic plants.