What is Mole Bean Plant Poisoning?
The flowers of the mole bean plant are nondescript, having no petals. The seed capsules that follow are spined and colored bright red. The seeds and capsules contain the potent toxin “ricin”. Ricin is extremely dangerous and ingesting even a small amount may lead to death, especially in a small animal such as a cat. It has been said that ricin is 1,000 times more powerful than the venom of a cobra. The toxin inhibits protein synthesis in the body, inactivating ribosomes within the body which leads to the death of cells. The name of the mole bean plant stems from the fact that the seeds can be used as an effective rodenticide.
Ricinus communis or mole bean plant, as it is often called, is an annual herb that is cultivated throughout the world. Sometimes referred to as the castor bean plant, the oil found in the plant is used in the production of many things, and also has medicinal purposes. The plant itself is native to Ethiopia, where it can grow upwards of 40 feet high. When cultivated in the United States, mole bean plant generally does not exceed 10 feet. It is intolerant of both wet and cold climates, being grown as a summer annual in many gardens. The interesting shape of the plant make it a popular choice for gardeners, with its giant lobed leaves ranging from green to maroon in color.
Symptoms of Mole Bean Plant Poisoning in Cats
Most signs of poisoning will manifest in a delayed response, showing between four and 48 hours after ingestion. Due to the potency of the toxins in the plant, mole bean plant consumption should be treated as a medical emergency. All signs to watch for include:
- Diarrhea (often bloody)
- Loss of appetite
- Polydipsia (increased thirst)
- Vision problems
- Lack of coordination
- Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
- Central nervous system depression
Causes of Mole Bean Plant Poisoning in Cats
Cats who are allowed outdoors during summer months may come into contact with mole bean plant growing in nearby gardens. While the seeds are by far the most toxic part of the plant, trimmings of leaves also pose a threat if eaten. Ingesting as little as one ounce of mole bean plant seeds can lead to death. The body can only absorb the toxins if the outer shell of the seed has been broken, meaning some instances of mole bean plant seed consumption will not produce negative effects in the cat.
Diagnosis of Mole Bean Plant Poisoning in Cats
If you suspect that your cat has eaten a portion of the mole bean plant, or if it has begun to display any of the symptoms listed above, rush it to the nearest veterinary clinic or animal hospital immediately. Treatment to stabilize the cat will likely begin before the diagnostic process. It may be wise to bring the cat's full medical history to assist in the care of the animal. You may be asked if you allow your cat outdoors. The time of year and overall climate will be considered when determining the cause of symptoms.
The veterinarian will then perform a complete physical examination of the cat, measuring all vital functions. Both a neurological and ophthalmological examination may be needed to evaluate how much damage has been done, as ricin can cause lesions in both optical and nervous areas. Blood will be taken from the cat for routine testing to monitor levels of cells and minerals in the bloodstream. A complete blood count and a biochemical profile are used for this, revealing if the cat has become anemic. Urinalysis may also be needed to see if kidney damage has occurred.
Treatment of Mole Bean Plant Poisoning in Cats
There is no specific antidote for mole bean plant poisoning, so treatment will revolve around lessening the symptoms that have developed and stabilizing the cat's condition. Everything possible should be done to reduce the level of toxins that have accumulated in the body.
Dehydration poses a real danger to cats who have eaten mole bean plant. In addition to the gastrointestinal response caused by the toxins, the oil in the seeds and pods produces a laxative effect. Intravenous fluids and electrolyte supplementation may be needed to counteract the loss of fluids from excessive vomiting or diarrhea.
Giving this to the cat can help to absorb all of the toxins in the digestive system and contain them within the charcoal so that they may exit the body without being digested.
To stabilize breathing, oxygen supplementation may be used along with artificial respiration. The cat should be kept comfortable and calm in this situation.
Recovery of Mole Bean Plant Poisoning in Cats
The overall prognosis for a cat who has been poisoned by mole bean plant consumption will depend greatly on how much of the plant material was ingested and how soon treatment was started thereafter. If either cardiovascular shock or paralysis of the respiratory center occur, death is likely. Recovery is possible in some instances, although lasting organ damage may exist if the episode was severe.
If you live in areas where mole bean plants may be grown, either in gardens or as crops, it may be best to keep your cat indoors to prevent contact with these highly toxic plants. It should be noted that due the difficulty of absorbing toxins through the protective shell on the seeds, a low number of fatalities exist from mole bean plant poisoning.