What is Nephthytis Poisoning?
This common household plant is highly toxic to felines as well as a large majority of other mammals, causing potentially fatal symptoms. The majority of clinical signs a cat owner may note will present immediately or no later than two hours following ingestion. Clinical signs of nephthytis poisoning in cats include dry heaving, vomiting, gagging, pawing at the mouth, excessive drooling, head shaking and other signs of obvious irritation or pain. The feline may also vocalize, as the sap from the nephthytis plant cause needle-like pain to the tongue, mouth and throat.
The nephthytis is a member of the Araceae family and is known throughout the world by its scientific name, Syngonium podophyllum. This herbaceous perennial plant also has many other common names, including trileaf wonder, African evergreen, green gold nephthytis, arrow-head vine and goosefoot plant.
Symptoms of Nephthytis Poisoning in Cats
A feline that has ingested any portion of the nephthytis plant will initially display clinical signs of intense irritation to the mouth. The feline may have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), have a swollen throat demonstrated by choking sounds, and drool excessively as the plant sap inflames the mucous membranes. These initial symptoms of nephthytis poisoning may occur immediately after ingestion or up to two hours after consumption. If the feline can tolerate consuming larger amounts of the plant, symptoms become rather severe resulting in rapid breathing (dyspnea), digestive upset (vomiting/diarrhea), renal failure, convulsions, coma and eventual death. A summarization of Nephthytis poisoning symptoms in cats are listed below:
- Digestive upset
- Renal failure
Causes of Nephthytis Poisoning in Cats
The nephthytis plant is considered toxic from the roots to the leaves, but some species of the plant only contain toxin in the leaves. What makes gives this plant its toxic nature is its special cells called idioblasts. These specialized cells differ from other cells because they are considered a non-living substance in the form of minerals, pigments, tannin, resin, gum, latex, or oil. Raphides are the non-living substance found in nephthytis plants, characterized by bundles of needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate packed with gelatinous, oxalic acid.
When a feline consumed a portion of the Nephthytis plant, the idioblast cell is broken down by the cat’s saliva and allows the raphides calcium crystals to leave the cell. When the raphides leave the idioblast cell, they shoot out in violent, penetrating projections that pierce the feline’s mouth and embed themselves in the upper digestive tract. The feline feels immediate discomfort as the millions of microscopic needles lodges themselves in the mouth, tongue, throat and stomach. The idioblast cells continue to release raphides for up to two weeks after the feline first ingests the plant.
Diagnosis of Nephthytis Poisoning in Cats
The only true way to diagnose a nephthytis poisoning in cats is to see the cat consume the plant, however, this is usually not a possibility. Therefore, your veterinarian will perform a differential diagnosis to rule out other possibilities for why the feline is exhibiting the associated symptoms. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, review of the feline’s medical history and a consultation with the pet owner. Following routine diagnostic procedure, the veterinarian will want to conduct a series of diagnostic tests that may include:
- CBC (complete blood cell count)
- Biochemical profile (blood work)
- Blood smear test
- Urinalysis (examination of urine)
- Fecal floatation test
- Fecal examination
- Abdominal ultrasound and/or x-ray
Treatment of Nephthytis Poisoning in Cats
Although there is no known antidote to counteract nephthytis poisoning in cats, immediate veterinary care can save the feline’s life. The veterinarian may administer medication to induce vomiting or give the feline an activated charcoal solution to bind with the toxic plant chemical, to later be passed in fecal form from the body. To further eliminate the nephthytis toxin, the veterinarian will likely start your cat on fluids given intravenously to replenish lost fluids and aid in the elimination of the toxin. Fluids will also slow down kidney failure, as the more fluids that are put into the feline’s body, the more fluids that can be eliminated from the body.
Recovery of Nephthytis Poisoning in Cats
The prognosis for a nephthytis poisoning in cats is rather poor, as felines that survive often suffer from permanent kidney and liver damage. A positive prognosis can only be obtained with immediate veterinary attention. Luckily, the nephthytis plant is rather bitter in taste and causes immediate irritation, so high levels of consumption are rare. To prevent large consumptions of the Nephthytis plant, remove the Nephthytis plant from your home or the feline environment if at all possible.