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Nicotiana is primarily grown in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina, but can be found in areas of the Southern United States. Cat owners living in states from North Carolina to California are at higher risk for nicotiana poisoning in their cats, as the felines in these areas may be exposed to the live plant.
Nicotiana poisoning in cats is a plant-based toxicity that is caused by the direct ingestion of any portion of the nicotiana plant. A feline can be poisoned by consuming wild-growing tree tobacco or cultivated tobacco. Consuming either variety of nicotiana can have potentially lethal consequences.
Nicotine targets the feline’s gastrointestinal, skeletal, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems, causing toxicological effects that can be identified as clinical signs of nicotiana poisoning within one to two hours after ingestion. If the feline’s plant consumption was witnessed, do not wait for clinical signs to present themselves. Nicotine is a slow absorbing toxin and if the feline has consumed a high level of the toxin, fatality could occur before clinical signs present themselves. If you did not witness your feline ingestion of the nicotiana plant, watch for the following clinical signs:
A feline can be poisoned by consuming wild growing tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) or cultivated tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum). Consuming either varieties of Nicotiana can have potentially lethal consequences. All portions of the nicotiana plant are rich with the toxic alkaloid nicotine and anabasine, except the seeds. Nicotine stimulates and then transiently depresses the central nervous system. Nicotine targets neuron stimulation, targeting the skeletal muscles, heart, and respiratory organs, resulting in respiratory paralysis.
It is not the quantity of nicotiana plant the feline consumes, but rather the concentration of toxin that the individual plant contains that causes poisoning. The plant’s environment, soil type, and age all factor in when it comes to determining the level of toxicity a plant contains. Studies show that the nicotiana plant holds a two to eight percent nicotine level, with the leaves containing the highest level of toxin. The flowers and roots contain approximately 22 percent and the stem contains roughly 18 percent, in addition to the leaves that contain 60 percent of the total toxicity value of a nicotiana plant.
The only true way to diagnose a Nicotiana 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:
There is no known antidote for feline nicotiana poisoning in cats and treating the toxicity will be primarily therapeutic. Although there is no known antidote to counteract a nicotiana 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. The veterinarian will likely start your cat on fluids given intravenously to replenish lost fluids, aid in the elimination of the toxin, and slow down kidney failure.
The overall prognosis for a feline that was witnessed eating a nicotiana plant and was stopped and given immediate veterinary care is considered good. Unfortunately, if the feline’s plant ingestion was not witnessed, the nicotine toxin will be slowly absorbed by the body and clinical signs will be delayed from one to two hours. The feline may be able to recover after clinical signs present themselves, but only if a small portion of toxin was consumed. In the case of a large nicotiana plant ingestion, the toxin will makes its way through the feline’s body and fatality will occur before the onset of clinical signs.
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