What is Norfolk Island Pine Poisoning?
The Norfolk Island pine is a member of the Araucariaceae family and is known throughout the world by its scientific name, Araucaria heterophylla. Also known as the Australian pine, house pine and the Norfolk pine, the Norfolk Island pine Is a popular cultivated tree in south Florida. However, these dark green colored trees are commonly sold through the houseplant industry as Christmas trees during November and December. The Norfolk Island pine can be identified by its wide spaced branches that encircle the trunk of the tree in a symmetrical fashion, giving the tree a triangular outline.
Norfolk Island pine poisoning in cats is a toxicity caused by ingestion of the tree’s needles or water source. The exact toxic principles of the Norfolk Island pine are unknown, but consumption of this tree have been known to cause gastrointestinal upset and dermatitis in cats.
Symptoms of Norfolk Island Pine Poisoning in Cats
Norfolk Island Pine poisoning in cats causes clinical signs of:
- Contact dermatitis.
- Mouth irritation
Causes of Norfolk Island Pine Poisoning in Cats
The exact toxic principles of the Norfolk Island pine are unknown and still actively debated. Consumption of a wild Norfolk Island pine’s needles is believed to cause gastrointestinal upset and dermatitis upon contact, but the plant is not considered to produce true toxin. It is the commercially-produced Norfolk Island pine that cat owners put into their homes to use as Christmas trees that is believed to pose the largest threat. Chemicals that the plant industry sprays on the trees to preserve the plant and the water in which the plant is placed are of greater toxicity concern. The water basin that holds a Christmas tree not only contain sap from the tree, but is filled with bacteria and mold that have been allowed to grow in the standing pool of water.
Diagnosis of Norfolk Island Pine Poisoning in Cats
Diagnosing Norfolk Island pine plant poisoning in cats is difficult as there is no specific test available for identifying this type of toxicity. Your veterinarian’s diagnosis will be based on ruling out other possible causes of your feline’s current condition that could cause similar symptoms. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, a review of the feline’s medical history and a consultation with the pet owner. It will be important for you to inform the veterinarian about your feline’s recent actions and possible exposure to the Norfolk Island pine tree, as this information will aid in ruling out other possible causes.
The veterinarian may request the following tests:
- CBC (complete blood cell count)
- Biochemical profile (blood work)
- Blood smear test
- Urinalysis (examination of urine)
- Fecal floatation test
- Fecal examination
Treatment of Norfolk Island Pine Poisoning in Cats
Norfolk Island pine poisoning in cats is treated by removing the plant from the feline to prevent further ingestion and eliminating the toxins from the cat’s body. As oral irritation from the pine needles is common, the cat’s mouth will be flushed out with distilled water and an emetic drug will be administered to encourage the feline to vomit. Activated charcoal may be administered by the veterinarian to bind with the toxic agent and prevent the body from further absorption of the plant chemicals. If the stomach has undergone irritation from consuming the Norfolk Island pine, the veterinarian may administer Kapectolin, a product that provides a thick coating to the stomach wall. To reduce the stomach acid inside the stomach and prevent high acidity from corroding the stomach’s mucosal layer, the veterinarian may administer sucralfate, which works with the stomach acid to form a paste-like coating that acts as a barrier between the stomach contents and the stomach’s soft tissues. The feline’s treatment may end with intravenous fluids to restore his or her hydration, as vomiting and diarrhea will cause the cat’s fluid levels to drop significantly.
Recovery of Norfolk Island Pine Poisoning in Cats
Fatality from a Norfolk Island pine poisoning in cats is rare to unheard of, as the pine is not a known food source of any mammal. Therefore, the prognosis for Norfolk Island pine poisoning in cats is generally good to excellent. Most cats will begin to show signs of improvement within an hour of treatment and make a full recovery after 24 hours. As with all plant toxicity cases, the earlier the feline is admitted to the veterinary hospital, the greater chance she/he has of making a full recovery.