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What is Oregon Holly Poisoning?

Although Oregon holly poisoning is rarely fatal, it can still cause a great deal of discomfort to cats that have come into contact with or consumed the plant. That’s why it’s important to take your cat to a veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible after you have spotted the symptoms of this condition.

The Oregon holly plant, which is also known as the English holly, European holly, American holly, and winterberry, is a versatile plant that can grow in almost any type of environment. This plant is widely known for its dense foliage and bright, red berries. Every part of the Oregon holly plant contains saponins, which are toxic to cats and can cause gastrointestinal upset along with skin irritation. Some of the symptoms of Oregon holly poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, and stimulatory effects similar to what you would experience after consuming caffeine. 

Symptoms of Oregon Holly Poisoning in Cats

Cats that chew or consume parts of the Oregon holly plant will usually begin to exhibit symptoms of poisoning right away. Symptoms will vary from cat to cat, however, some of the most common ones include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Stimulatory effects, such as increased heart rate and respiratory rate

Causes of Oregon Holly Poisoning in Cats

Oregon holly poisoning occurs after a cat consumes part of the Oregon holly plant, although the leaves and berries are considered to be less toxic than the stems, and therefore may not cause as much harm. The Oregon holly is toxic to cats because it contains saponins, which are irritants that affect your cat’s oral cavity, gastrointestinal tract, and skin.

Diagnosis of Oregon Holly Poisoning in Cats

If you see your cat consuming an unknown plant, take him to a veterinarian as soon as possible, along with a sample or photo of the plant. If you don’t observe any odd behavior but start to observe symptoms that indicate poisoning, take your cat to a vet and do your best to describe the symptoms you have seen. It may be helpful to bring in a sample of vomit if your cat has started to vomit. This may contain plant material that will help the vet come to a diagnosis.

There is no test to diagnose Oregon holly poisoning, so the vet will rely heavily on the description of the symptoms and any other information you provide. Be as clear and thorough as possible when talking to your vet about your cat’s condition. In some cases, the vet may use an endoscope to look inside the cat’s stomach cavity and look for signs of ingested plant material. This will help the vet confidently issue a diagnosis of Oregon holly poisoning.

Treatment of Oregon Holly Poisoning in Cats

Soon after the vet has made a diagnosis, he will begin treatment. The first priority will be inducing vomiting to remove any pieces of Oregon holly that may still be in your cat’s stomach. Vomiting can be induced by orally administering a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution. After this treatment has concluded, the vet can also administer activated charcoal to absorb any toxins that may remain in your cat’s stomach. Many cats will also receive a gastric lavage, which is a stomach wash that flushes the stomach cavity out.

Some cats do not actually consume Oregon holly plant, so they only suffer from symptoms on the skin. If this is the case, the vet will need to administer a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation and irritation.

Sucralfate or Kaopectin, two medications designed to coat the stomach lining and prevent irritation, can also be administered to your cat to prevent additional GI symptoms.

Your cat may experience dehydration during treatment because of the induced vomiting. If this happens, the vet will administer fluids intravenously to ensure your cat remains in stable condition.

Recovery of Oregon Holly Poisoning in Cats

Oregon holly poisoning is rarely fatal, so your cat should be able to fully recover from this condition without any complications. However, the vet may ask to keep your cat after treatment if he is severely dehydrated.

Be sure to talk to your vet about any dietary changes you may need to make in the days following treatment. Some vets will recommend providing  softer foods so the cat’s stomach does not become irritated. Keep your cat calm and comfortable in the days following treatment to help him regain his strength.

It’s important to prevent your cat from coming into contact with the Oregon holly plant again. If you have it in your yard or around your home, remove it immediately. If you believe your cat came into contact with it in someone else’s yard, try to keep your cat indoors as much as possible to prevent further exposure.