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What is Ornamental Pepper Poisoning?

Although the ornamental pepper plant has a foul taste, many cats will chew or eat it out of boredom or curiosity. If your cat consumes any part of the plant, he may begin to exhibit symptoms of poisoning, including vomiting, diarrhea, shock, and seizures. This condition is rarely fatal, but it is still serious. If you see any of these symptoms, take your cat to a veterinarian for treatment as quickly as possible.

The ornamental pepper plant, which also goes by the names natal cherry, winter cherry, and Jerusalem cherry, is an indoor ornamental plant that is known for its bright orange berries. Although many people love the burst of color this plant adds to their home, if you are a cat owner, you should think twice about keeping this plant. Ornamental pepper plants contain solanine, which is a toxin that can cause gastrointestinal upset and damage to the central nervous system when ingested.

Symptoms of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Cats

If your cat has consumed any part of the ornamental pepper plant, symptoms will usually begin immediately after ingestion. Symptoms will vary, however, some of the most common symptoms you may observe include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Shock
  • Decreased respiratory rate
  • Ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract

Causes of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Cats

Ornamental pepper poisoning occurs after your cat has consumed any quantity of the ornamental pepper plant. Why is this plant so dangerous? It contains solanine, which is a toxin that causes gastrointestinal upset and affects the central nervous system. All parts of this plant are toxic to cats, but the highest concentration of toxins is found in the berries. 

Diagnosis of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Cats

If you find your cat chewing or eating an unknown plant, take a picture or sample of the plant and take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment. If you don’t witness your cat eating a plant, but begin to notice symptoms of poisoning, you should also take him to a veterinarian. Describe the symptoms in as much detail as possible, and if you can, try to bring in a sample of the cat’s vomit so the vet can look for any regurgitated plant material.

There is no test to diagnose ornamental pepper poisoning, so in many cases, the vet will rely solely on the information you provide when making a diagnosis. Some vets may also choose to examine the contents of your cat’s stomach with an endoscope. This allows them to look for anything that could be causing the symptoms, including plant material that has not been digested yet.

Treatment of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Cats

Once the vet has made a diagnosis, treatment will begin right away. The vet will need to induce vomiting to remove any parts of the ornamental pepper plant that are still in the cat’s stomach cavity. Once the vomiting has subsided, the vet can also administer activated charcoal, which is a substance that absorbs toxins before they move into the bloodstream. The vet can also perform a gastric lavage, which is a stomach wash designed to flush out the stomach cavity.

The vet may also give your cat Kaopectin or sucralfate, which are medications that form a thick paste and protect the stomach from irritation. 

If your cat has experienced seizures, the vet can administer a medication to stop the convulsions.

Your cat’s condition will be monitored closely during treatment. Some cats may experience dehydration due to the loss of fluids from the induced vomiting. If this happens to your cat, the vet will need to provide fluids via an IV. 

Recovery of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Cats

It is very rare for ornamental pepper poisoning to be fatal, so your cat will most likely make a full recovery from this condition. Most cats will be immediately released to their owners following treatment, however, if your cat is severely dehydrated, he may need to stay until the vet is confident he is in stable condition.

Talk to your vet about your cat’s diet before you bring him home. Your cat’s stomach may be sensitive because of the various treatments he just received, so the vet may recommend sticking to softer foods for the next few days to prevent irritation. Keep him comfortable and limit his movement in the days following treatment so his body can rest and regain strength.

It’s important to remove the ornamental pepper plant from your home and yard. If you believe your cat was exposed to this plant in someone else’s yard, keep him indoors as much as possible to prevent further exposure.