What is Paperwhite Poisoning?
The other toxins in paperwhite include glucoside scillaine, galantamine, calcium oxalate crystals and narciclasine. Lycorine, the main toxin, is known as an emetic. This simply means it’s a poison that stimulates vomiting in any animal that eats it.
Paperwhite is also known as narcissus, daffodil, and jonquil. These beautiful flowers disguise some frightening toxins that, if your cat ingests, can make it very ill. Paper white’s toxins include lycorine, as well as other alkaloids. The bulbs of this flower are its most poisonous part, so keep them away from your curious feline.
Symptoms of Paperwhite Poisoning in Cats
Once your cat has eaten a paperwhite flower, it may develop the following symptoms:
- Excessive salivation
- Stomach ache
If your cat eats a large amount of this flower, it may also experience:
- Low blood pressure
- Muscular tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Abnormal breathing
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Respiratory depression
- Kidney damage
All parts of the paperwhite are poisonous, but the bulb is the most toxic.
The paperwhite comes from the Amaryllidaceae family in the genus Narcissus. Between 26 and 60 species exist in different countries around the world, depending on how each plant is classified.
Causes of Paperwhite Poisoning in Cats
The paperwhite, which is a beautiful flowering plant, contains some potentially deadly toxins. These include:
- Glucoside, scillaine (scillitoxin)
- Calcium oxalate crystals
Diagnosis of Paperwhite Poisoning in Cats
You may see your cat nibbling at your paperwhite plant, or may notice bits of leaves in its mouth or vomit. Cut off a part of the plant and seal it in a plastic bag. Take your cat to the vet immediately.
At the vet’s office, your cat will undergo a quick, but thorough physical, which allows the vet to rule out other causes of illness. The first indicator of poisoning your vet may notice is that your cat is in significant pain, meowing and pawing at its face. Paperwhites contain small, non-living cells called idioblasts. Inside these cells are groupings, or “raphides”, of calcium oxalate crystals. These crystals are very sharp at one end. Your cat’s saliva breaks the idioblasts open, which causes the gelatin within to swell. This leads to the calcium oxalate crystals ejecting violently from the idioblast into your cat’s lips, mouth and lips, which causes immediate, pain and discomfort.
Your vet will take blood for a CBC and chemistry profile. He’ll also collect a urine sample, looking for evidence of crystals in your cat’s urine. Symptoms can appear within fifteen minutes of exposure, or they may show up as long as 24 hours later.
If your cat has begun to vomit on its own and experience diarrhea, the vet may collect and test these samples to ensure the correct diagnosis. He will also monitor your cat’s cardiac rhythms and blood pressure. Because of the possibility your cat ingested a large amount of paperwhite, your vet will also monitor your cat’s kidney function.
Treatment of Paperwhite Poisoning in Cats
The treatment your vet gives to your cat will be based on its symptoms. No specific treatments for paperwhite poisoning have been developed; there is no antidote for the poisons in this plant.
By gently washing your cat’s mouth out with cool water, your vet will flush remaining plant bits from its mouth. Your vet won’t have to make your cat vomit. The emetic properties of one of the toxins will make your cat vomit on its own. If your cat has vomited frequently, your vet may choose to flush its stomach clean (gastric lavage).
Your vet will monitor your cat for symptoms of dehydration and electrolyte loss. He will also be on the lookout for low blood pressure, liver damage, and seizures. Your cat will be regularly monitored for these issues.
If your cat was severely poisoned by paperwhite ingestion, your vet may choose to treat it with fluid therapy, dexamethasone, and atropine. This supportive care should result in a good recovery for your pet.
Recovery of Paperwhite Poisoning in Cats
Your cat should recover well after receiving swift veterinary treatment. Depending on how severely it was poisoned and how much of the pant it ate, recovery may take from 24 hours to one week.
In order to prevent future cases of paperwhite poisoning, have all paperwhite flowers removed from your home and yard. Be sure to dispose of plant material carefully so your cat cannot get to the dried stems, leaves, flowers or bulb.
Indulge your cat’s need to nibble greens by planting cat-safe grasses such as wheat grass, rye and oat grass. Position these indoors and outdoors so your cat can safely eat these and is less likely to sample dangerous plants.