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Peacock flower (also known as 'poinciana') is a species of flowering perennial that is closely related to the common pea. Although not considered edible, the peacock flower is quite popular with horticulturalists in temperate regions of the globe due, in large part, to its eye-catching red coloration and tall stature. However, despite these attractive qualities, it can prove quite toxic to a wide variety of animals, including cats.
Whilst peacock flower poisoning is not usually life-threatening, it can produce some symptoms which are quite unpleasant for the animal in question. Owners who notice such signs should take their cat straight to a vet as a precautionary measure.
Within roughly an hour of consuming the peacock flower, the cat will begin to act nauseous and exhibit the classic signs of indigestion. These include isolating itself from other members of the household and having an adverse reaction to being touched, as well as refusing any food that is offered and shifting its position constantly. Eventually, this will lead to gagging before developing into actual vomiting. As distinct from normal regurgitation of indigestible objects, the cat will continue to throw up for quite some time. This causes the animal to lose a significant amount of fluids within a short period, which can lead to the onset of severe dehydration.
Peacock flower poisoning will, around the same time as the onset of vomiting, cause the cat to begin to void the contents of its bowels. This is done partially in an attempt to clear the irritating plant matter out of its digestive tract, and is partially an involuntary reaction of the animal’s body to the toxins that have been ingested. Much like vomiting, diarrhea can cause the cat to lose a large amount of water very quickly. In such a small animal, this can lead to rapid dehydration, which can in turn lead to serious organ failure. In order to avoid this situation, owners should take the time to provide the cat with plenty of extra drinking water so that it can easily replace the fluids that it has lost.
Loss of Coordination
Another distinctive feature of peacock flower poisoning is the loss of coordination caused by the toxins contained within the plant. This symptom is characterized by an uneven, staggered walk, as well as an inability to precisely interact with objects. Owners might also notice the cat drooling (which will increase the need for extra fluids) or having a difficult time swallowing. Sometimes, the problem can even cause the cat's voice to noticeably change pitch or sound slurred.
Peacock flower poisoning can also give the cat the appearance of being very depressed and subdued in its movements and behavior. This is partly caused by lack of energy due to the symptoms detailed above, but is also due to general disorientation caused by the peacock flower toxins. An owner may identify this state by noticing the cat not responding to attempts to interact. These can include invitations to play, bothersome behavior from other household pets and even the presence of prey animals. A cat affected by this lethargy will also display a certain amount of weakness, finding it difficult to climb obstacles and generally move around.
There are two main groups of chemicals present in the plant that are responsible for the aforementioned symptoms. Peacock flowers contain copious amounts of chemicals known as 'tannins' as well as a battery of various minor irritants. The irritants are produced as a simple way to discourage potential predators from eating the plant, giving its tissues an unpleasant taste and producing mild gastrointestinal discomfort to boot. It is these irritants that cause and contribute to some of the vomiting, diarrhea and drooling mentioned above. The tannins, however, are far more harmful if ingested. Tannins are molecules whose function is specifically to bind with plant proteins and interfere with digestive enzymes, thereby making it very difficult for many animals to digest the plant in question. It is theorized that the main purpose of this is to serve as a form of insecticide, although the toxin has an unsurprisingly severe effect on larger animals as well. It is these tannins that cause much of the vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of coordination and strength experienced by the cat.
Once the cat has arrived at the clinic, the first thing a vet will do is perform a thorough physical examination of the cat in order to verify the symptoms and rule out any other possible causes of the condition. This examination might in severe cases also include directly inspecting the cat’s digestive tract, either via an endoscopy or by using an ultrasound scanner. A blood sample may also be needed in order to run laboratory tests for common toxins. The vet will also typically want to discuss with the animal's condition with the owner in order to get a better sense of the progression of symptoms. This information can help immensely when making a diagnosis, so owners are advised to have some answers prepared prior to attending the clinic.
The main way in which most non-life-threatening poisonings are treated is to immediately start the cat on fluid replacement therapy. The main objective of this procedure is to intravenously administer water into the cat's body, thereby replacing the liquids that have been lost to vomiting and diarrhea, preventing the development of dehydration. The treatment will also have the effect of helping to flush the remaining tannins from the body. In severe cases, the vet may also choose to give the cat a dose of activated charcoal to speed up recovery by absorbing any lingering irritants in the digestive tract.
The majority of cats that have been affected by peacock flower poisoning will recover fairly rapidly (usually within days). However, the owner may have to restrict their movement for a while in order to maintain the animal's energy levels. Generally speaking, follow-up visits will not be needed unless the cat developed severe dehydration due to loss of liquid in the early stages of the poisoning. That said, owners should stay vigilant for the appearance of further symptoms as the cat recovers.
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