What is Red Princess Poisoning?

All parts of the red princess are considered toxic to many animals, including cats. This is due to the insoluble calcium oxalates contained within raphides in the leaves and stems. When the plant material is chewed, these calcium oxalate crystals are released and embed into the cat's oral, esophageal and even stomach tissues, causing immediate pain and irritation. Many cats will have an inflammatory response to the crystals and swelling may occur. This can lead to tightened or block airways, which becomes a medical emergency for the cat. 

The Philodendron bipennifolium of the Araceae family of plants is one of the most common houseplants in North America. It goes by many names including red princess, cordatum, fruit salad plant, panda plant, fiddle leaf and red emerald. The red princess provides lush green foliage that grows on vines and is relatively simple to care for. It is a tropical evergreen that rarely blooms when potted, although the heart-shaped leaves can range in color. 

Symptoms of Red Princess Poisoning in Cats

Most symptoms will begin to show immediately, however more severe symptoms can take up to two hours to manifest. Severe signs generally only develop if a large amount of plant material has been ingested. Extreme external irritation is also possible if the sap of the red princess has contacted the skin of the cat. All signs to watch for include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Oral irritation
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Head shaking
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Swelling of the mouth
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • Choking
  • Dilated pupils
  • Low energy
  • Cardiac abnormalities
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Causes of Red Princess Poisoning in Cats

Any cat that is allowed indoors may come into contact with this plant if it is also kept inside the home. A cat with a curious nature or a kitten may be tempted to sample the leaves on the plant, or leaves that have fallen to the ground. Cats are not likely to consume a large amount of red princess as it causes an immediate painful burning sensation in the mouth and surrounding areas. This plant is tropical and can not survive outdoors in most climates found in the United States. 

Diagnosis of Red Princess Poisoning in Cats

If you have witnessed your cat eating red princess plant material, or if there is obvious damage to the plant, take the cat into a veterinary clinic immediately. If you are unsure of what your houseplant is, bring a small clipping with you so that the vet can identify it and proceed with treatment. If symptoms have developed and no plant ingestion was seen, more information will be needed for a diagnosis to be made. Your veterinarian may ask you if you keep plants in your home, and if so what kind. You may also be asked to provide the cat's full medical history to help differentiate a poisoning from pre-existing health issues.

The veterinarian will then perform a complete physical examination of the cat, which may reveal swelling and visible inflammation around the cat's oral cavity. If swelling is severe, treatment may be started before the examination is finished to open the airways and stabilize breathing. A sample of your cat's blood will be taken so that a Complete Blood Count and a biochemical profile may be run. These tests can show if the cat's electrolytes are low, which is a sign that the cat has become dehydrated. Urinalysis may be needed to assess how the kidneys and liver are functioning.

Treatment of Red Princess Poisoning in Cats

The level of treatment needed will greatly depend on the severity of the symptoms. Hospitalization may be required in cases which the cat has become dehydrated or is having difficulty breathing. 

Wash Oral Cavity 

The mouth of the cat will be thoroughly flushed with water to remove any remaining plant material and to soothe irritation caused by calcium oxalate crystals. 

Fluid Therapy 

If the cat is dehydrated, fluids and electrolytes will be administered intravenously. This should be done at a slow and steady pace to avoid an adverse response from the cat's body.

Medication 

Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine can be given to the cat to reduce swelling and allow normal breathing to resume. Kapectolin or sucralfate can be administered to soothe gastrointestinal irritation.

Recovery of Red Princess Poisoning in Cats

If the poisoning was severe, the cat may be left with permanent liver or kidney damage. In mild to moderate cases, no lasting effects should be seen once the initial illness has passed. Generally, the cat will start to recover in one or two days, however, extreme instances may last for up to two weeks. 

Be sure to keep red princess well out of your cat's reach. While the plant is a nice visual addition in the home, many have chosen to remove it altogether to prevent the potential of poisoning from fallen leaves. Most cats will not attempt to eat the leaves a second time after the pain caused by the first experience.