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What is Rosebay Poisoning?

Symptoms of poisoning caused by the rosebay plant range from moderate to severe depending on the quantity ingested. If you believe your cat has ingested any part of the rosebay in any quantity, you should seek immediate veterinary attention. Owners can never know the true extent of poisoning without the help of a veterinary professional.

The rosebay flower, also known as the rhododendron and the azalea, is a common garden plant. The rosebay is part of the Ericaceae family. You can recognize the rosebay by its white or pink clusters of flowers. Rosebay contains grayanotoxin, which is present in all parts of the plant. This toxin directly affects the electrical pathways in the nerve and muscle cells of cats, dogs, and horses.

Symptoms of Rosebay Poisoning in Cats

Rosebay poisoning can cause a wide range of symptoms. Clinical signs of rosebay usually appear within a few minutes to two hours following ingestion. Be aware of the following symptoms associated with rosebay poisoning, and take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice them:

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Signs of depression
  • Dizziness
  • Partial loss of coordination
  • Twitching
  • Oral irritation
  • Pawing at the mouth

The following symptoms indicate severe and life-threatening toxicity: 

  • Total loss of coordination
  • Slowed or rapid heart rate
  • Muscle weakness
  • Coma
  • Sudden death

Causes of Rosebay Poisoning in Cats

The cause of rosebay poisoning in cats is ingestion of the plant. This includes any part, including the stems, leaves, flowers, nectar, and even honey made from the plant. Ingesting only a small amount of the plant can cause moderate symptoms in cats. Ingesting larger quantities will result in more serious symptoms. Cats are unlikely to ingest large quantities of any poisonous plant, especially when symptoms are rapid onset. However, err on the side of caution and take your cat to the vet if they ingest any quantity of the rosebay.

Diagnosis of Rosebay Poisoning in Cats

If your cat is showing serious clinical signs, you may want to call the vet before you arrive to let them know you are bringing in a case of severe rosebay poisoning. If the rosebay is your own plant, take a sample of it with you when you go to the vet. If you know approximately how much of the plant your cat ingested, provide this information to your vet. Always tell your vet how long your cat has been experiencing symptoms.

Standard diagnostic testing for plant poisoning includes blood and urine tests. These are usually sufficient to confirm poisoning. If serious symptoms are present, your vet may recommend other tests based on the suspected extent of nerve or muscle damage caused by poisoning.

Treatment of Rosebay Poisoning in Cats

Treatment for mild cases of rosebay poisoning is typically straightforward. Your vet may induce vomiting to clear undigested toxins from the stomach. Activated charcoal may also be administered to absorb remaining toxins. Intravenous fluid therapy may also be started to correct fluid imbalances. If persistent vomiting has occurred, your vet may administer medications to stop the vomiting.

Severe cases of rosebay poisoning may require more invasive treatment and possibly hospitalization based on symptoms. Atropine may be administered to cats experiencing dangerous changes in heart rate. Other treatment methods may be utilized based on your cat’s symptoms as well as your preferences.

Recovery of Rosebay Poisoning in Cats

Most cats that experience mild cases of rosebay poisoning usually make a full recovery within 24 hours as long as treatment is prompt. Severe cases usually have a more guarded prognosis.

For cases of mild poisoning, follow-up appointments aren’t usually necessary. Serious cases of rosebay poisoning that resulting in cardiac damage may require follow-up appointments on an as-needed basis. During these appointments, your vet may take ECGs to monitor heart function.

If your cat encountered the rosebay while it was outside, you may want to limit or monitor your cat while it is outside, or remove the plant if possible, to prevent future poisoning. Before making any plant purchases, be sure to research the plant to ensure it does not contain substances that are toxic to your cat.