What is Schefflera Poisoning?
This common household plant is highly toxic to felines as well as a large majority of other mammals, causing potentially fatal symptoms. The majority of clinical signs a cat owner may note will present immediately or no later than two hours following ingestion. Clinical signs of schefflera poisoning in cats include dry heaving, vomiting, gagging, pawing at the mouth, excessive drooling, head shaking and other signs of obvious irritation or pain. The feline may also vocalize, as the sap from the schefflera plant cause needle-like pain to the tongue, mouth and throat.
The schefflera is a member of the Araliaceae family of plants. The schefflera has been given a variety of common names, including the starleaf, Australian ivy palm, umbrella tree and the octopus tree.
Symptoms of Schefflera Poisoning in Cats
A feline that has ingested any portion of the schefflera plant will initially display clinical signs of intense irritation to the mouth. The feline may have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), have a swollen throat demonstrated by choking sounds, and drool excessively as the plant sap inflames the mucus membranes. These initial symptoms of schefflera poisoning may occur immediately after ingestion or up to two hours after consumption. If the feline can tolerate consuming larger amounts of the schefflera plant, symptoms become rather severe resulting in rapid breathing (dyspnea), digestive upset (vomiting/diarrhea), renal failure, convulsions, coma, and eventual death. A summarization of schefflera poisoning symptoms in cats are listed below:
- Digestive upset
- Renal failure
Causes of Schefflera Poisoning in Cats
The schefflera plant is considered toxic from the roots to the leaves, but some species of schefflera only contain toxins in the leaves. What gives this plant its toxic nature is its special cells called idioblasts. These specialized cells differ from other cells because they are contain non-living substances in the form of minerals, pigments, tannin, resin, gum, latex, or oil. Raphides are the non-living substance found in schefflera plants, characterized by bundles of needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate packed with gelatinous, oxalic acid.
When a feline consumes a portion of the schefflera plant, the idioblast cell is broken down by the cat’s saliva which allows the raphides calcium crystals to leave the cell. When the raphides leave the idioblast cell, they shoot out in violently, piercing the feline’s mouth and embedding themselves in the upper digestive tract. The feline feels immediate discomfort as the millions of microscopic needles lodge themselves in the mouth, tongue, throat and stomach. The idioblast cells continue to release raphides for up to two weeks after the feline first ingests the plant.
Diagnosis of Schefflera Poisoning in Cats
The only true way to diagnose schefflera poisoning in cats is to see the cat consume the plant, however, this is usually not a possibility. Therefore, your veterinarian will perform a differential diagnosis to rule out other possibilities for why the feline is exhibiting the associated symptoms. The diagnostic process will begin with a physical examination, review of the feline’s medical history and a consultation with the pet owner. Following routine diagnostic procedures, the veterinarian will want to conduct a series of diagnostic tests that may include:
- CBC (complete blood cell count)
- Biochemical profile (blood work)
- Blood smear test
- Urinalysis (examination of urine)
- Fecal floatation test
- Fecal examination
- Abdominal ultrasound and/or x-ray
Treatment of Schefflera Poisoning in Cats
Although there is no known antidote to counteract a schefflera poisoning in cats, immediate veterinary care can save the feline’s life. The veterinarian may administer medication to induce vomiting or give the feline an activated charcoal solution to bind with the toxic plant chemical, to later be passed in fecal form from the body. To further eliminate the schefflera toxin and slow down kidney failure, the veterinarian will likely start your cat on fluids given intravenously to replenish lost fluids and aid in the elimination of the toxin.
Recovery of Schefflera Poisoning in Cats
The prognosis for a schefflera poisoning in cats is rather poor, as felines that survive often suffer from permanent kidney and liver damage. A positive prognosis can only be obtained from immediate veterinary attention. Luckily, the schefflera plant is rather bitter in taste and causes immediate irritation, so high levels of consumption are rare. To prevent large consumptions of the schefflera plant, remove it from your home or the feline’s environment if at all possible.