What is Sorrel Poisoning?

Sorrel poisoning in cats is a condition of toxicity caused by the ingestion of the root, stem or leaves of the sorrel plant. The plant is laced with needle-like calcium oxalate crystals called raphides. When swallowed, these raphides cause an intense burning sensation of the mouth and can even cause significant throat swelling that can lead to suffocation. If the oxalate crystals are digested, the needle-shaped crystals will precipitate in the feline’s kidneys, transforming into a solid, which leads to eventual death. A sure sign of sorrel poisoning in cats is visible signs of oral irritation paired with excessive drooling, difficulty swallowing and vomiting.

The sorrel plant is part of the Polygonaceae family and can be identified by its scientific name, Rumex scutatus. The Sorrel plant may be known by its other common names, including garden sorrel, narrow-leaved dock, spinach-dock, and common sorrel. The sorrel plant is toxic to felines, humans, dogs, and ruminants, such as sheep or cattle. 

Symptoms of Sorrel Poisoning in Cats

The sorrel plant causes a severe burning sensation in the cat’s mouth, which can be identified by irritation to the cat’s lips, tongue, and cheeks. The feline’s mouth may be red in coloration and swollen, causing the feline to drool excessively. The needle-like crystals inside the sorrel plant can cause severe throat swelling, which prevents air from entering the lungs and can result in suffocation. The feline may vomit as the body responds to the toxic element inside the upper digestive tract, but upon digestion, the raphides can reach the kidneys. A complete list of symptoms related to feline sorrel poisoning are listed below: 

  • Gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) 
  • Depression
  • Rapid breathing 
  • Labored breathing 
  • Dark colored mucous membranes
  • Weakness 
  • Muscle fasciculations (twitching)
  • Seizures 
  • Hypocalcemia 
  • Heart arrhythmias 
  • Renal failure (a secondary symptom that can take several days for clinical signs to occur) 

Causes of Sorrel Poisoning in Cats

The toxic component of the sorrel plant are the needle-like calcium oxalate crystals called raphides. A feline can be poisoned by the sorrel plant if the stem, leaves, or roots are digested. Chewing the sorrel plant breaks down the raphides and releases the needle-like calcium oxalate crystals. The crystal lodge themselves into the cat’s throat and digestive system for up to two weeks after the initial consumption.

Diagnosis of Sorrel Poisoning in Cats

The best way to diagnose sorrel poisoning in a cat is to witness the feline consuming the plant. If you observe your cat chewing or eating a sorrel plant, take the plant with you to your cat’s veterinary appointment. Without a report of known exposure, the veterinarian will base a diagnosis on your cat’s symptoms. Sorrel poisoning symptoms mimic the symptoms of other common health conditions and plant poisonings, so your veterinarian will need to conduct a diagnostic differential. 

Diagnostic tests the veterinarian may conduct include:

  • Complete blood cell count 
  • Biochemical profile (blood work) 
  • Blood smear test 
  • Urinalysis (examination of urine) 
  • Fecal floatation test
  • Fecal examination 
  • Radiographs 
  • Ultrasound 

Treatment of Sorrel Poisoning in Cats

Although there is no known antidote to counteract sorrel plant poisoning in cats, immediate veterinary care can save the feline’s life. The key to a positive prognosis is receiving treatment prior to kidney organ shutdown. 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.  

If the veterinarian believes plant toxins have entered the cat’s bloodstream, intravenous fluids will be administered. If your cat has continuously vomited or has experienced severe diarrhea, fluids may also be administered to restore the feline’s level of hydration. As the sorrel plant can cause throat irritation, Kapectolin may also be administered to coat the inside of the throat and stomach. 

Recovery of Sorrel Poisoning in Cats

The prognosis of a sorrel plant poisoning in cats depends on how quickly veterinary medical attention was sought out. If the feline was taken immediately to seek veterinary care and received treatment before seizures occurred, the prognosis for the cat is generally good. To avoid sorrel plant poisoning in the future, remove all household plants from the home and outdoor potted plants from the surrounding area.