What is Sowbread Poisoning?

You can recognize sowbread by its heart-shaped light- and dark-green leaves. Its flowers may be either pink or white, resembling butterflies. Even though their appearance adds color to your home or garden in winter months, it’s safer to find other cat-friendly plants to brighten up your garden. 

Sowbread, also called cyclamen, is poisonous to all small animals, including your cat. The main toxins in sowbread are terpenoid saponins, which are capable of leading to cardiac arrhythmias if your pet eats a large amount of the tubers or roots. If you don’t get your cat to the vet as soon as possible, toxicity may cause seizures or lead to death. These toxins can be quickly absorbed into your cat’s bloodstream, making them especially dangerous. 

Symptoms of Sowbread Poisoning in Cats

Shortly after your cat eats this plant, it will develop the following symptoms:

  • Excessive salivation
  • Diarrhea (bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bloody urine
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Listless
  • Weight loss
  • Hemorrhage of the mucous membranes
  • Roughened coat

If your pet ate a large amount of this plant or managed to get to the tubers, its symptoms will be more severe:

  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Abdominal pain
  • Seizures
  • Ulcerative gastritis
  • Paralysis
  • Terminal convulsions
  • Death resulting from respiratory failure

Causes of Sowbread Poisoning in Cats

Sowbread poisoning is caused by ingesting the plant material. All parts of the sowbread plant contain terpenoid saponins and are toxic, but the tubers or roots of the plant contain higher concentrations of toxins. Cats who dig up and eats the roots may suffer more severe poisoning that one who consumes the leaves or stem.

Diagnosis of Sowbread Poisoning in Cats

Get your cat to your vet’s office as quickly as you can. Before you leave home, snip off a sample of your sowbread plant for analysis. This enables your vet to make the correct diagnosis just as quickly as possible, because your cat needs rapid treatment.

Before beginning a physical exam, your vet will start IV fluids for your cat to rehydrate it, as diarrhea and vomiting have likely dehydrated your pet. Your cat may also be placed on supplemental oxygen.

During your cat’s physical exam, the vet will discuss the pet’s medical history and recent activities with you and collect blood samples so different tests can be done. These include blood urea nitrogen or BUN levels, complete blood count, biochemistry profile, electrolyte levels and blood gases.

Additionally, the vet may X-ray your cat and complete an ultrasound, which helps to detect any possible kidney damage. Your cat may be anesthetized so an endoscope can be used to examine its throat and esophagus. All these tests help your vet to see whether any organs or organ systems have been damaged.

Treatment of Sowbread Poisoning in Cats

The vet will induce vomiting in your cat to force it to get rid of all the plant material remaining in its stomach. She may also give your cat a gastric lavage with activated charcoal, which helps to neutralize and remove any poisons remaining in your cat’s digestive system.

If your cat already has an IV running, this will be continued to reverse any dehydration it may be experiencing. 

These treatments should be started just as soon as you realize your cat’s illness may have developed as a result of plant poisoning. It’s important to begin treatment just as soon as possible to prevent damage to its heart and kidneys. Because of this, your cat may need to stay in the vet’s office for several hours, if not overnight.

Recovery of Sowbread Poisoning in Cats

Your cat’s chance of recovery is highest if you get it to treatment within 24 hours of eating a sowbread plant. The more time that elapses between ingestion of this plant and the beginning of veterinary treatment, the poorer your cat’s chances of recovery. Before bringing your cat home, ask your vet for a complete list of plants and flowers toxic to cats so you can identify and remove them from your home.