What is Starch Root Poisoning?

Starch root (also known as Arum maculatum) is a species of flowering shrub found across the majority of the European landmass. This forest floor-dwelling plant is quite hardy and can survive some especially harsh winters. As one would expect for such a tough plant, it is also well adapted to ward off predators, and as such contains some fairly unpleasant substances that are toxic to many animals.

Symptoms of Starch Root Poisoning in Cats

Although not usually considered life-threatening, starch root poisoning will produce some fairly dramatic symptoms. As always, if an owner notices these symptoms, it is best to consult with a veterinary professional in order to ensure the wellbeing of the animal in question.

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of Coordination 
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Oral Irritation
  • Redness and swelling around the mouth and nose 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive salivation 

Causes of Starch Root Poisoning in Cats

Starch root contains copious levels of a substance known as 'insoluble calcium oxalates'. The oxalates are the solidified form of oxalic acid and are produced in an effort to provide a deterrent to animals that would otherwise view the starch root as a food source. The oxalates accomplish this by using their sharp, crystalline structure to dig into soft tissues and cause massive amounts of irritation. It is this simplistic mechanism that causes the swelling, pain, vomiting and diarrhea detailed above. A second substance contained within the starch root is 'proteinase'. Once absorbed into the target animal's body, this toxin serves the purpose of inhibiting the function of various neurotransmitter enzymes. This causes the loss of balance and subdued behavior that would not occur due to oxalate ingestion alone.

Diagnosis of Starch Root Poisoning in Cats

As soon as it arrives in the clinic, the cat will undergo a thorough physical examination. This will allow the vet to confirm the symptoms for themselves and monitor their severity. Usually, this inspection alone is enough to diagnose oxalate poisoning, but many vets will want to confer with the owner regarding the cat's medical history and the events leading up to the poisoning in order to rule out any other factors. If they are still unsure, a blood test may be carried out in order to confirm the presence of starch root toxins in the cat's bloodstream.

Treatment of Starch Root Poisoning in Cats

Most vets will typically move to start fluid therapy on cats that have been subjected to protracted bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. This will intravenously deliver fluids back into the animal's body to replenish the liquids that have been lost and stave off serious dehydration. Fluid therapy will also cause the cat to pass out the proteinase in the form of urine. In order to move the oxalate crystals out of the digestive tract, the vet will often feed the cat a mild yogurt. Not only will the yogurt soothe the felt irritation caused by the oxalic acid, but it will also have a thick enough consistency to 'drag' the crystals out of the gut.

Recovery of Starch Root Poisoning in Cats

Most cats will recover from starch root poisoning within a week, however, this is not to say that older animals will not require more intensive care. Additionally, owners would be well advised to keep the cat confined to the house for several days in order to ensure it gets plenty of rest. This will also provide a good opportunity to continue feeding them yogurt, which will quickly clear the crystals out of their system. Most cats will not require a follow-up visit, however, ones that have been hard-hit by complications such as dehydration would be well served by attending another appointment in order to monitor their progress.