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What is Sweetheart Ivy Poisoning?

Sweetheart ivy plants are known to the world of science by their scientific name, Hedera helix and belong to the Araliaceae family. To the rest of the world, sweetheart ivy plants are commonly called California ivy, branching ivy, needlepoint ivy, glacier ivy and English ivy. Sweetheart ivy is identified by its green, heart-shaped leaves and climbing vines. When the sweetheart ivy plant is young, it will grow in patches on the ground, but upon maturity, this plant will grow into vines that produce small flowers. The sweetheart ivy plant is native to Taiwan, Japan, Asia, Africa, Macaronesia, and Europe. 

Sweetheart ivy poisoning in cats is a mild toxicity caused by the ingestion of the stem, leaves or flowers of the plant. Sweetheart ivy contains triterpenoid saponins that cause dermatitis when the sap comes into contact with the skin. These saponins are also believed to cause a similar irritation to the esophagus, stomach, and lower digestive system when ingested. Although no reports have been made of a feline sweetheart ivy poisoning fatality, the ingestion of this plant should always be taken seriously. 

Symptoms of Sweetheart Ivy Poisoning in Cats

Sweetheart ivy possesses an irritating sap that will cause a feline’s skin or mouth to redden, itch and develop blisters. Initial symptoms of Macaronesia ingestion are immediate burning of the mouth and throat followed by visible irritation. The feline may have difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), have a swollen throat demonstrated by choking sounds, and drool excessively as the plant sap inflames the mucous membranes. These initial symptoms of sweetheart ivy poisoning may occur immediately after ingestion or up to two hours after consumption. If the feline can tolerate consuming large amounts of the plant, symptoms become rather severe resulting in rapid breathing (dyspnea), digestive upset (vomiting/diarrhea), convulsions, coma and eventual death. A summarization of Sweetheart Ivy poisoning symptoms in cats are listed below: 

  • Dysphagia
  • Choking 
  • Drooling 
  • Dyspnea 
  • Digestive upset 
  • Convulsions 
  • Coma 
  • Death 

Causes of Sweetheart Ivy Poisoning in Cats

Sweetheart ivy poisoning in cats is caused by the ingestion of the stem, leaves, petals, pollen or seeds of the Sweetheart ivy plant. The toxins in the sweetheart ivy plant are triterpenoid saponins. Triterpenoid saponins are the glycoside of pentacyclic oleananes, known to cause a potentially serious intoxication in mammals. The saponins often cause dermatitis, an allergic reaction of the skin, when coming into contact with the plant’s sap. This same irritant is believed to be the source of gastrointestinal upset associated with ingestion of the sweetheart ivy plant. 

Diagnosis of Sweetheart Ivy Poisoning in Cats

Diagnosing sweetheart ivy poisoning in cats is difficult as there is no specific test available for identifying this type of toxicity. Your veterinarian’s diagnosis will be based on ruling out other possible causes of your feline’s symptoms. The diagnostic process will include a physical examination, a review of the cat’s medical history, and a consultation with the pet owner to discuss the pet’s access to potential toxins. 

Diagnostic tests the veterinarian will use may include:

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

Treatment of Sweetheart Ivy Poisoning in Cats

Oral irritation is common with sweetheart ivy poisoning, so treatment will likely begin by flushing the cat’s mouth with distilled water. An emetic drug may be administered to encourage the feline to vomit. Activated charcoal may be used to bind with toxins in the stomach and prevent the body from further absorption. Kapectolin and sucralfate may be provided to prevent further irritation in the stomach. The feline’s treatment may end with intravenous fluids to restore his or her hydration if vomiting or diarrhea has caused dehydration.

Recovery of Sweetheart Ivy Poisoning in Cats

The prognosis for sweetheart ivy poisoning in cats is generally good to excellent. Most cats will begin to show signs of improvement within an hour of treatment and make a full recovery after 24 hours. As with all plant toxicity cases, the earlier the feline is admitted to the veterinary hospital, the greater chance he or she has of making a full recovery.