Prepare for unexpected vet bills
The ti plant (also referred to as Cordyline fruticosa or cabbage palm) is a species of evergreen shrub native to the jungles of Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. Many gardeners in temperate areas of the globe have started cultivating this plant because of its colorful leaves and vivid flowers. Although visually appealing, the chemicals found within the ti plant can have an unpleasant effect on many types of animal (though the plant is curiously safe to eat for humans). Cats are no exception to this and can experience a quite pronounced reaction to the ti plant toxins.
The symptoms caused by the chemicals present in the ti plant are quite noticeable and can vary in severity depending on the amount that has been consumed. Animals displaying ongoing symptoms should be taken to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible.
The ti plant contains large amounts of organic compounds known as 'saponins'. These chemicals are produced primarily in order to fend off would-be predators and to kill insects and fungi that attempt to parasitically feed on the plant. The main mechanism by which the toxins attack the target animal is by forcibly bonding with cells in the body. In order to do this, the saponin will rupture the cell wall and alter the DNA contents, permanently damaging or killing the cell. It is this process that causes the notable oral irritation and much of the vomiting that the cat will experience. However, other types of saponin present in the ti plant will cause disruption to the nervous system by deactivating certain neurotransmitters. It is this process that causes the pupil dilation seen in affected animals.
As soon as the cat is brought to the clinic, the vet will want to ask the owner some questions. These queries will typically cover the lifestyle and daily routine of the animal, as well as dealing with their medical history and the symptoms that the owner has observed thus far. Next, the vet will perform a physical examination of the cat in order to assess the progression of their symptoms for themselves and to try and identify any areas that may have been especially badly affected. To examine the digestive tract, the vet may opt to use an ultrasound scanner. A blood test can also be done in order to identify exactly which toxins from the plant the body has been metabolizing.
Most vets will immediately look to start the cat on fluid therapy in order to induce urination, which in turn will cause some of the toxins to be removed from the body. Furthermore, by intravenously forcing more liquid into the body the fluid therapy will help replace the water that has been lost to vomiting, thereby mitigating the symptoms of dehydration. Most of the time, treatment for ti plant poisoning can be stopped at this stage and the cat can be left to recover by itself. However, in cases where digestive discomfort is ongoing, the vet may choose to administer a dosage of activated charcoal in order to absorb the saponins that are still irritating the gut.
Most cats will make a fairly rapid recovery from ti plant poisoning, taking roughly a week to return to normal energy levels if no further complications arise (although this is obviously dependent on the age and general condition of the cat). After returning home, some owners may need to restrict the cat's activity in order to promote rest and recovery. It will also be necessary to provide the cat with a shaded room to reside in until its pupils are adequately able to adapt to bright light again.
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