What is Tree Tobacco Poisoning?

Along with gastrointestinal symptoms, your cat can suffer from paralysis of the respiratory muscles, respiratory failure, and asystole, which means your cat’s heart has no electrical activity observed on an ECG monitor. Because your cat is a small animal, just a few milligrams of nicotine can be deadly; this substance absorbs quickly into the bloodstream, liver, and intestines.

Tree tobacco poisoning is potentially deadly for your cat. It doesn’t matter whether the plant is cultivated or growing wild, all parts are poisonous and potentially deadly, so it’s important to keep your cat away from it. This plant, with the scientific name of Nicotiana glauca (growing wild), lives within the Solanaceae family. Cultivated tree tobacco plants have the scientific name, Nicotiana tabacum.

Symptoms of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Cats

Once your cat has ingested any part of a tree tobacco plant, wild or cultivated, she will develop the following symptoms:

  • Malaise
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Nervousness
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Depression
  • Myalgia (pain in a group of muscles)
  • Diaphoresis (marked sweating)
  • Mental confusion
  • Weakness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Fainting
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Paralysis of respiratory muscles
  • Respiratory failure
  • Asystole (no detectable electrical activity in your cat’s heart)
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Irritability
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Abnormal respiratory rate
  • Increased urination and defecation
  • Tremors
  • Muscle spasms leading to convulsions
  • Paralysis
  • Collapse
  • Death

Causes of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Cats

The toxins that cause tree tobacco poisoning include:

  • Nicotine
  • Anabasine
  • Anatabine
  • Germacrene
  • Nornicotine

Once your cat has ingested any part of tree tobacco, symptoms of poisoning can develop as quickly as fifteen minutes or as long as an hour-and-a-half. You’ll likely notice that she is excitable and hyperactive before other symptoms develop.

Diagnosis of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Cats

You may see your cat eating from a tree tobacco plant. If so, cut off a sample and put it into a plastic bag for your vet so he can test it. At the vet’s office, remind your vet of any medications your cat may be taking.

Your vet will begin his work by giving your cat a physical exam, focusing on heart and breath rates, checking your cat’s pupil reaction time, pulse oximetry, breath sounds and blood pressure. Your cat will also undergo an ECG so the vet can determine your cat’s heart rhythms and electrical activity.

Your cat will have blood taken so the vet can run several blood tests, including CBC, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), and levels of albumin and protein. In tree tobacco poisoning, the last two will be elevated.

Other tests include a packed cell volume, alkaline phosphatase, fluorescence polarization immunoassay, high-performance liquid chromatography, thin-layer chromatography, creatinine phosphokinase, aspartate aminotransferase, gas chromatography, alanine aminotransferase and spectrophotometry.

If your vet suspects that your cat has an obstruction in her esophagus, the vet will insert an endoscope into her esophagus and remove anything that may be lodged. Your cat may also undergo an X-ray and ultrasound.

Treatment of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Cats

The treatment plan your vet develops depends on what he finds in his diagnostic testing. To remove the remainder of the plant from your cat’s stomach, the vet may induce vomiting. At the same time, he will give activated charcoal to your cat, which neutralizes the toxins in the tree tobacco. Once they have been neutralized, they will pass through the remainder of your cat’s digestive system without causing any more poisoning issues.

If your cat has vomited or had diarrhea several times, the vet may give her fluids and electrolytes to rehydrate her and replenish her stores of electrolytes. Your cat may also receive atropine to treat her poisoning symptoms (irregular heartbeat). 

Other prescribed medications may include antibiotics to prevent any potential infections and corticosteroids, which will reduce any water retention or edema.

If your cat age enough tree tobacco to cause breathing issues, she may be given oxygen. Depending on her condition, she may need to be hospitalized overnight.

Recovery of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Cats

Depending on how much of the plant your cat ate, even the most targeted treatment may not be enough to save her life. The best possible outcome results with fast veterinary care.

After initial treatment, your cat will need to visit the vet for follow-up appointments because the toxins can cause long-lasting effects. While she is recovering, make sure she has a quiet place where she can rest and recuperate. Give her medications exactly as prescribed.