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What is Tropic Snow Poisoning?

You’ll easily recognize tropic snow because of its broad, long leaves and the light-green patterns on each leaf. This plant is most often seen as a houseplant, grown and maintained inside your house. If your cat gets curious and begins to nibble on it, he will develop near-immediate, painful symptoms that will need veterinary treatment. Though eating large amounts of this plant is not likely, animals that have consumed large amounts may suffer permanent damage to their liver and kidneys.

The tropic snow plant falls within the Araceae family, with a scientific name of Dieffenbachia amoena. This plant is also known as charming dieffenbachia, dieffenbachia, giant dumb cane, exotica perfection, exotica, and dumbcane. This plant is dangerous to your cat because of the toxins it contains: insoluble calcium oxalates and, depending on the variety of the plant, proteolytic enzymes.

Symptoms of Tropic Snow Poisoning in Cats

The primary symptoms your cat will experience are painful because of the mechanics of the primary toxin:

  • Oral pain
  • Burning and irritation of mouth, lips, and tongue
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Drooling
  • Choking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swelling of the throat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

These symptoms may recur for up to two weeks after your cat has been poisoned.

If he eats a larger amount of tropic snow, he will develop these symptoms:

  • Severe digestive upset
  • Rapid, shallow gasps of air (dyspnea)
  • Extreme difficulty breathing

If he managed to eat a massive amount, his additional symptoms will be severe:

  • Renal failure
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Death

Causes of Tropic Snow Poisoning in Cats

Tropic snow poisoning is caused by insoluble calcium oxalates and proteinase (proteolytic enzyme), depending on plant species. Eating any portion of the plant can lead to poisoning in cats.

Cats that are bored and do not have access to cat-safe plants they can chew on may be likely to sample dangerous plants around the home, such as tropic snow.

Diagnosis of Tropic Snow Poisoning in Cats

If your cat nibbles on any part of a tropic snow plant, you’ll know about it almost immediately. Because of the unusual mechanics of the primary toxin (insoluble calcium oxalates), your cat will experience immediate, intense pain and burning. 

Oxalates are calcium oxalate crystals contained within a special cell known as an idioblast. Each idioblast is filled with a thick gelatin, which holds bundles of crystals inside the idioblast. When your cat bites the idioblasts, these are broken. His saliva makes contact with the gelatin, which begins to swell outward. Soon, the crystal bundles explode forcefully from the idioblasts, burying themselves into your cat’s mouth, lips, and tongue. If he swallows any of the toxins, the crystals will go down into his esophagus and bury themselves in his throat, esophagus, and stomach, causing intense pain, nausea, and vomiting.

Because of his digestive symptoms and pain, you’ll have to take your cat to the vet. If you know he nibbled your tropic snow plant, cut off a few samples for testing at the vet’s office. You may see bits of plant matter in your cat’s mouth. Using cool water, gently flush his mouth out and collect any bits of plant material that fall out with the water.

At the vet’s office, your cat will undergo a physical, which includes blood work and a urinalysis. 

Treatment of Tropic Snow Poisoning in Cats

After flushing your cat’s mouth out with cool water, he may be offered some yogurt or cheese, which can help to alleviate the burning pain. If he has already begun to vomit or experience diarrhea, your vet will treat him for possible dehydration, putting him on an IV to rehydrate your cat.

If your cat is experiencing swelling of his mouth, your vet may give Benadryl to him. Kapectolin, which helps to coat your cat’s stomach, can also offer some relief. Sucralfate may also be given to form a paste when it interacts with your cat’s stomach acids, acting as a buffer between the plant material and your cat’s stomach lining.

If your cat managed to eat a large amount of tropic snow, he may be at risk of developing liver or kidney damage. If this begins to happen, your vet will hospitalize your cat so she can monitor his condition.

Recovery of Tropic Snow Poisoning in Cats

Tropic snow poisoning is usually mild, simply because the intense burning and pain that results deters animals from trying to eat more of this plant. Your cat may recover within a day, depending on how quickly you get him to veterinary treatment.

To prevent future cases of poisoning, remove dangerous plants from your cat’s environment, if possible, and provide cat-safe plants and grasses, such as wheatgrass, rye grass, and oat grass.