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What is Umbrella Leaf Poisoning?

Umbrella leaf (commonly known as the mayapple or American mandrake) is a species of perennial shrub that is native to north America. Although it is now grown mainly as an ornamental plant in gardens, it has also seen use in medicinal roles (specifically for the production of topical medicine). If ingested, the umbrella leaf is known to be quite poisonous to most kinds of animal and produces some very unpleasant symptoms.

Symptoms of Umbrella Leaf Poisoning in Cats

Umbrella leaf poisoning will typically cause quite visible symptoms. Owners should keep a close eye on their pet during this time, to ensure that more dangerous complications do not emerge.

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy 
  • Weakness
  • Lack of balance
  • Dermatitis
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma 

Causes of Umbrella Leaf Poisoning in Cats

The umbrella leaf plant contains large amounts of a substance known as podophyllin. This chemical is produced primarily for the purpose of repelling or neutralizing animals that would otherwise try to feed on the plant. The mechanism by which podophyllin accomplishes this is quite straightforward: once in the digestive system, it causes inflammation of the stomach and small intestine by binding with cells and altering their DNA makeup, causing their death. This produces the vomiting and diarrhea described above as well as the surface dermatitis. Furthermore, it suppresses the enzymes that help regulate the function of the nervous system, causing the aforementioned lethargy and possible coma.

Diagnosis of Umbrella Leaf Poisoning in Cats

When treating the cat, the vet will want information on the circumstances surrounding the poisoning, as well as a summary of the cat's medical history, living conditions and normal behavior. Because of this, owners should try to get some pertinent details ready before attending their appointment, as accurate information can be of great help when making a diagnosis. The vet will also perform a physical examination of the cat to get a firsthand look at the problem and gauge its severity. They may also take a blood sample for laboratory analysis, which will help detect any toxins present in the bloodstream.

Treatment of Umbrella Leaf Poisoning in Cats

Cats suffering from vomiting and diarrhea will commonly be at risk of dehydration. To combat this, the vet will oftentimes choose to intravenously administer liquid into their bodies in a process known as fluid therapy. This treatment will also help flush harmful toxins out of the body by causing urination. Due to the serious effects that podophyllin can have on the nervous system, the vet may choose to induce further vomiting with a dose of hydrogen peroxide.

Recovery of Umbrella Leaf Poisoning in Cats

Depending on the amount of umbrella leaf that was eaten, cats can require several weeks to fully return to normal. To give the digestive system a chance to recover, the vet will typically request that the cat is fed the blandest diet possible for several days after the poisoning. Furthermore, the cat may have to be confined to the house for a while in order to make sure it gets enough rest. Follow-up visits may also be necessary in order to ensure that the damage to the nervous system presents no ongoing risk.