What is Virgin’s Bower Poisoning?

All parts of the virgin's bower, including the flowers, sap, leaves and seeds, contain multiple toxins that can cause sickness in cats. Both irritating glycosides (such as helleborein, helleborin, and hellebrin) and protoanemonin toxins are found in this plant. While all parts are toxic, the newest foliage tends to contain the highest levels of poison. Contact with the sap may result in severe irritation or burning of the skin. The glycosides are linked with sugar, and during the process of digestion are stripped of their sugar molecules and become harmful. Severe cases of virgin's bower poisoning can result in kidney damage, respiratory collapse, and even death. 

Virgin's bower, of the Clematis genus, is a climbing vine whose subspecies can be found all over the world. Native clematis is often called “Old Man's Beard”, while imported varieties may be known as “Leatherflower". This vine produces attractive flowers and is often used in gardens on trellises for its ornamental value. The native virgin's bower has delicate white flowers that grow in clusters, while the foreign varieties have larger blossoms that come in purples, whites or reds. The leaves are jagged and grow in sets of threes. Native varieties are quite aggressive and can take over a garden if left to their own devices.

Symptoms of Virgin’s Bower Poisoning in Cats

Interaction with the juices inside of the virgin's bower plant results in both internal and external painful burning. Mild encounters generally also cause gastrointestinal issues while severe poisonings may result in life-threatening complications. All known signs of virgin's bower poisoning are listed below.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dermatitis
  • Blisters on the skin or in the mouth
  • Weakness
  • Aggression
  • Delerium
  • Bradycardia (slowed heartbeat)
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • Convulsions

Causes of Virgin’s Bower Poisoning in Cats

Virgin's bower is kept in many gardens all over North America. In addition to this, some varieties also grow in the wild, as they are native to this continent. The plant seems to prefer areas near streams or marshes. Cats may be tempted to sample some of the leaves or flowers out of curiosity, but likely will not return for a second bite as the plant has a strong, acidic taste. 

Diagnosis of Virgin’s Bower Poisoning in Cats

If you did not actually witness your cat ingesting the virgin's bower plant, it may be difficult to pinpoint the cause of the poisoning. You may notice some plant material remaining in your cat's mouth. If symptoms begin to show, bring the cat in to see your veterinarian for a closer look. You will probably be asked to supply the vet with your cat's full medical history, as this can help both in the diagnostic and treatment processes. The vet may also ask if you allow your cat to go outdoors. 

The veterinarian will then perform a complete physical examination of the cat to note all symptoms that have developed and match them with possible causes of illness. While listening to the cat's heart and lungs with a stethoscope, the vet may discover both breathing and heart rate abnormalities. A dermal examination may also be necessary if the cat has sustained any burns or blisters from its interaction with the plant. All other vital functions will be measured. A sample of the cat's blood will be taken so that standard tests can be run. These generally include a complete blood count and a biochemical profile to measure all levels of cells and minerals in the bloodstream. Urinalysis may also be needed to monitor how the kidneys are reacting.

Treatment of Virgin’s Bower Poisoning in Cats

If only a small amount of the virgin's bower plant has been consumed, the cat will likely respond favorably to basic treatment. In the rare instance that a large amount has been eaten, hospitalization may be required.

Empty Stomach Contents 

This may be done either by emesis using hydrogen peroxide or by gastric lavage (stomach pumping). The goal is to remove any undigested plant material to prevent the body from processing more toxins.

Demulcent Administration 

Demulcents are agents that soothe the stomach such as glycerin, honey or pectin. They ease irritation occurring in internal membranes.

Medication 

To raise the blood pressure of a cat that has become dangerously low, atropine may be given either orally or intravenously while the heart is monitored. 

Recovery of Virgin’s Bower Poisoning in Cats

As most cats are only able to ingest a very small amount of the plant, the majority will go on to make a full recovery within 24 hours. If your cat does happen to consume a lot of plant material, permanent heart and kidney damage is possible, along with the paralysis of the lungs followed by death. Seeking treatment as soon as possible may help increase the odds of survival in a cat experiencing virgin's bower poisoning. 

This plant may be found both in gardens and the wild, posing a threat to any cat allowed outdoors. Choosing to keep your cat indoors will prevent it from contacting virgin's bower or other toxic plants. Some may also choose to remove the plant from their garden as an extra measure of safety.