What is Wahoo Poisoning?

All parts of this plant contain toxic elements such as cardenolides, alkaloids, and glycosides (including evomonoside, evobioside and evobioside.) The wahoo was used in ancient traditional Native American medicine for its strong properties and can cause serious illness in a small animal. Cats who eat this plant are likely to develop a severe digestive reaction followed by organ damage. If no treatment is received, death may follow within eight hours of symptom manifestation. 

Wahoo is a plant native to North America that gets its name from a Native American language. It is scientifically referred to as Euonymus occidentalis of the Celastraceae family of plants. The wahoo plant reaches heights of up to 25 feet. While it can be found growing in the wild, the wahoo is often used in landscape designs as a single standing shrub or as a hedge. The plant has smooth, gray bark and develops purple flowers, which eventually lead to fruit. The berries that grow from the plant show up in the fall and range from red to ivory and contain reddish colored seeds. The most stunning aspect of the plant is the bright red color that the leaves turn as fall progresses. 

Symptoms of Wahoo Poisoning in Cats

Severe reactions only tend to result from ingesting a large amount of leaves. Eating the berries may cause more serious symptoms than other parts of the plant. Signs to watch for are listed as follows:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (may contain blood)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Hyperthermia (increased temperature)
  • Hallucinations
  • Weakness
  • Cardiac abnormalities including bradycardia or tachycardia
  • Arrhythmias of the heart
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Coma

Causes of Wahoo Poisoning in Cats

The wahoo may be found growing near streams and rivers, or other moist areas of land. Many people across North America grow this shrub in their gardens for its beautiful fall display. The wahoo can survive harsh winters and deep frosts. Outdoor cats may be at risk of poisoning from this plant at all times of the year, as the berries stay on the plant into the winter months. As few as four berries may contain enough toxins to produce a fatal effect. 

Diagnosis of Wahoo Poisoning in Cats

If you have witnessed your cat eating a plant but are unsure of what it is, take a small cutting of it so that it may be identified. If symptoms begin to develop in your cat, take it to your veterinarian to be professionally assessed. Symptoms involving heart rate should be treated as a medical emergency. The vet may start administering treatment before a diagnosis has been made to stabilize the animal. Providing your cat's full medical history can greatly help in both diagnosing the cat and ensuring it receives appropriate care. You may be asked if you allow your cat outdoors, and what type of plants grow around your home. 

The veterinarian will then perform a complete physical examination of the cat to note all symptoms that are present and try to match them to the closest possible cause. All of the cat's vital signs will be measured. Its temperature may be high, and listening to the heart with a stethoscope will likely reveal severe abnormalities or arrhythmias with the heart beat. A blood sample will be taken so that routine tests may be run. These tests generally include a complete blood count and a biochemical profile. As wahoo causes an extreme laxative effect, it is likely that the cat will be showing signs of dehydration, noted by depleted amounts of electrolytes. Urinalysis can be used to get a more detailed look at how both the liver and the kidneys are functioning.

Treatment of Wahoo Poisoning in Cats

There is no specific course of treatment for wahoo poisoning. Hospitalization will likely be necessary with constant monitoring of the heart if abnormalities have been identified. 

Fluid Therapy 

To counteract the purgative properties of the plant that can easily lead to dehydration, fluids and electrolytes should be administered intravenously. 

Emesis 

The vet may decide to induce the cat to vomit to prevent further digestion of the plant. This may cause more irritation in the cat, but may be necessary to save the animal’s life.

Activated Charcoal 

The vet will likely administer activated charcoal to help absorb and trap any remaining toxins in the digestive tract, allowing them to safely pass through the cat. 

Recovery of Wahoo Poisoning in Cats

Most cats who receive prompt treatment after eating the wahoo plant will be able to recover. Any organ damage that has occurred from the episode is likely to be permanent. Keeping your cat indoors year round is an effective way to protect it from exposure to toxic plants such as wahoo. Some may choose not to grow the plant in their garden as a further precaution against consumption by pets or small children.