What is Belladonna Poisoning?
Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) or deadly nightshade is one of the most toxic plants in the eastern hemisphere. It has had a long history of use, both as a deadly poison and a medicine. Ancient Romans used the plant as an anesthetic for surgery, as well as a pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory treatment. The name belladonna was adopted because the plant was the basis of an old-fashioned cosmetic treatment Italian women used to dilate their pupils and make themselves more beautiful. Belladonna is native to Europe, northern Africa, and Asia, but it has been introduced to North America and grows wild in many abandoned areas. The plant is rarely grown in gardens, partially because it is difficult to grow, but also because of its dangerous toxicity which can be a hazard for children and pets.
Belladonna forms a branching shrub-like plant with dark purple flowers and glossy black berries that are deceptively sweet. Rabbits, cattle, and birds are able to safely consume the berries, but the entire plant is toxic to both humans and dogs, even in small quantities. Poisonous alkaloids, including scopolamine and hyoscyamine and atropine, cause hallucinations, delirium and eventually convulsions and death from respiratory failure. Two berries are enough to kill a child and six berries can be lethal for an adult. A few berries could easily kill a dog, depending on its size; meanwhile eating the leaves or digging through the roots of the plant could also be harmful, since toxins are found throughout the plant and are especially strong in the roots. The hallucinogenic neurotoxins in belladonna take effect almost immediately, so emergency veterinary treatment will be need if your dog ingests any part of the plant.
Belladonna is a flowering species of nightshade that is well known for its deadly toxins. Dogs and humans are both susceptible to belladonna poisoning. Powerful hallucinogenic alkaloids found in all parts of the plant can be lethal even in small doses.
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Symptoms of Belladonna Poisoning in Dogs
These are some of the symptoms you will see if your dog ingests belladonna. Call an emergency veterinary clinic a soon as possible.
- Excessive salivation
- Lack of appetite
- CNS depression
- Dilated pupils (mydriasis)
- Confusion and behavioral changes
- Slow heart rate
- Slow breathing
- Respiratory failure
Belladonna is one species of the Nightshade or Solanaceae family. It is known by many other names including deadly nightshade, devil’s berries and death cherries. As the names suggest, belladonna is the most poisonous member of the Solanaceae family, however, many of the more than 1,500 worldwide species contain some of the same toxins to a lesser degree. Other poisonous nightshade species include bittersweet nightshade, black nightshade, and horse nettle. Some familiar food plants like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant also belong to the nightshade family. The edible parts of these plants are non-toxic, however the leaves and stems are poisonous if ingested.
Causes of Belladonna Poisoning in Dogs
- Poisonous alkaloids, including scopolamine and hyoscyamine and atropine, cause hallucinations
- Respiratory failure, convulsions, and death can result from ingestion of the hallucinogenic neurotoxins
- The berries are very lethal
- The roots are toxic as well
Diagnosis of Belladonna Poisoning in Dogs
Diagnosing belladonna poisoning will be easier if you witnessed the incident. If not, belladonna growing close to your house can still be an important factor if your dog develops sudden symptoms of toxicity. If your dog begins to act abnormally after eating a strange plant, you should get emergency treatment as soon as possible and bring a sample of the plant with you for analysis. Handle it with gloves and avoid touching your mouth or face. The toxins in belladonna act quickly, so an immediate diagnosis will be necessary to save your dog’s life.
Treatment of Belladonna Poisoning in Dogs
If emergency treatment is not available call a poison hotline. Be prepared to describe the plant and give details about your dog’s weight and breed as well as how much you think he ingested. Vinegar or mustard diluted with warm water can be used to help temporarily counter the effects of the toxins in belladonna. If you have trouble getting your dog to drink, try feeding the solution through an eyedropper. Don’t induce vomiting unless recommended by a professional.
If ingestion happened recently, the veterinarian will give medication to help your dog vomit. Gastric lavage may also be performed under anesthesia if necessary. Activated charcoal can help to further reduce absorption by binding to the toxins in the gastrointestinal tract. Physostigmine, a medication that is also used to treat Alzheimer’s and glaucoma, is the most effective antidote for belladonna poisoning. The veterinarian may give this medication for severe poisoning if it is available. Other treatments will be symptomatic with intravenous fluids and electrolytes, and additional oxygen given as necessary.
Recovery of Belladonna Poisoning in Dogs
Dogs that only ingest a small amount of belladonna may recover, especially with immediate treatment. However, emergency medical treatment is not always possible and large doses can easily be fatal, especially for a small dog. The best way to manage belladonna poisoning is to avoid exposure. This means ensuring that belladonna is not growing anywhere in your garden or around the house. Try to discourage your dog from eating strange plants as much as possible and keep a sharp lookout for purple flowers and dark berries. Belladonna poisoning is rare, mainly because the plant is well-known and easy to recognize, but it can still be dangerous if your dog does off to explore an abandoned shrubbery area by himself.