What is Brazilwood Poisoning?
The Brazilwood plant is also commonly known as bird of paradise, but not related to the “real” bird of paradise flower. It is native to South America, but has been naturalized to grow in the southwestern United States. In the Amazon, medicine men use this plant for medicinal purposes, but the root is reported to induce spontaneous abortion and the seed pods have tannins that may cause failure to thrive. HCN (found in the foliage) is known for its use in chemical weapons during World War II as a chemical gas and in some states as a way to carry out prisoner’s executions. Hydrocyanic acid is found in the leaves and flowers can cause death when used as an inhalant weapon, but as a plant, it is not as severe. However, it can be dangerous if your dog is very old or young, ill, or if a large amount is eaten.
Brazilwood, also called the bird of paradise, is toxic to dogs, cats, and small children. This toxic beauty can actually be poisonous to a full grown man in high amounts or when processed. The two toxic agents in the Brazilwood are hydrocyanic acid (HCN) and tannins. The symptoms of HCN poisoning in dogs can be mild to serious, including gastrointestinal upset, incoordination, drooling, and confusion. Tannins are found in the seed pods, and can create the inability to process nutrients, causing weight loss and malnutrition. Both of these toxins together can be a serious problem for your pet so be sure to keep your furry friend away from these pretty plants.
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Symptoms of Brazilwood Poisoning in Dogs
There are a variety of side effects from Brazilwood, depending on which part of the plant is eaten and how much your dog consumed. Since there are two different toxic materials in the plant, some parts of the plant (seed pods) are more dangerous than others, however, the signs are similar:
- Irritation of mouth and tongue
- Pawing at the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
- Excessive drooling
- Intense burning
- Barba de chivo
- Barbados pride
- Bird of paradise
- Bird of paradise bush
- Caesalpinia Gilliesii
- Cat’s claw
- Desert bird of paradise
- Peacock flower
- Poinciana Gilliesii
- Pride of Barbados
- Yellow bird of paradise
Causes of Brazilwood Poisoning in Dogs
The leaves of the Brazilwood contain hydrocyanic acid (hydrogen cyanide) and the seeds have tannins. The poisonous effects cause toxic symptoms such as incoordination and difficulty swallowing. Fatality is possible if prompt aggressive treatment is not received.
Diagnosis of Brazilwood Poisoning in Dogs
When you take your dog to the veterinarian, it helps if you can bring a part of the plant or a photograph to help get a definitive diagnosis easier. The details of what you know of the incident, side effects, and how long ago the incident happened need to be provided to the veterinary staff. In addition, provide your dog’s health history and vaccination records if you have them.
The veterinarian usually does a physical examination next, which includes your pet’s height, weight, coat and skin condition, body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate, and breath sounds. Laboratory tests are conducted after that, including a urine and stool sample examination, blood gases, chemical panel, and complete blood count. The complete blood count is done to check the levels of your dog’s red blood cell count, white cell count, sodium, glucose, nitrogen, and several others, depending on what the veterinarian thinks is best. The blood test results will give the veterinarian an idea of how much HCN is in your dog’s system, and if it shows over three millimeters, the veterinarian will start the treatment right away because that can be a lethal dosage. However, if the test shows less than two millimeters, the veterinarian may want to remove some of the contents from your dog’s stomach to test for HCN. This procedure has to be done carefully while wearing protective clothing, a mask, and gloves to prevent breathing in the cyanide gases.
Treatment of Brazilwood Poisoning in Dogs
Your pet will be admitted to the hospital for treatment and an intravenous (IV) line will be started with fluids and electrolytes.
Depending on the results of the tests, the veterinarian may use amyl nitrite smelling salts and administer sodium nitrite by IV right away to counteract the effects of the HCN as much as possible. Sodium thiosulfate will follow either intramuscularly, orally, or both. Other choices for counteracting cyanide are hydroxocobalamin (vitamin B12a) and 4-dimethylaminophenol (DMAP). The sodium thiosulfate can be administered again to get rid of any remaining HCN. The tannins will usually dissipate gradually after stopping exposure to the Brazilwood plant.
Observation and Palliative Care
Your veterinarian will keep your dog in the hospital for at least 24 hours, but usually longer, depending on the amount of Brazilwood that was eaten.
Recovery of Brazilwood Poisoning in Dogs
In many cases, HCN poisoning can be fatal if you do not get treatment immediately. However, if your pet got treated right away and responded well, prognosis is good. You will need to bring your dog back for a follow up at least once for more lab tests to be sure the treatment worked and there are no long-term effects. Remove the Brazilwood plant from your garden or keep it in an area your dog cannot reach.