What is Buckeye Poisoning?
Buckeye poisoning in dogs is not common worldwide, unlike the Midwest, where these trees are found just about anywhere. Sprouts, leaves, nuts, and even the bark of the tree are known to have caused illness and death in animals, including dogs. The most poisonous part of the buckeye tree are the seeds, bark, and fresh sprouts. The glycoside in the sprouts is much more concentrated than in other parts of a mature plant or tree. Just eating one or two buckeye seeds can cause extreme intestinal upset, which can be dangerous on its own because of the threat of dehydration. The muscular symptoms are usually the most prominent, with muscle spasms and seizures occurring within hours of ingestion. The tree is getting more common in areas all over North America, so you should always be aware of the plants, shrubs, and trees where your pets are allowed to frequent. If you believe your dog has eaten any part of a buckeye tree or shrub, take him to the veterinarian or animal hospital right away, even if there are no obvious symptoms yet.
The buckeye (Aesculus), which is also sometimes called the horse chestnut, contains toxins, which are dangerous to dogs and other small animals. The most toxic chemical in the buckeye are glycosides, especially a saponin called aesculin and a narcotic alkaloid. These toxins are in the entire tree, including the leaves, nuts, bark, and shoots. They are poisonous to dogs and can produce intestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, because buckeye poisoning causes an increased potassium level, it can affect your dog’s muscle function, including his heart. Signs of buckeye poisoning are usually evident approximately six to eight hours after consumption.
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Symptoms of Buckeye Poisoning in Dogs
Since saponins are not usually absorbed in a healthy digestive system, if your dog has an underlying illness or irritation of the intestinal system, this toxin can cause extreme digestive symptoms. Buckeye poisoning can also affect other parts of your dog’s body, such as the central nervous system and muscular system. Some of the most often reported symptoms are:
- Abnormal heart rate
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Decreased appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Irritated mucous membranes
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle twitching
- Muscle weakness
- Poor coordination
- Severe trembling
- Uneasy or staggering gait
- Weight loss
Causes of Buckeye Poisoning in Dogs
The cause of buckeye poisoning is the consumption or skin exposure to any parts of the buckeye tree, including:
Diagnosis of Buckeye Poisoning in Dogs
As with any kind of suspected poisoning, bring a sample of the plant or tree so the veterinarian can get a faster definitive diagnosis. The faster the diagnosis, the sooner your dog’s treatment can begin. The veterinarian will start your dog on an IV to provide fluids while he gives your dog a complete physical examination. This will include your dog’s heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, breath sounds, body temperature, weight, reflexes, and vision examination. The veterinarian will need your dog’s medical history, including any medical and vaccination records, recent injury or illness, incidences of strange behavior, and changes in appetite.
A number of laboratory tests will be done, such as a complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis, fecal examination, biochemistry profile, blood gas panel, electrolyte levels, and a liver enzyme test. The veterinarian will also check your dog’s glucose level either with a urine sample or blood test because saponins often decrease blood sugar levels.
Digital radiographs of your dog’s head and abdomen will be done to check for any lesions on the brain or obstructions in the gastrointestinal system. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is essential as well to determine whether your dog’s heart is functioning properly. If the veterinarian needs a more detailed look, he may perform a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound.
Treatment of Buckeye Poisoning in Dogs
Since your dog will already have an IV, the veterinarian can administer medication through the IV to help your dog vomit in order to get rid of the toxins in his system. In addition, a cannula can be inserted into your dog’s nose to administer oxygen during and after treatment, if needed. The veterinary team may pump your dog’s stomach with small amounts of sterile solution to reduce the toxins and administer activated charcoal to absorb what remains. This reduces the damage that may be done by the toxins on their way out of the body. If needed, paraldehyde will be given to control the seizures and decrease your dog’s anxiety.
Recovery of Buckeye Poisoning in Dogs
Your dog may be kept overnight for observation and to provide fluids and oxygen when needed. The veterinarian will send you home with instructions on how to help your dog’s recovery go smoothly depending on your individual situation. Be sure to remove any buckeye plants or trees wherever your dog has access so this will not happen again.
Buckeye Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I found my buckeyes necklace and my dog had chewed up maybe 1/4 of it. Should I take I'm right to the vet or wait until morning. I have no idea when he did it. He is 10#
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Is there anything that can be done for our dog since we can't afford to take him to the vet?? He has vomited but that's all.
Although I always recommend visiting your Veterinarian in cases of poisoning, buckeye poisoning is usually mild with gastrointestinal irritation (generally drooling, vomiting and diarrhoea) being the only clinical signs. If Atikus didn’t consume many, it may be safe to assume that there won’t be any long-term affects; however, if he displays signs of tremors, seizures or any other worsening clinical signs, visit your Veterinarian immediately. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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