What is Cardinal Flower Poisoning?
Although these beautiful red perennials have been used for medicine, the cardinal flower is actually very toxic to people as well as dogs and other animals. It is common to see the cardinal flower growing anywhere in the United States and Canada along the banks of streams and rivers as well as in gardens. The bright red blooms, which are named after the Roman Catholic cardinals’ robes rather than the bird, is a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies. They can grow up to four feet tall and the flowers are usually about one inch across. These plants can cause severe neurological damage by changing the way the body processes proteins and although it does not taste good, many dogs will eat it anyway. It can cause serious hallucinations and neurological damage with ingestion of just a small amount of the cardinal flower or the seeds. If you think your pet has eaten some of the cardinal flower or its seeds, you should go to a veterinarian or animal hospital right away.
There are more than a dozen alkaloids in the cardinal flower that are similar to the toxins in nicotine. These are so dangerous to dogs that just eating one flower can induce vomiting and muscle pain, and eventually leads to death if not treated. Not only does the flower have toxic alkaloids, but the seeds also contain lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), which is the chemical used to make the hallucinogenic drug, LSD. In fact, just one or two seeds eaten by a dog can be fatal. If you believe your dog has eaten any part of a cardinal flower or the seeds, it is essential that you get to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Dogs
Within the cardinal flower and its seeds are 14 alkaloids and LSD, which can all cause different symptoms of varying severity. While some of them are damaging to the central nervous system, others are irritants to the gastrointestinal system. Some of the most common signs are:
Central Nervous System
- Inability to control muscle movement
- Increased heart rate
Lysosomal storage disease
- Delayed development
- Enlarged liver and spleen
- Hearing loss
- Muscle tightness and pain
- Respiratory failure
- Abdominal pain
Other Clinical Symptoms
- Extreme tiredness
- Low blood pressure
- Urinary pain and burning
The cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis) is from the Campanulaceae family in the order of the asterales and genus lobelia. There are two other species related to the cardinal flower:
- Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco)
- Lobelia siphilitica (great lobelia)
Causes of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Dogs
- Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) which can cause hallucinations and dizziness
Diagnosis of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Dogs
If possible, take a portion of the cardinal flower with you to the veterinarian to help in getting a definitive diagnosis. The veterinarian will give your dog a thorough physical examination, including coat condition, oxygen levels, weight, reflexes, heart rate, body temperature, breath sounds, blood pressure, and respiration rate. Tell them all the details about the incident, such as how much you think your dog ingested and how long you believe your dog was eating the cardinal flower. The veterinarian will also need to know your dog’s medical history, vaccination records, unusual behavior, or appetite changes.
Some laboratory tests are needed which include a urinalysis, chemical profile, complete blood count, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), glucose and electrolyte levels. The results of the chemical profile of your dog would have detectable levels of alkaloids, decreased α-D-mannosidase activity, and increased aspartate aminotransferase (AST). A packed cell volume (PCV) is helpful in determining if your dog is dehydrated. Sometimes, an electrocardiogram (ECG) is performed to measure the electrical performance of your dog’s heart. Imaging done with x-ray, MRI, ultrasound, and a CT scan may also be necessary.
Treatment of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Dogs
The treatment depends on how much cardinal flower your dog has eaten and for how long. Fortunately, due to the emetic properties of the plant, large ingestions of the cardinal flower are uncommon. Supportive therapy in the form of medications for the seizures and convulsions, and oxygen therapy for respiratory distress will be necessary. Hospitalization of your pet is very likely.
Continued therapy will include active charcoal, to bind the toxins, and gastric lavage to flush the stomach will be done, dependent on how much of the plant was consumed. Any complications caused by the toxic principles in the cardinal flower, such as congestive heart failure, will be treated as well. The treatment for congestive heart failure depends on the amount of damage. Most often, the veterinarian will prescribe an ACE inhibitor, such as enalapril and diuretics to help decrease fluid buildup.
Recovery of Cardinal Flower Poisoning in Dogs
Your dog’s chances of recovery depend on how much cardinal flower was consumed and for how long. If there is not a severe amount of neurological damage, prognosis is good. If your dog has congestive heart failure, prognosis is guarded, but with treatment, the chance of survival for more than one year is possible. Be sure to keep your dog away from the cardinal flower to prevent further damage and call your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns as your companion recovers.