What is Coffee Tree Poisoning?
The coffee tree is a tall shrub that is often used as a hedge or windbreak in Africa and Asia, but is now cultivated to grow in Florida and Hawaii. This plant is popular for its ornamental foliage of deep green, pale yellow, and white. The coffee tree is easy to grow and withstands high winds, which is why it is often used as a windbreak. While the foliage and bark of the coffee tree are poisonous, the roots (tubers) have a concentrated amount of saponins that can produce irregular heart rate and seizures.
The coffee tree (polyscias guilfoylei) is commonly mistaken for the Kentucky coffee tree (gymnocladus dioicus), which are both toxic to dogs, but the polyscias is more of a shrub than a tree, although it can grow up to 25 feet tall. The coffee tree has saponins contained in its bark and foliage, which are poisonous to dogs and other pets. This can even be poisonous to humans if they consume a large amount. The side effects of coffee tree poisoning are nausea, vomiting, depression, and contact dermatitis if the sap gets on the skin. You may notice your dog drooling and not eating as usual, which is due to the foaming action of the saponins. If you think your dog ate any part of a coffee tree, call your veterinarian or go to a veterinary hospital or clinic.
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Symptoms of Coffee Tree Poisoning in Dogs
If your dog only ate a small amount of the coffee tree, you may not even notice anything different. However, with a large consumption of coffee tree, you should expect to see:
- Weight loss
- Irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth and digestive tract
- Loss of appetite
- Contact dermatitis (rash on skin exposed to coffee tree sap)
- Irregular heart rate and seizure if roots are eaten
The coffee tree (polyscias guilfoylei) is of the Araliaceae family and goes by many different names.
- Bebero or berobero
- Geranium-leaf aralia or geranium aralia
- Hedge panax or panax
- Tanetane or tanitani
- Wild coffee or wild coffee panax
Causes of Coffee Tree Poisoning in Dogs
The poisonous materials in coffee trees are saponins. They can be poisonous in two ways:
- Topical exposure
- Oral exposure
Diagnosis of Coffee Tree Poisoning in Dogs
Diagnosis of any kind of poisoning can be tricky if you did not actually see what your dog ate or how much was consumed. If you see your pet eating a coffee tree plant, bring a sample of it or a picture (or both) to show the veterinary professional. Sometimes this can help with the diagnosis so your dog can get treatment sooner. As with any trip to the veterinarian’s office, try to remember to bring your dog’s medical and shot records with you. If not, you can just give the veterinarian as much information as you can think of. Be sure to include any medications your pet is taking, abnormal behavior you have seen, and tell the veterinary caregiver if your dog has been ill or injured lately.
A physical examination will be done next, including blood pressure, temperature, skin condition, oral and optical examination, reflexes, weight, and abdominal palpation. A fecal examination and urinalysis will be done right away to rule out bacterial or fungal infections. Some laboratory tests will also be done, such as a blood urea nitrogen (BUN), packed cell volume (PCV), a blood sugar level check and complete blood count (CBC). If necessary, an electrocardiogram (ECG) will be done to measure heart activity (electrical and musculature). Abdominal x-rays and an ultrasound are usually performed to make sure there are no blockages from plant material or swelling from irritation to the saponins.
Treatment of Coffee Tree Poisoning in Dogs
In most poisonings, the veterinarian will use the same basic treatment, including emesis (vomiting), intravenous (IV) fluid therapy, medication if necessary, hospitalization and observation, if necessary.
The first thing to do is to get the toxins out of your dog, which is done by inducing emesis (vomiting). This can be done by giving a dose of ipecac or hydrogen peroxide solution. Once your pet has vomited, activated charcoal will be used to absorb any excess toxins in the body and a fluid lavage (rinsing) will be done to wash away any remaining plant residue and sap.
Intravenous (IV) Fluid Therapy
To thoroughly flush the remaining toxins and residue from your dog’s system, fluids will be given by intravenous (IV) line. The fluids also prevent dehydration from all the fluids lost due to vomiting and diarrhea.
Your veterinarian may administer an antacid, histamine blocker, and antiemetics if your dog is still having gastric irritation. Depending on the results of the bloodwork, the veterinarian may also give electrolytes as well.
Hospitalization and Observation
It is rare for a dog to be admitted to the hospital for observation or treatment with coffee tree poisoning unless a large amount of the foliage or tubers are consumed. You are usually able to take your pet home within a few hours.
Recovery of Coffee Tree Poisoning in Dogs
Coffee tree poisoning is not normally a life-threatening emergency and does not cause long-term damage unless a large amount is eaten. Most often, your dog will be feeling better by the time you get home from the veterinarian’s office. Remove the coffee trees from your garden area or make sure your dog does not have access to them, so risk of posioning is gone.