What is Coontie Palm Poisoning?
The coontie palm usually grows in warm climates like Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas. Most often it is found in yards as an ornamental tree, but some people keep them as indoor plants. These have also started growing wild, mostly in Louisiana and Florida along the highways. These palms are short and wide with fern-like leaves and a large cone (female) or several smaller cones (males) in the middle. While the entire plant is poisonous, it is the seeds in the cones that are deadly.
The coontie palm is known by many names including cardboard palm, sago tree, and sago palm, to name a few. This is a deadly plant and it only takes a small amount (two seeds) to make your dog ill, and just four seeds can be fatal. The poisonous substance in the coontie palm are Beta-methylamino-alanine (BMAA), which is a neurotoxin that damages the central nervous system; and cycasin, which causes gastrointestinal problems and failure of the liver, which can lead to death.
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Symptoms of Coontie Palm Poisoning in Dogs
Mild poisoning (one leaf or stem) usually has no symptoms at all so you will not know your dog has been poisoned until a higher toxicity is reached. Symptoms may be acute or chronic depending on the amount your dog has consumed. If your dog ate just two seeds, acute poisoning will be evident within less than an hour in most cases. These symptoms will be gastrointestinal (digestive) and hepatic (liver). Chronic symptoms occur over time from your dog consuming a few leaves or stems daily. These symptoms are neurological and can be overlooked for some time until your dog has consistently eaten a large amount.
Central nervous system
- Ataxia (Loss of muscle function)
- Falling down
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea (which may be bloody or black and tarry)
- Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
- Increased thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting (which may be bloody)
- Enlarged liver
- Liver damage
- Liver failure (can lead to coma and death)
- Swelling in feet
- Weight increase due to water retention
The Coontie plant (Zamia pumila) is from the Cycadaceae family in the order of the cycadales, class cycadopsida: There are several types of these palms, which includes:
- Cardboard palm
- Japanese cycad
- Sago palm
Causes of Coontie Palm Poisoning in Dogs
The toxins in the coontie palm are:
- Beta-methylamino-alanine (BMAA), which is a neurotoxin that damages the central nervous system
- Cycasin, which is a phytotoxin, can cause damage to the liver and liver failure, leading to death
Diagnosis of Coontie Palm Poisoning in Dogs
Your veterinarian will need to know as many details as you can provide about what kind of plant your dog ate, how much, and when it was consumed. It is helpful to bring a part or a photo of the plant to show the veterinarian. Let the veterinarian know what symptoms you have noticed, if any. Since this is a life-threatening situation, the veterinarian will start your dog on intravenous fluids and provide oxygen during the examination. Apomorphine will probably be given to induce vomiting at this time.
The physical examination will include body temperature, blood pressure, breath sounds, heart rate, respirations, physical appearance, blood oxygen level (pulse oximetry), weight, reflexes, and inspection of the ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. Laboratory tests that are necessary for prognosis are a urinalysis, stool sample, blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels, packed cell volume (PCV), complete blood count (CBC), electrolyte levels, and a biochemistry analysis to look for increased ALT, bilirubin, and albumin levels. Additionally, abdominal radiographs (x-rays), CT scan, or MRI may be necessary to determine if there is any internal damage. In many cases, the veterinarian will also take a biopsy of the liver for microscopic evaluation.
Treatment of Coontie Palm Poisoning in Dogs
If the veterinarian has not already done so, activated charcoal will be administered to absorb the toxins. A blood transfusion, antibiotics, liver protectants, and continued fluid therapy are the usual protocol. The intravenous therapy is used as well to administer medications that may be needed for gastrointestinal irritation, to combat nausea, and for controlling of seizures and tremors. Fluid therapy is also useful in that it helps the body expel the toxins more quickly.
Monitoring of the patient, and continuously reviewing the liver and kidney function are important to be sure the liver is healing well. Managing liver function is essential in the case of acute liver failure. A stay in the hospital for at least 24 hours is usually recommended.
Recovery of Coontie Palm Poisoning in Dogs
The prognosis of recovery for your dog is good if you get treatment for your dog as soon as you can and there are no underlying health conditions. Because of the possibility of kidney or liver damage, you will need to bring your dog back for blood tests in 7 to 10 days. Recovery is dependent on the amount of the cardboard palm your dog has eaten and what symptoms have been detected. Prompt medical attention is necessary to the recovery of your dog. In addition, be sure to remove the cardboard palm from your home or move it to a place your dog cannot get to so this does not happen again. Call your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns as your pet returns to good health.