What is Cornstalk Plant Poisoning?
The cornstalk plant, also known as the corn plant, is a common hedge plant found throughout tropical Africa. It is adapted to live in a climate without frost, so it does not grow wild in the United States and other temperate zones, but it is frequently found as an indoor houseplant. The cornstalk plant, Dracaena fragrans, is part of the Dracaena genus and bears no relationship to the maize plant grown for food. Several other Dracaena species, known by the names lucky bamboo and dragon tree, are also grown as houseplants. All these plants are now classified as part of the Asparagaceae family, although previously they have been identified as either their own specific family (Dracaena) or part of the Agavaceae family. The cornstalk or corn plant has a sweet smelling flower, a thick woody stalk, and bright green leaves accented with corn-yellow (hence the name).
It is considered toxic to dogs, although symptoms are generally not severe and there are no records of deaths. Gastrointestinal upset, with excessive drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea, are the most common sign your dog has eaten this plant. More extreme symptoms like weakness, lack of coordination and dilated pupils are possible, but this is more likely in cats than in dogs. It’s not known specifically what causes toxicity in the cornstalk plant, but some experts have suggested there may be some alkaloidal content as well as saponins, a type of glycoside with a foaming element that is found in many different plants. Regardless of any other symptoms of toxicity, dogs will be unable to digest the plant, so it is likely to make them vomit. More severe reactions could occur if a large amount is eaten, especially in a small dog.
The cornstalk plant is an indoor house plant that is moderately toxic for pets. In dogs, it causes symptoms of gastrointestinal upset with vomiting and diarrhea.
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Symptoms of Cornstalk Plant Poisoning in Dogs
These are the symptoms you may see after your dog has eaten cornstalk plant.
- Drooling (hypersalivation)
- Lack of coordination
- Dilated pupils (primarily cats)
Several different types of cornstalk plant varieties can have slightly different leaves. All types have the potential to be toxic to dogs.
- Massangeana – the most common variety with a yellow stripe running down the middle of the leaves
- Lindenii – yellow accent near the edge of the leaves
- Victoriae (Victoria) – yellow strip is more defined than Massangeana and the leaves are smaller and more triangular
Causes of Cornstalk Plant Poisoning in Dogs
- Cornstalk plant in your house if eaten, will cause digestive issues
- Your pet may choke on plants that ball up in the mouth
- It may be difficult for your pet to pass the plant matter in the stool
- Vomiting is a sign of a digestion problem
- Dog that likes to eat plants must be monitored in case a plant is toxic
Diagnosis of Cornstalk Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Diagnosis of cornstalk plant poisoning is based on a history of ingestion. If your dog has symptoms of vomiting, check for signs of chewing on all your indoor plants as many woody leaves and tough grasses will cause digestive issues. It’s a good idea to call your veterinarian or a poison helpline anytime your dog eats a non-food plant, especially if there are significant symptoms or if you’re not sure how toxic the plant may be. Be prepared to give an exact description of the plant (with the species name if possible), as well as your dog’s breed and weight. Remove any plant material that is still in your dog’s mouth to reduce the chance of choking, but don’t induce vomiting unless recommended by a professional.
If a large amount was ingested, or there are symptoms other than mild vomiting, the veterinarian may ask to see your dog. Further diagnosis could include blood and urine tests to see if there are any metabolic imbalances or signs of a more severe toxicity. X-rays may be taken if the veterinarian is worried there might be a ball of undigested plant material in your dog’s stomach.
Treatment of Cornstalk Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Most cases of cornstalk plant poisoning won’t require treatment. Your dog will vomit the indigestible material and any other toxins will be metabolized and excreted. However if a very large amount is ingested, treatment is advisable. The veterinarian will be able to limit absorption and help your dog excrete the material faster. Emetic medication will be given if there is plant material still stuck in your dog’s stomach. Activated charcoal can help to reduce absorption of toxins in the gastrointestinal tract. Cathartic medication induces bowel movements and helps to move plant material through the system.
Other treatments will be symptomatic. If your dog is still vomiting and there is no plant material left in the stomach, the veterinarian may need to give antiemetic medication. Increased fluid intake or intravenous fluids and electrolytes could be necessary if dehydration is an issue.
Recovery of Cornstalk Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Most dogs will recover from cornstalk plant poisoning however recurrence could be an issue if you have a cornstalk plant in your house. These plants are easy to grow indoors since they do well with varying amounts of light, and one NASA study even found they reduced the harmful effects of some indoor pollutants. Try growing other plants or grasses that are safe for dogs, either in or around your house, and train your dog to eat them instead of the cornstalk plant. Put the plant in a room or area where the dog rarely goes. If repeated problems become an issue, you may need to consider getting rid of the plant altogether.
Cornstalk Plant Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hi my dog ate the tips of 4 leaves from a crosstalk plant. She threw up 3 times but seems to have gotten it out. She seems ok no panting ahe is resting as normal. Should we be concerned?
Most cases of cornstalk plant poisoning are generally mild with a dog vomiting the consumed plant and may have some diarrhoea and weakness for a day or so; large quantities of the plant may lead to more severe symptoms including incoordination (walking drunk). If Misty has just vomited, I would keep an eye on her and ensure she remains hydrated. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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