What is Croton Poisoning?
Croton plants include several varieties of ornamental plant under the heading of Codiaeum variegatum, selected for their colorful leaves. Naturally occurring chemicals known as diterpenes, including 5-deoxyingenol, are found in the bark, roots, and sap of the plant. If chewed or swallowed these chemicals will cause blistering and swelling of the mouth area, and if enough is ingested it can also cause vomiting and diarrhea. Repeated skin contact with the sap can also cause an eczema-like reaction in both humans and canines.
The scientific name for croton is Codiaeum variegatum. It is a tropical plant selected for its colorful leaves. Chemicals from the bark, roots, and sap can cause severe discomfort if chewed or swallowed.
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Symptoms of Croton Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms that occur due to ingestion of the croton plant are generally mild and rarely require any form of hospitalization. It is speculated that the chemical that causes the reaction, 5-deoxyingenol, is a co-carcinogen in addition to being an irritant to skin tissues.
- Abdominal pain
- Blistering in mouth
- Eye irritation
- Irritation to mucous membranes
- Skin irritation
There are several different varieties of croton classified as a Codiaeum variegatum, grown for their colorful leaves. Croton plants go by a number of various names including Joseph’s coat and variegated laurel. All varieties of croton shrub contain 5-deoxyingenol and can cause similar symptoms as the irritant passes through the digestive tract. These plants are also known for causing eczema-like dermatitis where the skin is exposed to the sap. Other plants which contain varying amounts of the toxin 5-deoxyingenol can include:
- Euphorbia milii (cancer weed, petty spurge, radium weed)
- Euphorbia peplus (Christ's crown, crown-of-thorns, the Christ's thorn)
- Euphorbia pulcherrima (poinsettia)
Causes of Croton Poisoning in Dogs
The symptoms of poisoning from the croton plant are caused by naturally occurring chemicals known as diterpenes, including 5-deoxyingenol. These diterpenes developed in the bark, roots, and sap of the plants as a chemical defense against herbivores, and is especially toxic to horses and cattle. While ingestion of the plant can cause mild to moderate distress for most other types of animals, it is generally not fatal.
Diagnosis of Croton Poisoning in Dogs
If you see your pet ingesting the plant, identification may be sufficient for a preliminary diagnosis of the origin of your pet’s malaise. If you did not observe your pet ingesting the croton plant, your veterinarian may recommend that your pet make a visit to the office based on the symptoms provided. This is always the wisest decision when there is an event of ingestion of a potentially toxic plant. Your veterinarian will want to take particular note of any opportunistic sampling of trash, human food, compost, or household items in addition to any prescriptions or supplements that your pet is taking concurrently. This is done in an attempt to rule out any dangerous interactions or other serious toxins.
A complete blood count is generally taken at this time, as well as a biochemistry profile and urinalysis to reveal any diseases, toxins, or imbalances for proper treatment. Any spots of dermatitis noticed on your pet’s skin from contact with the sap will also be inspected at this time. If your dog has consumed enough plant material that vomiting is occurring, then the vomitus will also be examined and tested for toxins. Plant material found in the vomit often helps the veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Croton Poisoning in Dogs
Initial treatment will start with a thorough rinsing of the mouth and affected areas with clean water to remove as much of the toxin from exposed tissue as possible. In most cases, the discomfort and unpleasant taste will prevent most canines from ingesting much of the actual plant material and so rinsing the mouth area may be all the treatment that is required. Your dog may also appreciate an ice cube to eat to reduce minor pain and swelling in the mouth. When the reaction is more serious, your veterinarian may also recommend an appropriate pain reliever or antihistamine to give your dog to reduce swelling and discomfort to the mouth and skin.
If vomiting or diarrhea become excessive, your veterinarian will most likely recommend visiting their office for supportive treatment. Supportive treatment that will be administered at the doctor’s office will include IV fluids to prevent dehydration and imbalances, and if an antihistamine was not previously dispensed it may be injected at this time. Gastroprotective medications such as Imodium or Pepcid AC may also be recommended to prevent any damage from occurring to the lining of the patient’s stomach.
Recovery of Croton Poisoning in Dogs
In most cases, the effects of the chemicals will disappear in just a few hours. Aged pets, or animals with underlying diseases, may react differently to a plant poisoning than a healthy pet, and may take longer to recover. If larger than normal quantities were ingested or if your dog has a sensitivity to the chemical in the plant, excessive nausea and vomiting may occur. Early therapy for dogs showing gastric distress generally involves withholding food until vomiting has stopped for at least 12 hours. This technique is designed to give the dog’s stomach and intestines time to recover from the spasms caused by vomiting.
Small amounts of crushed ice or water should be offered often during this time to avoid dehydration. After the initial withholding period advised by the veterinarian, offer soft, bland foods for the next 24 hours or so. The ideal diet after withholding food includes one easily-digestible carbohydrate along with a mild protein source. Cooked rice, pasta or potatoes make suitable carbohydrates, and appropriate proteins could include non-fat cottage cheese, unseasoned boiled ground beef, or skinless white chicken meat.