What is Devil's Backbone Poisoning?
The devil's backbone is a flowering plant that goes by many names making is slightly difficult to identify. The flower has a unique look to it while still being pretty. These qualities lead it to be popular in homes and gardens. However, before you bring this plant into your home environment, know that it a toxic threat to your dog. If he ingests a part of this plant, he may develop toxicity symptoms that range from mild to moderate and can even result in death. Decontamination of the gastrointestinal tract is imperative. Even if you only suspect your dog ingested a part of this plant, take him to a veterinarian immediately. The sooner you seek veterinary care for him, the higher his chances of a full recovery.
The devil's backbone is a flowering plant consisting of hundreds of tiny flowers to create larger clusters. While this plant is aesthetically pleasing, it is toxic to your dog. If you believe your dog ingested any part of this plant, contact your veterinarian immediately.
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Symptoms of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Dogs
Onset and severity of symptoms of devil's backbone poisoning in dogs may vary from case to case. Symptoms may include:
- Dilated pupils
- Abnormal heart rate
The devil's backbone plant is also known by the common names of mother-in-law plant, kalanchoe, mother of millions, and chandelier. In the scientific world, the devil's backbone belongs to the Crassulaceae family with the scientific name of Kalanchoe tubiflora. This flower comes in a variety of colors and blooms with hundreds of small flowers creating larger flowering forms.
Causes of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Dogs
The devil's backbone plant contains a cardiac glycoside toxin known as bufadienolides. This toxin interferes with the electrolyte balance of the heart muscle. Cardiac glycosides inhibit the sodium-potassium pump which allows the heart to work more efficiently. Cardiac glycosides are medications commonly prescribed to dogs with heart problems. However, when given to or ingested by a healthy dog, it leads to toxicity and possibly even death.
Diagnosis of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Dogs
A physical examination of your pet will be the first step of the diagnosis, unless your pet needs emergency care for stabilization. Blood work will be performed to give the veterinarian a broad look as to how the internal organs are functioning as a result of the poisoning. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will provide the veterinarian with needed information for proper assessment. A packed cell volume (PCV) may also be performed to determine hydration status. The veterinarian may also perform a urinalysis for further evaluation of kidney function.
If your dog vomits while at the clinic, the veterinarian will examine the contents for any evidence as to what he ingested. If your dog is experiencing diarrhea, a fecal sample may be taken and tests performed to rule out internal parasites or bacterial overgrowth.
A radiograph may be taken to allow the veterinarian a closer look at your dog’s heart if he is experiencing cardiac issues. The veterinarian may also want to perform an ultrasound or an ECG as another form of assessment of the heart. If you witnessed your dog ingesting this plant, bring it with you to the veterinarian’s. This will allow for proper identification of the plant and therefore the toxin it contains.
Treatment of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Dogs
Fluid therapy will be started immediately to flush the toxin from your dog’s body quickly and efficiently. Your veterinarian may induce vomiting in your dog to expel any remaining plant particles from his stomach. If the vomit is clear and unsuccessful at producing any plant remnants, she may administer activated charcoal to bind and absorb the remaining toxin before the body does.
Your dog will be put on heart monitoring equipment to allow constant readings of the heart which will allow the veterinarian to observe exactly how the heart is functioning. If your dog’s heart rate is abnormal or part of his heart is malfunctioning, the veterinarian may administer medications to counteract these abnormalities. Your dog will be kept on monitoring equipment until his heart returns to its normal function.
Additional medications will be administered according to your dog’s needs. For example, if your dog is seizing, an anti-seizure medication will be administered. If your dog is suffering incoordination, weakness, confusion or any related symptoms, the veterinarian will try to keep him calm and quiet to avoid any unnecessary excitement.
Recovery of Devil's Backbone Poisoning in Dogs
Toxicity from the devil's backbone plant may be considered moderate to severe. The severity of the toxicity will be determined by the amount your dog consumed. If your dog does not receive veterinary attention, his chance for a full recovery declines greatly. While toxicity symptoms can be mild such as gastrointestinal related symptoms, you should still take your dog to the veterinarian. You want to prevent any symptoms that may affect the heart from developing. Once the heart is affected, you must seek veterinary care in order for your dog to survive.
Your dog may be kept in the hospital until all symptoms subside and all of his laboratory work comes back normal. Even if you do seek veterinary attention as soon as possible, your dog may not recover. To prevent any of this from happening, always educate yourself on the plants you to purchase. If you have the devil's backbone plant in your garden, be sure your dog access it. If you have it indoors, keep it at a height your dog cannot reach. Even the most well behaved dogs get curious and the consequences could be fatal.