What is Emerald Feather Poisoning?
Emerald feather is a decorative plant with dense fern-like foliage that is often planted in gardens outdoors in warm climates as well as used indoors as an ornamental plant. It is closely related to the asparagus family, although it is often misidentified as a fern. In the spring the plant will grow small white flowers, followed by small red berries. If your pet consumes these berries it can cause gastrointestinal distress with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea. Repeated contact of the sap on the skin can cause an unpleasant rash to both canines and humans.
The berries of the emerald feather can cause gastrointestinal distress, possibly causing vomiting and diarrhea when eaten, and the sap can induce a contact rash.
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Symptoms of Emerald Feather Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms from ingestion of the plant known as the emerald feather are generally mild. In most cases the toxin is only concentrated enough to cause distress when the berries are eaten. Repeated exposure to the sap of the plant can cause a temporary allergic dermatitis.
Symptoms of ingestion
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms of dermal reaction
There are actually two varieties of emerald feather that look exceptionally similar with the same mildly noxious properties. Asparagus densiflorus and Asparagus aethiopicus both originate in southern Africa and until recently were often considered the same plant. The Asparagus aethiopicus is slightly hardier in cold weather and is the more common variety of the two. They do well planted in gardens outdoors in tropical or subtropical climates, or grown as an ornamental plant indoors but don’t generally thrive in cold weather conditions. The dense feathery plumes are also valued as an addition to flower arrangements. These plants have gone by a number of names, including:
- Asparagus fern
- Emerald fern
- Foxtail fern
- Lace fern
- Plume asparagus
- Plumosa fern
- Sprengeri fern
- Sprenger's asparagus
Causes of Emerald Feather Poisoning in Dogs
The toxic element of the emerald feather is a type of naturally occurring steroid known as sapogenin. This compound is concentrated within the bright red berries, and is the cause of both the gastrointestinal distress of the patient and the dermal reaction from the sap. Skin reactions to the sap are generally short-lived, but they tend to intensify and last longer with repeated exposures.
Diagnosis of Emerald Feather Poisoning in Dogs
If you see your pet consuming the emerald feather then identification may be all that is required to diagnose the origin of your pet’s discomfort. If the consumption of the plant was not witnessed your veterinarian may recommend a visit to the office based on the symptoms presented. Your veterinarian will want to take special note of any opportunistic eating in addition to any prescriptions or supplements that your dog may also be taking. This information is used to rule out any drug interactions or other toxins. A biochemistry profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis will likely be requested in order to reveal any diseases, toxins, or imbalances. Any blemishes of the skin or dermatitis from contact with the sap will also be examined at this time. If your dog has ingested enough of the plant material that vomiting has occurred, then the vomitus will also be examined and tested for possible toxins. Plant material found in the vomit may help confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Emerald Feather Poisoning in Dogs
Treatment will generally start with a thorough rinsing of the mouth with clean, cool water in order to remove as much of the toxin from exposed tissue as possible. Rinsing of any skin that has come into contact with the sap will help prevent further dermatitis from exposure. Your dog may appreciate an ice cube to eat as well, to reduce the minor pain and swelling in the mouth. In most cases, the discomfort and unpleasant taste of the plant will prevent most canines from eating much of the actual material so rinsing the mouth area thoroughly may be all the treatment that is required. When the reaction is more severe your veterinarian is likely to recommend an appropriate anti-inflammatory or pain reliever to give your dog to reduce the swelling and discomfort. If vomiting or diarrhea are occurring excessively your veterinarian may also suggest coming into the office for supportive treatment. IV fluid treatment will be administered at the veterinarian’s office to prevent dehydration and if an antihistamine was not previously dispensed it may be administered at this time as an intramuscular injection. Medications such as Imodium or Pepcid AC may also be recommended for their gastroprotective properties.
Recovery of Emerald Feather Poisoning in Dogs
In most cases, the effects will dissipate within a few hours. Larger than normal doses or a sensitivity to the chemical in the berries may cause excessive nausea and vomiting. The early therapy for dogs showing gastric distress generally involves withholding food until vomiting has ceased for at least 12 hours, and this may ultimately be what your veterinarian recommends. This technique is often very effective in giving the dog’s stomach muscles time to recover from repeated vomiting. Water and crushed ice should be offered frequently during this time, but only in small amounts to prevent additional vomiting from occurring. After the initial withholding period only soft, bland foods should be offered for approximately 24 hours. The ideal recovery diet would include one easily-digestible carbohydrate and a mild protein source. Suitable carbohydrates could include cooked rice, pasta, or potatoes. The protein would be something like unseasoned boiled ground beef, nonfat cottage cheese, or skinless white chicken meat.