What is False Bittersweet Poisoning?
American bittersweet, or Celastrus scandens, is native to North America and was used historically for a variety of medical ailments by Native Americans. False bittersweet, also known as American bittersweet, is made up of woody vines that exhibit attractive red or orange berries on their branches in the fall and are very similar in appearance to the European bittersweet. The toxins are believed to be found throughout the plant, but they are the most concentrated within the small bright berries and if eaten in large quantities can cause serious gastrointestinal distress. Animals with a sensitivity to this plant or who ingest massive amounts of this plant may develop symptoms of central nervous system involvement as well.
False bittersweet, named for its similarity to European bittersweet, is a woody vine with small red and orange berries. Ingestion of this plant may cause gastrointestinal distress as well as central nervous system troubles.
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Symptoms of False Bittersweet Poisoning in Dogs
In most cases, only the gastrointestinal symptoms will occur from the ingestion of this plant. In cases where your pet eats large volumes of the plant material signs indicating that the central nervous system has been affected may show up after several hours.
- Abdominal pain
- Contact rash
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty breathing
- Elevated heart rate
- Excessive drooling
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of coordination
- Progressive muscular weakness
- Weak pulse
False bittersweet, also known as American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), should not be confused with European bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara). The European bittersweet plant is a perennial vine in the Solanum genus of plants, which also includes deadly nightshade, belladonna, and eggplant. It contains many of the same toxins that it’s more dangerous relatives do, although at lower concentrations, and it is also known as bittersweet nightshade and blue bindweed. Both types of “bittersweet” are woody vines that produce showy red or orange berries on their branches in the fall and are quite similar in appearance. Although they are from very different plant families, both types of bittersweet are mildly to moderately toxic. Poisoning from the European bittersweet is more likely to involve the central nervous system and exhibit tremors or convulsions, where the majority of the symptoms seen in toxicity from the false bittersweet are gastrointestinal in nature.
Causes of False Bittersweet Poisoning in Dogs
False bittersweet, or Celastrus scandens, is native to North America and was used historically by both Native Americans and pioneers to treat the symptoms of tuberculosis and to induce vomiting. Although false bittersweet is known as a mild to moderate toxin, very little research has been done on the specific compounds responsible for this toxicity, although glycosides and saponins are suspected sources.
Diagnosis of False Bittersweet Poisoning in Dogs
If you discover your pet consuming any part of the false bittersweet plant, the identification of the plant may be sufficient to make a preliminary poisoning diagnosis. Your dog’s doctor will gather information from you regarding the amount of plant material ingested, how long ago this occurred, and what parts of the plant were eaten, as these factors will assist in determining the most effective treatment plan for your animal.
If the ingestion of the toxin was not witnessed, the symptoms would prompt your veterinarian to take note of any opportunistic eating that was observed or suspected. The initial physical examination will help rule out gastrointestinal obstructions, and a blood chemistry profile and complete blood count will most likely be requested at this time in order to determine which toxin is responsible for your pet’s distress. Plant material that is found in the canine’s vomit or excrement may assist in establishing the final diagnosis.
Treatment of False Bittersweet Poisoning in Dogs
If the amount of the plant ingested was slight, and it occurred within a short period of time, your veterinarian might choose to instruct you on how to induce vomiting safely in your pet. If this is the case, at home care may be sufficient in easing your dog’s discomfort. The berries of this plant are very bitter, so large ingestions are rare. If more significant amounts of this plant were consumed, or if there are indications of nervous system involvement you should transport your dog to the nearest clinic.
After the veterinarian has completed the initial physical exam, a gastric lavage may be done to move as much of the plant material from the stomach as possible, and activated charcoal will generally be administered in an attempt to soak up as many of the toxic compounds as possible before they dissolve into the bloodstream. General supportive measures are likely to include IV fluids to prevent dehydration and combinations of sugars and electrolytes to counteract any imbalances caused by the poisoning. If tremors or convulsions do occur, your veterinarian is likely to administer diazepam to help control these type of reactions.
Recovery of False Bittersweet Poisoning in Dogs
In most cases, the effects of poisoning from the false bittersweet plant will disappear within just a few hours. If unusually large volumes of plant material are consumed by your pet or if your dog is sensitive to the compounds found in the plant, excessive nausea and vomiting may occur. One of the biggest dangers with copious vomiting and diarrhea is the very real danger of dehydration. Your companion should be monitored carefully for signs of dehydration such as exhaustion, excessive panting, sunken eyes, loss of elasticity in the skin, and unsteadiness when standing. These symptoms may signal that the dog is in serious distress, and your veterinarian should be contacted immediately for further instructions.