What is Fern Palm Poisoning?
The fern palm is a popular plant inside and out, thanks to its hardy nature. It brings a pop of color to any yard or to the inside of any home. However, while it may be aesthetically pleasing and be easy to care for, it can potentially kill your dog. If your dog ingests any part of this plant, he will experience toxicity varying from moderate to severe. Gastrointestinal hemorrhaging is commonly the first symptom to be seen. If left untreated, and sometimes even with treatment, your dog will develop liver failure and succumb to the toxin.
The fern palm is an evergreen, tree-like plant native to many tropical and subtropical regions. If your dog eats any part of this plant, it needs to be treated as a medical emergency. Take him to a veterinarian clinic as soon as possible.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Fern Palm Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms of fern palm poisoning will vary from case to case as well as the timeframe of onset. Symptoms may include:
- Vomiting (may contain blood)
- Dark, tarry stools
- Bloody diarrhea
- Increased thirst
- Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
- Liver damage
- Liver failure
Liver failure can be seen 2 to 3 days after ingestion.
The fern palm is also known as sago palm and cycads. It belongs to the family Cycadaceae with a scientific name of Cyacas spp. Any species of this plant is toxic to your dog. This plant is naturally found in tropical environments and in homes as ornamental plants. The fern palm is a tree-like, evergreen, fern-like plant but is not actually a fern.
Causes of Fern Palm Poisoning in Dogs
Fern palm contains cycasin, a naturally occurring toxic glycoside that leads to liver necrosis and gastrointestinal irritation. It also contains a beta-methylamino-L-alanine which works as a neurotoxin and causes the symptoms affecting the central nervous system. Fern palm also contains one other toxin that is unknown but can possibly also cause symptoms affecting the nervous system. The entire fern palm plant is toxic when ingested by your dog. The seeds and fruit of the plant contain the highest concentration of the toxin. It is said the leaves of young plants are very palatable to dogs which leads to accidental toxicity.
Diagnosis of Fern Palm Poisoning in Dogs
When you first arrive at the veterinarian’s office, she will begin by performing a physical exam on your dog. This will allow for proper assessment of your dog’s symptoms and check if any of his vitals are abnormal. If your dog vomited before you arrived at the veterinarian’s, collect a sample and take it with you so the veterinarian can examine the contents. If your dog is experiencing diarrhea, a sample may be taken to rule out other causes of this symptom such as a bacterial overgrowth or internal parasite.
The veterinarian will start diagnostic tests by performing blood work. The results will inform the doctor how well your dog’s internal organs are filtering his blood. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will provide the veterinarian with needed information for proper assessment. If the veterinarian suspects or is concerned about dehydration, 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.
A radiograph may be taken to allow the veterinarian a closer look at your dog’s liver if he is experiencing issues. The veterinarian may also want to perform an ultrasound as another form of assessment of the liver. The radiograph will also allow the veterinarian to evaluate your dog’s gastrointestinal system for blockage, hemorrhaging, or any other abnormality.
Treatment of Fern Palm Poisoning in Dogs
Unfortunately, there is no antidote for fern palm poisoning, but your veterinarian can provide supportive therapies.
Fluid therapy with added electrolytes will be started immediately to flush the toxin from your dog’s body as quickly as possible. 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 or too much time has passed since ingestion, she may administer activated charcoal to bind and absorb the remaining toxin from the fern palm before the body does. Since this plant causes severe toxicity symptoms, the veterinarian may also go as far as to flush your dog’s stomach in an attempt to save him.
Your dog’s bilirubin and hepatic enzyme levels will be monitored constantly for at least 72 hours. If levels are out of range, the veterinarian will administer therapies as needed. If your dog is suffering any type of depression, seizures, ataxia or any other mood related symptoms, your veterinarian may move him to a quiet, confined place to prevent any accidental self injury and additional medications will be given as needed.
Recovery of Fern Palm Poisoning in Dogs
If your dog ingested any part of the fern palm, it needs to be treated as a medical emergency. The sooner you get your dog to the veterinarian the higher his chances of a recovery. Even if you do seek veterinary care as quick as possible, your dog may not recover. Once clinical symptoms begin to show, your dog’s prognosis becomes guarded.
The best thing you can do for your dog is prevent fern palm poisoning in the first place. If you have this plant in or around your home, keep it in an area your dog does not have access to. If you are out on walks, do not let your dog eat unknown foliage. While your dog may not normally ingest plants, with the fatality rate caused by the fern palm, it is not worth the risk.