What is Golden Ragwort Poisoning?
Golden ragwort is an attractive flowering perennial that is about six to fifteen inches tall with oval leaves and yellow flowers that look similar to sunflowers. Although some consider it a troublesome weed, the Cherokee Indians still use the root for tea as a treatment for cardiovascular problems and as a birth control aid. However, because of golden ragwort’s toxic alkaloids it is not used as much anymore. These substances can cause liver disease and failure, which is fatal for most dogs eventually if not treated by a veterinary professional. The signs of golden ragwort poisoning are extreme sleepiness, abdominal swelling, yellow skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), and seizures. This is a medical emergency and you should immediately take your pet to the veterinarian or veterinary hospital.
The golden ragwort plant is in a group of plants that are considered noxious weeds, but may be found almost anywhere in the United States and the United Kingdom. In fact, the government of the United Kingdom created the Ragwort Control Act of 2003 because it is considered to be a harmful plant that may kill animals who eat it. Golden ragwort contains eight proven types of pyrrolizidine alkaloids and ten more that have not yet been proven. These alkaloids cause a condition called pyrrolizidine alkalosis, which can damage the liver permanently and is fatal if enough golden ragwort is consumed. Even if your dog only eats a little bit every once in awhile, the effects are accumulative because breaking down the alkaloids kills blood cells in the liver. Eventually, the damage to the cells causes liver failure, which is usually fatal. If you believe your dog ate any part of a golden ragwort plant, you need to take your pet to the emergency animal clinic or hospital right away, even if there are no obvious symptoms.
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Symptoms of Golden Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
The symptoms can vary, depending on the amount eaten, size and health of your dog, and part of the plant that was consumed. The most often reported signs of golden ragwort poisoning are:
- Abdominal pain
- Extreme sleepiness
- Head pressing
- Yellowing of skin and the whites of the eyes
- Appetite loss
- Dark red mucous membranes
- Liver failure (jaundice, fluid retention)
Golden ragwort (packera aurea-formerly senecio-aurea) is part of the Asteraceae family, which is one of the largest flower families. This flower is known by many other names, such as:
- Cocash weed
- Cough weed
- False valerian
- Female regulator
- Golden groundsel
- Golden Senecio
- Life root
- Squaw weed
- St. James wort
- Uncum root
- Waw weed
Causes of Golden Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
There are seven pyrrolizidine alkaloids in golden ragwort.
Diagnosis of Golden Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
The veterinarian will need as much information from you as possible about what and how much your dog ate. If you are able to get a piece of the plant or a photograph of it, this may help with diagnosis. Since you will probably be going to an emergency veterinarian or clinic, the veterinarian may not know anything about your pet, so if you have your dog’s records you can bring them, but it is a good idea to tell the veterinary staff if your dog is on any kind of medication or has had any illnesses or injuries lately.
The veterinarian will do a physical examination which includes height, weight, body temperature, reflexes, blood pressure, heart rate, and breath sounds. A thorough look at your dog’s skin and coat will be done as well, to check for signs of underlying disorder or injury. Although the veterinarian will go by your information and your dog’s symptoms, some tests need to be done to confirm and to rule out other illnesses. A complete blood count will usually show toxins, a blood chemistry profile gives the veterinarian your dog’s levels of glutamate dehydrogenase, bilirubin, and fibrinogen, and a hepatic assay checks for pyrrolic metabolites. Abdominal x-rays, ultrasound, and possibly a CT scan will be performed so the veterinarian can get a look at the liver. A liver biopsy may be done if there are any signs of damage.
Treatment of Golden Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
Golden ragwort poisoning is treated differently than other poisonings because of the toxicity of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, it can be fatal if not treated quickly. Methionine, an amino acid, and glucose (sugar) will be given intravenously. Unfortunately, if liver damage has already been done, there is not much the veterinarian can do besides palliative care.
Fluid and Oxygen Therapy
Fluids will be continued to flush your dog’s system and oxygen will be given as needed. It can be helpful in repairing the liver to maintain oxygen levels in the blood.
Hospitalization and Observation
Your dog will be admitted to the hospital if there is any sign of liver damage. The veterinarian may want to observe your dog for several days if the liver has any damage.
Recovery of Golden Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
Unfortunately, if your dog has any liver damage, the outlook is not good. It is hard for your dog’s body to repair the liver when in such poor condition. The best chance your pet has is if you get treatment immediately if you see your dog eat any golden ragwort. If there was no liver damage, chances are good if treatment was prompt. Be sure to bring your dog back to the clinic for follow-up examinations to check liver enzyme levels.