What is Hercules' Club Poisoning?
The Hercules' club can grow up to 12 feet high and has prickly leaves, a thorny trunk, white flowers that bloom in the summer, and berries that are dark red or black when ripe. The unripe berries (green to pink) and the roots are the most toxic because they have the highest concentration of araliin. In fact, eating the berries may be fatal if your dog eats a large enough amount (more than five). This causes severe vomiting (often bloody) and extremely bloody diarrhea. However, in most cases, dogs will not eat more than one because of the burning sensation when eaten.
Hercules' club poisoning is caused by the ingestion of the bark, foliage, roots, or unripe berries of the aralia spinosa. The toxic substance known to cause side effects is araliin, which is a glucoside known to cause burn-like dermatitis and gastric distress, and eating a large amount of unripe berries can even cause death in some dogs. A glucoside is a glycoside made from glucose that is only found in plants and is used in many things from food products to cleaners. Although some parts of the Hercules' club are not as toxic as others (the foliage), it is recommended that you take your dog to the animal hospital or clinic if any part was eaten.
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Symptoms of Hercules' Club Poisoning in Dogs
The signs of Hercules' club poisoning vary depending on how much and which part of the plant your dog eats. In addition, some dogs are more susceptible than others, such as toy breeds and those with any kind of chronic illness that lowers the immune system. The most commonly reported symptoms of Hercules' club poisoning are:
- Burning skin, lips, mouth, and mucous membranes
- Excessive drooling
- Abdominal pain
- Appetite loss
- Vomiting (severe and with blood if a large amount of berries or roots are eaten)
- Diarrhea (bloody if a large amount of berries or roots are eaten)
- Death (if a large amount of berries or roots are eaten)
- Possibly liver inflammation and liver damage
The scientific name of Hercules’ club is Aralia spinosa, and it is a part of the Araliaceae family, which is one of the largest plant families there is. Some other common names for the Hercules' club are:
- Devil's walking stick
- Prickly ash
- Prickly elder
Causes of Hercules' Club Poisoning in Dogs
The toxic substance in the Hercules' club plant is a glucoside called araliin, which irritates the mucous membranes and causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. It is also suspected to cause liver inflammation and possible liver damage.
Diagnosis of Hercules' Club Poisoning in Dogs
As with any suspected poisoning, especially if you did not actually witness your dog consuming the Hercules' club, other illnesses and infections must be ruled out. The veterinarian will want to know as many details about the incident as you can remember, such as how much and what part was eaten, and whether you have seen any symptoms. In addition, it is really helpful if you can bring a picture or a sample from the Hercules' club. If you do not have your pet’s medical records with you, make sure to tell the veterinarian what medications your dog has taken recently and any recent illnesses.
Next, your veterinarian will do a complete physical examination of your pet to check body temperature, weight, height, skin and coat condition, blood pressure, pulse rate, oxygen level, breath sounds, and reflexes. She will probably take a good look at your dog’s eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. In addition, the veterinarian may do an endoscopy to get a look at your dog’s airway to make sure there are no plant particles or inflammation to cause breathing trouble. This is done with a long, thin tube called an endoscope. Your dog will be sedated to reduce stress during the procedure. Radiographic imaging (x-rays) of your dog’s abdomen will be needed to check out your dog’s stomach and intestinal tract. This is important to verify if the plant particles have passed through your pet’s system or if there are any blockages.
Finally, laboratory tests are performed, such as a hematocrit and packed cell volume (HCT/PCV) to check for dehydration, anemia, and kidney functioning. A complete blood count (CBC) measures the amount of platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells, and can tell the quality of the blood cells as well. A blood chemistry panel tests for various enzymes and chemicals, which can alert the veterinarian to any organ functioning problems and the quantity and quality of the electrolytes and blood glucose. Urine and stool samples may also be conducted to check for parasites and infections.
Treatment of Hercules' Club Poisoning in Dogs
Treatment depends on your pet’s condition and test results. The usual protocol for treating animals with plant toxicity is emesis for evacuation, detoxification with intravenous (IV) fluids, and observation. For severe cases, the veterinarian may also decide to admit your dog to the hospital for observation and medication as needed.
The first thing your veterinarian will want to do is get the poison out of your dog’s system, so to promote emesis (vomiting), she will give your pet peroxide or ipecac. This is usually followed by activated charcoal by mouth to absorb any poison remaining in your dog’s stomach and intestinal tract. If necessary, she may decide to perform a gastric lavage to be certain all of the plant particles are out of your dog’s system as well.
Fluids will be administered by intravenous (IV) for detoxification. This process will flush the kidneys and decrease the chance of dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea.
Medication is usually not given unless your dog consumed a large amount of Hercules’ club berries or roots. Medications that may be used are stomach protectants and antacids, or antiemetics to control the vomiting and diarrhea.
If your dog ate a large amount of roots or berries, or if the treatment is not working well, the veterinarian may keep your pet for 24-36 hours for observation. If not, you will be able to observe your dog from home.
Recovery of Hercules' Club Poisoning in Dogs
As long as treatment was started within a few hours, your dog should be fine in a few hours. If berries or roots were eaten, it may be several days to a week, but prognosis is good if your dog received treatment right away. Watch your dog closely for a few days to make sure there are no complications and call your veterinarian if you have any concerns.