What is Indian Rubber Plant Poisoning?
The Indian rubber plant grows to over 100 feet tall and is part of the fig tree family so it grows fruits similar to figs. These huge trees are native to the West Indies, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Burma, and Nepal. It has also been naturalized to grow in Sri Lanka and Florida. The large oval leaves are a glossy green, can grow as large as 15 inches, and has a thick white liquid that contains latex. While this latex is sometimes used in making rubber, it is now rarely used for that purpose because the para rubber tree is the main source for commercial rubber manufacturers.
The Indian rubber plant is a toxic tree closely related to the fig tree and ficus, which all contain two toxins; ficin and ficusin. These two poisons can make your dog seriously ill and cause a nasty burning rash where the sap comes in contact with the skin. Ficin is a proteolytic enzyme producing dermal and gastric irritation that also weakens the protein in your dog’s body. This is dangerous because protein is essential in building muscles and bones, repairing tissues, and creating hormones. Ficusin is a natural furocoumarin which has been known to cause liver damage and death if not treated right away. This is a delayed reaction, taking approximately six to eight weeks to show symptoms, so if your dog eats any part of an Indian rubber plant, it is important to go to a veterinary clinic or hospital.
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Symptoms of Indian Rubber Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Indian rubber plant poisoning produces a wide variety of side effects ranging from mild to severe, and may be fatal without prompt treatment. Some of the signs of Indian rubber plant toxicity are:
- Oral irritation and rash
- Pawing at the mouth and face
- Redness and sunburn from the photosensitizing (long-term effects can lead to skin cancer)
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal swelling and tenderness
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes, fluid retention, lethargy)
- Liver damage
The clinical name for the Indian rubber plant is ficus elastic from the Moraceae family. It is also known by many other names, some of which are:
- Fig tree
- Rubber fig
- Rubber bush or tree
- Weeping fig
Causes of Indian Rubber Plant Poisoning in Dogs
There are two known poisonous substances in the Indian rubber plant that can produce toxic reactions in dogs.
- Ficin is an enzyme that causes damage to protein needed for healthy muscle grown and tissue repair.
- Ficusin is a furocoumarin that can cause serious liver damage if not treated right away.
Diagnosis of Indian Rubber Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Bring your pet to the veterinary hospital if you cannot get an emergency appointment with your usual veterinarian. Be sure to let them know that your dog ate part of an Indian rubber plant and bring a photo or a sample of the plant with you if you can. Tell the veterinarian on duty how much of the plant and what part your dog ate, and how long ago it occurred. You should also mention if your dog is on any medication or has been ill recently.
A thorough physical examination will be done, which includes weight, temperature, reflexes, coat and skin condition, blood pressure, and breath sounds. Abdominal x-rays will be done to determine if there are any blockages and to get a visual of your dog’s liver to see if there is any inflammation. An ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI may also be needed. To rule out any underlying illness or disease, the veterinarian will perform a urinalysis, complete blood count, serum analysis, liver enzyme panel, creatinine level (CREAT), packed cell volume (PCV), and hematocrit level. The ALT or AST levels will be elevated if there is any liver injury and the veterinarian may need to run another liver enzyme check.
Treatment of Indian Rubber Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Treatment for Indian rubber plant poisoning is dependent on the amount of plant that was consumed, the test results, and your dog’s overall health. In most cases, the general treatment includes evacuation, detoxification, medication, and observation.
The veterinarian will give your dog a peroxide solution or ipecac to induce emesis (vomiting) in order to remove the toxins. Activated charcoal is commonly used as well to help absorb the ficin and ficusin. This may be repeated several times depending on how much of the plant your dog ate.
A gastric lavage can be helpful in rinsing away any plant particles left in your dog’s stomach and digestive tract. In addition, intravenous (IV) fluids are given to flush the kidneys and prevent dehydration.
If your dog has any signs of liver toxicity, zinc, vitamin B, C, and K are usually given to boost the immune system and hepatic health. If necessary, your veterinarian may also give diuretics to decrease fluid retention and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Also, anti-itch cream will be applied to any areas of dermal irritation.
Your dog will most likely be kept overnight for observation just to be on the safe side.
Recovery of Indian Rubber Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Recovery chances are good as long as you obtained treatment for your pet right away. The veterinarian will let you know if you need to watch for signs of liver toxicity complications, such as liver failure, and you should come back for a repeat liver enzyme test in 7-10 days. Be sure to move the Indian rubber tree if you can, and make sure your pet does not have access to it in the future.