What is Jack-in-the-Pulpit Poisoning?
The Jack-in-the-pulpit is a herbaceous perennial with a distinctive green and purple leaf like bract that encloses the spadix of the flower. It grows naturally on rich, moist forest floors in North America. All parts of the Jack-in-the-pulpit contain calcium oxalate crystals which are insoluble. These crystals can cause intense pain and irritation to the mouth as well as the gastrointestinal system when chewed or swallowed. The irritation caused by the piercing crystals usually prevents animals from doing more than sampling the plant. In rare situations, the dog may swallow larger than normal amounts of plant material. Your canine companion may require a visit to the veterinarian’s office if that is the case.
The Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause intense pain and irritation in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract when chewed or swallowed.
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Symptoms of Jack-in-the-Pulpit Poisoning in Dogs
The Jack-in-the-pulpit plant contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals in all parts of the plant. When chewed or swallowed these crystals can cause:
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Dilated eyes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Excessive drooling
- Hoarse barking
- Labored breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness of exposed area
- Obstructed of the airway
- Pawing/rubbing at the face or mouth
- Swelling of the tongue and lips
The Arisaema triphyllum plant is a tropical plant with attractive broad leaves with conspicuous white markings. It most commonly called a Jack-in-the-pulpit but also goes by the names dumbcane and tropic snow. Several other types of plants also contain calcium oxalate crystals which can cause distress to your pet. These plants can include:
- Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
- Calla or arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
- Candelabra cactus (Euphorbia lactea)
- Charming dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia amoena)
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestrum)
- Devil’s ivy (Pothos, Epipremnum)
- Elephant’s ear (Alocasia/Caladium/Xanthosoma)
- Flamingo plant (Anthurium)
- Fruit salad plant (Monstera)
- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum)
- Philodendron (Philodendron)
- Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)
- Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
- Wild calla (Calla)
Causes of Jack-in-the-Pulpit Poisoning in Dogs
All parts of the Jack-in-the-pulpit plant contain the calcium oxalate crystals that are the cause of any injury. Calcium oxalate is a calcium salt of oxalic acid which produces both irritation and numbness to any tissues that it comes into contact with. Chewing any part of the plant usually causes immediate pain and inflammation to the mouth and throat as the tiny crystals are embedded into any soft tissues that they contact. If any of the sap or plant material is swallowed the irritation can extend to the throat and down through the gastrointestinal tract which can cause severe pain as well as swelling. Swelling of the throat can cause breathing difficulties if the airway becomes blocked.
Diagnosis of Jack-in-the-Pulpit Poisoning in Dogs
Many of the symptoms of exposure to the calcium oxalate crystals from the Jack-in-the-pulpit can be immediately apparent, so identification of the plant is often all that is required for diagnosing the cause of agony. Symptoms are sometimes known to take up to two hours to present. If you are unsure what your pet ingested, or if your dog ingested sizeable quantities of the Jack-in-the-pulpit plant, your veterinarian may recommend a visit to the office. The veterinarian will take the history of symptoms from you as well as any information about inappropriate eating, in addition to any concurrent supplements or prescriptions that your dog is on to rule out other toxins or medication conflicts. A complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis will also be requested at this point in order to reveal any concurrent diseases or disorders that may be affecting the patient. If your dog vomits after exposure to the plant material, then the vomit will be examined and tested for toxins. Plant material in the vomit may help confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Jack-in-the-Pulpit Poisoning in Dogs
Immediate treatment will begin with a thorough dousing of the mouth and affected areas with clean, cool water to remove as many of the pain inducing crystals as possible. You may also want to offer your canine something else cool to eat or drink, such as ice cubes or small quantities of milk, to ease the pain until you are able to contact your veterinarian. The unpleasant taste and discomfort will often prevent canines from consuming much of the actual plant material, so cleaning the mouth area may be all that is required. In certain circumstances, your veterinarian may also recommend giving your dog an appropriate pain reliever or antihistamine to deal with swelling and pain.
If a sizeable amount of the plant material or sap was ingested a visit to the veterinarian’s office is generally recommended. IV fluid treatment will be offered to prevent dehydration, and if an antihistamine was not previously administered, administration as an intramuscular injection may occur at this time. Gastroprotective medications may be recommended to prevent damage to the stomach lining. If the airway is significantly swollen, your canine may need to be kept under observation at the office until the swelling subsides.
Recovery of Jack-in-the-Pulpit Poisoning in Dogs
Prognosis for dogs affected by ingesting smaller amounts of the plants containing the calcium oxalate crystals, such as the Jack-in-the-pulpit, is usually good. The painful effects of the crystals in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract usually get dispelled within twelve to twenty-four hours from ingestion. Any swelling that has occurred in the airway will need to be evaluated by a veterinarian. Substantial doses of calcium oxalate crystals are rare due to the unpleasant flavor, coupled with the initial pain and discomfort in the mouth when first chewed. When larger doses do occur they can cause liver and kidney damage, so the liver and kidneys may need further monitoring in the event of the ingestion of substantial quantities of the sap.