What is Kava Kava Toxicity?
The kava kava plant is a tropical plant in that is grown in Micronesia, Fiji, the Samoas, Vanuatu, and Tonga. Its scientific name is Piper methysticin, and its powdered root is frequently used as both a medicinal plant and and a recreational one as it can produce feelings of relaxation and euphoria, but does not cloud the mind. It is sometimes recommended for canines who are suffering from phobias or generalized anxiety. Although this medication is generally considered safe, it can become hepatotoxic over time.
Kava kava has been used to help with stress and anxiety for many centuries. Recent studies indicate that continual use of this supplement can cause damage to the liver.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Kava Kava Toxicity in Dogs
Kava kava is used to relieve anxiety and reduce stress in humans and in canines. Some side effects are common with kava kava such as:
- Appetite loss
- Lack of coordination
Some studies on human subjects indicate that there is a correlation between those who exhibited early side effects and those who later developed hepatotoxicity. Signs that the liver has been affected include:
- Abdominal pain
- Itchy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle or joint pain
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Weight loss
- Yellow skin or eyes
Kavalactones are not the only natural toxins that target the liver. Other natural sources of hepatotoxins include:
- Aflatoxins - This toxin is the byproduct of a particular type of mold
- Sporidesmin - A type of mycotoxin produced by the fungus Pithomyces chartarum, usually found on moist ryegrass; this toxin also causes photosensitization as well as liver damage
- Microcystins - These hepatotoxins are produced by cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae
- Pyrrolizidine alkaloids- Found in a number of plants worldwide, such as bush teas, comfrey, celandine and heliotrope, these alkaloids can be a problem for livestock as well when these plants are found in their grazing areas
Causes of Kava Kava Toxicity in Dogs
The intoxicating effects of this supplement lie in the kavalactones that are contained in these plants. There have been at least 18 of these kavalactones with psychoactive properties identified in the kava kava plant. These kavalactones induce a feeling of well-being which helps to manage anxiety, stress, and depression. Studies have indicated that kava kava may be an alternative for benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorders. The kavalactones are also suspected of being the cause of the hepatotoxicity that has caused kava kava to be banned in several countries, including the UK and Australia.
Diagnosis of Kava Kava Toxicity in Dogs
Because the symptoms of toxicity from kava kava supplementation take some time to occur, it may not be immediately apparent what the source of the distress is. Your veterinarian will ask you questions about your dog’s medical history and perform a general physical exam. It is important that your dog’s doctor is up to date on all of the supplementations and medications that your pet is taking as kava kava interacts with several other drugs as well. Some of the medications that it is known to interact with include:
- Drugs that affect the liver
- Sedative medications
The kavalactones that are in kava kava can be detected in the blood for up to 48 hours. It is not one of the standard compounds that are being tested for, so it may not be found in the blood if the technician does not know to check for it. Testing the blood for liver functionality is essential for this particular plant as it is known to become toxic to the liver over time.
Treatment of Kava Kava Toxicity in Dogs
Treatments for the overdose of hepatotoxins like the kavalactones in the kava kava plant are mostly supportive. If the ingestion of the supplement was recent, within two to three hours, your veterinarian may instruct you in the proper technique for inducing vomiting in dogs and may administer activated charcoal to soak up toxins in the stomach so that they don’t reach the bloodstream. Any indication that the liver is involved should prompt a visit to the nearest veterinary clinic. Supportive treatment will be administered at this time which can include pain medication, IV fluids, and hepatoprotective medicines.
If your dog has ingested enough to cause damage to the liver, the prognosis of this condition can be mixed. Any damage that has already occurred to the liver may not be reversible, however, careful management can keep further damage from occurring. Several factors would have an effect on the outcome, including the dog’s overall size, the amount ingested and period of time it was ingested over, and how long it has been since the symptoms began. Damage to the liver from this plant seems to occur only after long-standing treatments of several weeks to months.
Recovery of Kava Kava Toxicity in Dogs
There are several types of conditions that kava kava root may help treat. The conditions or symptoms that it is known to help mitigate may include:
- Fear responses (like fear of thunderstorms)
- Muscle tension
- Pain or inflammation
Kava kava as a medication should only be used as a temporary measure. Canines have varying amounts of sensitivity to the kavalactones that are present in preparations made with kava kava root, and although some individuals, both human and canine, have successfully used this supplement for many years, others have incurred permanent liver damage after just a few months.