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The maleberry can get as tall as five feet and wide enough to be considered a shrub. This common shrub grows in savannas, swamps, and bogs. It has pink or white drooping flowers that are shaped like bells that bloom on branches, and look old with no leaves in April – June. The leathery oval-shaped evergreen leaves have a honey-like nectar containing lyoniatoxin (lyoniol A), which is a grayanotoxin. In the wintertime, the fruits appear as the flowers die. These fruits are brown capsules that hold hundreds of seeds in each which are released as the berries dry up.
Maleberry poisoning is a serious condition known for its grayanotoxin (lyoniatoxin) which can cause respiratory, cardiac, and central nervous system problems. Grayanotoxins (lyoniatoxin) are cyclic diterpenes that bind to the body’s cells to keep them in an active state, producing cardiac changes such as bradycardia and respiratory distress. This can also cause increased insulin levels, depression, hypotension, extreme sleepiness, and dizziness.
Even if your dog ate just one or two leaves of maleberry, serious side-effects may be evident right away. However, with some dogs, the signs of consumption will not be noticeable for a few hours. Some of the most commonly reported signs of maleberry poisoning are:
The scientific name for maleberry is Lyonia lucida of the Ericaceae family, although it is known by many different names. Some of the most common are:
The causes of maleberry poisoning are cyclic diterpenes, lyoniatoxins, (lyoniol A) or grayanotoxins. These toxins are found in the foliage and nectar of the plant and cause many symptoms such as dizziness, vomiting, nausea, and abnormal heart rate.
If your dog has consumed even a small amount of the maleberry bush, veterinary treatment is needed right away. This condition can quickly become fatal if not treated in time (within a few hours) because of its ability to cause respiratory and cardiac failure. If you can, bring a portion of the plant or a photograph to show the veterinarian. This may help with diagnosis and the treatment plan. Your pet will be given a physical examination to determine overall condition, which includes heart and respiratory rate, blood pressure, height, weight, body temperature, pulse oximetry (oxygen level), and breath sounds. An electrocardiogram (EKG) will be done to monitor your dog’s cardiac activity. A urine and stool sample will be taken at this time to examine under a microscope for parasites and fungal infections.
Also, the veterinarian will draw some blood samples to test for a complete blood count (CBC) to check levels of white and red blood cells, hematocrit, hemoglobin, and platelets. In addition, a biochemistry profile will be performed to determine the health of your pet’s internal organs, glucose levels, and electrolyte levels. A blood urea nitrogen (BUN) is helpful in checking for shock, liver and kidney damage, dehydration, and toxins. In addition, abdominal x-rays (radiographs) will be taken to look for any signs of obstructions or other abnormalities.
Treating maleberry poisoning is similar to other poisoning situations. The veterinarian will first want to get the toxins out of your dog’s system by inducing emesis, and then she will detoxify, medicate, and observe, if necessary. The treatment may vary depending on the amount of maleberry your dog consumed and how bad the side effects are, but the general idea is all the same.
The veterinarian will give your pet ipecac or hydrogen peroxide solution to precipitate emesis (vomiting). Afterward, activated charcoal will be given by mouth to absorb any undigested toxins.
A gastric lavage is usually given next to rinse the plant particles and juices from the Maleberry. To help with detoxification, intravenous (IV) fluids will be started which will flush the kidneys. It also helps decrease the chance of dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting.
If your pet is having trouble breathing, the veterinarian will give oxygen therapy to help with that. The veterinarian will also administer atropine into the IV line to strengthen and regulate your dog’s heart rate.
Your pet will be kept overnight for observation so supportive treatment can be given as needed. It is likely that fluid and oxygen therapy will be continued during this time. You will be able to bring your dog home as soon as the veterinarian believes your pet is stable.
After returning home, you should keep your dog in a quiet place with plenty of fresh water. The veterinarian may suggest a bland diet for the next 7-10 days, along with plenty of rest. You may need to bring your pet back for a follow-up examination in about two weeks, but be certain to call if you notice anything abnormal prior to the appointment.
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