What is Mock Azalea Poisoning?
In South Africa where the mock azalea originates, it can grow to almost 10 feet tall with vividly colored blooms in many colors, but most often pink and white. Since being naturalized to grow in less tropical conditions, such as the southern and western United States, there have been many subspecies and hybrids. These types will not grow as large as those in South Africa and are most often used as a decorative shrub or hedge. Although the South Africans still use the sap for hunting and medical purposes, the mock azalea is known to be a highly toxic plant that should not be kept around small children and pets. If your dog eats any part of a mock azalea plant, go to the veterinarian or an emergency clinic as soon as you can.
Mock azalea poisoning is a dangerous condition brought on by the consumption of Adenium obesum, or mock azalea plant. There are more than 30 toxic cardiac glycosides in this beautiful plant that can interrupt your pet’s cardiac function, including heart rate and muscle performance. The nervous system and gastro-digestive tract are also affected, and in some cases, it may be fatal if not treated right away. The entire plant is poisonous, but the sap and roots are the most dangerous because that is where the toxins are most concentrated. As a matter of fact, the sap contained in the mock azalea is so lethal, hunters in Africa still use it on the tips of their arrows for hunting and fishing.
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Symptoms of Mock Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
If your dog has eaten part of a mock azalea plant, the symptoms can range from very mild (belly ache) to extremely serious (heart failure) or it can even be fatal. You may not see any symptoms right away, but common signs of mock azalea poisoning are:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Drooling more than usual
- Severe fatigue
- Swelling of the abdomen from fluid retention
- Irregular heart rate
- Weak pulse
- Unable to control muscle movements
- Heart damage and failure
The scientific name for the mock azalea is Adenium obesum from the Apocynaceae family. Some of the other names the mock azalea is known by are:
- Desert azalea
- Desert rose
- Impala lily
- Kudu lily
- Sabi star
Causes of Mock Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
There are 30+ cardiac glycosides that can create side effects similar to digitalis poisoning in the cardiac, central nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract.
Diagnosis of Mock Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
To diagnose mock azalea poisoning your veterinarian will need to do a physical examination and run some laboratory tests. Explain as much as you know about the incident, how much your dog ate, when it happened, and if there have been any side effects. Bring a sample or photo of the plant if you can as well as your pet’s medical records if you have them. Be sure to tell the veterinarian if your dog is on any medications.
The physical examination will include height, weight, reflexes, temperature, breath sounds, blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen level. An electrocardiogram (EKG) is usually done to check the mechanical and electrical functioning of the heart. This is a simple and painless test that just measures the cardiac electrical waves.
In addition, laboratory tests will need to be performed to rule out other disorders and diseases. Some of these may include a urinalysis, biochemical profile, glucose levels, complete blood count (CBC), and stool sample analysis. In the case of mock azalea poisoning, these tests will show an increase in glucose, potassium, creatinine, protein, calcium, magnesium, and nitrogen. Digital radiographs (x-rays) of the chest and abdomen will be taken to examine the heart and digestive system. Also, in some cases, the veterinarian may want to get an ultrasound to check for any obstructions and inflammation. An MRI and CT scan may be necessary if a more detailed view is needed.
Treatment of Mock Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
Because cardiac toxicity is so serious, the veterinarian may have already started some treatment measures, such as fluid and oxygen therapy. However, it is critical that all of the toxins are removed from your pet’s system. The steps involved include evacuation, detoxification, medication, and observation.
Removing the toxins from your pet’s digestive system before they are released into the blood is essential. To induce vomiting, the veterinarian will give your dog a hydrogen peroxide solution or ipecac fluid. Afterward, activated charcoal will be given by mouth to absorb any undigested poisons.
This step is done by using a gastric lavage to rinse all the plant particles and sap from your pet’s digestive system and giving intravenous (IV) fluids. This will flush the kidneys and prevent dehydration.
Antiemetic and antiarrhythmic medicine, such as atropine, will be administered to regulate the heartbeat. Other medications may include stomach protectants and phenobarbital to control seizures.
Your pet will be kept for about 24 hours for observation. During this time, the veterinarian will also be able to provide supportive treatment when needed.
Recovery of Mock Azalea Poisoning in Dogs
Recovery time depends on how much mock azalea your dog consumed and whether there are any complications during treatment. However, as long as you obtained treatment for your pet within 12-24 hours, prognosis is good. Be sure to remove the mock azalea plant from your home or property and call your veterinarian if you have any questions about your pet’s recovery.