What is Ornamental Pepper Poisoning?
Plants in the Solanaceae (nightshades) family are an important farming staple because of their herbs, spices, and weeds that include potatoes and tomatoes. The Solanum pseudocapsicum (ornamental pepper) is one of the Solanaceae family that is not good to eat, even though it is sometimes called a winter cherry. They are grown as ornamental houseplants in the United States, but in Australia and South Africa the ornamental pepper is nothing but a weed. These perennial evergreen shrubs are certainly attractive with dark glossy green leaves, white flowers and round orange, red, or yellow fruits that look like cherry tomatoes. In humans, these fruits can produce gastric distress (vomiting and abdominal pain), but they can be dangerous, or even fatal, for dogs.
The ornamental pepper plant is toxic to dogs due to its solanine content, which is a glycoalkaloid poison that is found in tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes. They are all part of the nightshade family, which is known to cause serious intestinal disorders and central nervous system damage. Some of the side effects you may see are cardiac irregularities, paralysis, jaundice, and even death. These symptoms may not be evident until 12 - 18 hours after consumption, making diagnosis difficult if you did not actually witness your pet eating the ornamental pepper. The solanum glycoalkaloids in the plant can interrupt cell production, cause birth defects, and decreases the functioning of the mitochondria, triggering cell death.
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Symptoms of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Dogs
The first signs you may notice that your dog has eaten an ornamental pepper plant will probably be gastrointestinal in nature, and can be serious or mild, depending on the amount eaten. Some of the other symptoms reported are:
- Abdominal pain
- Excessive drooling
- Dizziness/falling down
- Smacking lips
- Pawing at mouth
- Burning of lips and mouth
- High body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Jaundice (yellowing or the whites of the eyes and skin)
- Inability to rise from lying down
- Altered heart rate
- Rapid heartbeat
- Muscle contractions and cramps (usually restricted to the abdominal area)
- Gastrointestinal ulcers
- Respiratory failure
The botanical name of the ornamental pepper is Solanum pseudocapsicum from the Solanaceae family, although it has several other common names. Some of these names include:
- Winter cherry
- Natal cherry
- Madeira winter cherry
- Jerusalem cherry
- Bladder cherry
Causes of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Dogs
- The cause of ornamental pepper poisoning is the toxic substance, solanine, which is a solanum glycoalkaloid
- Ornamental pepper poisoning occurs when your dog eats a certain amount (2-5 milligrams per kilograms of body weight)
Diagnosis of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Dogs
Bringing your pet to a veterinary professional is the only way to know for sure if it is ornamental pepper poisoning. You should bring a photograph of the plant and your dog’s medical and shot records if you can. This helps the veterinarian get the correct diagnosis and the best course of treatment. Describe the symptoms you have seen and any medications your dog has been given recently. Also, tell the veterinarian why you believe your dog has ornamental pepper plant poisoning and how much you think your dog has eaten.
The veterinarian will then do a physical examination that will include breath sounds, oxygen levels, pulse, respiratory rate, blood pressure, weight, reflexes, coat and skin condition. An electrocardiogram (EKG) is usually done next, which can measure the electrical functioning in your dog’s heart. Also, an endoscopy will be performed to view your pet’s throat and airway, looking for inflammation, obstruction, and plant particles. With the endoscope (a long lighted tube), your veterinarian can also take pictures and remove any pieces of the plant that are found. Laboratory testing will include a complete blood count (CBC) to determine the levels of platelets, red and white blood cells, and hemoglobin. A urine sample will be used to find out your dog’s blood glucose (sugar) levels. A biochemical profile will be ordered to check the amounts of potassium, protein, phosphorus, bilirubin, albumin, nitrogen, and creatinine in your dog’s blood. It may also be necessary to use CT scans and an MRI of the abdominal area.
Treatment of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Dogs
The way your veterinarian treats your dog’s condition depends on the test results, symptoms, and overall health. The steps usually taken in this situation include evacuation, detoxification, medications, and observation.
To clean your dog’s system, an emetic, such as ipecac, will be given to encourage vomiting. Additionally, activated charcoal will be given by mouth to absorb any undigested toxins.
To detoxify your pet, a gastric lavage will be used with a long flexible hose to pump water into the stomach cavity. Afterword, intravenous (IV) fluids will be administered to flush the toxins from the kidneys and prevent dehydration.
Some of the medications usually used are atropine for heart rhythm irregularities, lidocaine to help stabilize the heart rate, omeprazole for stomach distress, and antiemetics if your dog is still vomiting.
The veterinarian may want to keep your dog overnight for observation and to provide supportive treatment such as fluids and oxygen when needed.
Recovery of Ornamental Pepper Poisoning in Dogs
Once your dog is stable, the veterinarian will let you take your pet home with some prescriptions to be carefully administered. You should follow the instructions exactly as written for best results and call if there are any questions or concerns. You may consider removing the ornamental pepper plant from your home, particularly if your dog likes to graze on your houseplants.