What is Perennial Pea Poisoning?
The perennial pea plant is one of the several flowers in the Lathyrus family of plants that can cause a severe and irreversible disorder known as lathyrism. Lathyrism causes severe pain and paralysis to those individuals who consume large amounts of these plants over extended periods of time. It is one of the oldest recorded neurotoxic disorders and has frequently struck human populations when plants from this family of plants were utilized as a staple during times of famine. This disease is more common in grazing animals like horses and sheep than in predators like canines and felines.
The perennial pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a perennial flower from the Lathyrus genus.It is found both in ornamental gardens and growing wild along roadsides throughout the world.
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Symptoms of Perennial Pea Poisoning in Dogs
A single ingestion of the perennial pea plant generally causes symptoms similar to the usual signs you would see when your dog eats something that doesn’t digest properly. These signs can include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. The symptoms of lathyrism don’t occur until chronic exposure to uncooked or undercooked plants in the Lathyrus family has occurred. Symptoms that indicate lathyrism can include:
- Aortic rupture
- Head pressing
- Hind leg paralysis
- Skeletal deformity
- Urinary incontinence
The disorder caused by the toxin that is present in all members of the Lathyrus genus, Lathyrism, can affect different individuals in different ways. How it affects your pet will depend on which system in the body it attacks. The types of lathyrism are:
- Osteolathyrism - Osteolathyrism is a form of lathyrism that weakens the connective tissue between the muscles and the bones
- Neurolathyrism - Neurolathyrism is the most common form of lathyrism and is characterized by weakness progressing to paralysis in the hind legs
- Angiolathyrism - When angiolathyrism strikes the structure of the blood vessels themselves are attacked by the toxin, which leaves the patient more susceptible to tears in the vessels as well as aneurysms
Causes of Perennial Pea Poisoning in Dogs
Several compounds that affect the connective cells in the body are contained in the perennial pea plant. The compounds that cause the largest amount of degradation in the connective tissues are beta-aminopropionitrile (BAPN), and oxalyl diaminopropionic acid (ODAP). BAPN is also used in veterinary medicine to treat severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis.
Diagnosis of Perennial Pea Poisoning in Dogs
Lathyrism is uncommon in dogs as they don’t tend to graze on plants on an ongoing basis, and this disorder takes some time to build up. The characteristic paralysis in the hindquarters can be caused by multiple diseases, including wobbler syndrome, degenerative myelopathy, and tumors on the spinal cord. Symptoms common to lathyrism, such as head pressing and seizures, can also be indicative of other life-threatening conditions.
Canines that are showing signs of lathyrism should be taken to the veterinary clinic as soon as possible to rule out disorders that require different treatment methods. Some of the disorders that can be diagnosed or ruled out can include sodium imbalances, brain tumors, and infections of the nervous system. Conventional blood chemistry testing will be augmented with MRI and X-ray imaging to check for suspicious masses or foreign objects. If the origin of the lathyrus contamination is unknown, your dog’s diet will be thoroughly scrutinized as well.
Treatment of Perennial Pea Poisoning in Dogs
The spastic paraparesis that is characteristic of lathyrism commonly remains indefinitely, although the removal of the toxin from the dog’s diet in the earliest stages of the disorder sometimes results in the spontaneous reversal of the condition. Lathyrism is one of the oldest recorded neurotoxic diseases, however, the mechanism by which it causes the damage to the connective tissues is still poorly understood. The condition is usually accompanied by extreme pain as well as stiffness, and medications to relieve that pain are often prescribed as well.
Extreme cases of nausea and vomiting can develop if your pet is particularly susceptible to the compounds contained within the plant, or if excessive quantities of the plant material are ingested. One of the biggest risks inherent with excessive vomiting and diarrhea is dehydration, and the patient should be watched carefully for signs of dehydration such as excessive panting, sunken eyes, exhaustion, unsteadiness when standing, and loss of elasticity in the skin. These symptoms may signal that the dog is in acute distress, and your veterinarian should be contacted immediately for further instructions.
Recovery of Perennial Pea Poisoning in Dogs
It is best to avoid your dog’s exposure to the perennial pea plants in the first place, and repeated doses can be particularly problematic. Even in situations where the exposure to the plant was brief rather than chronic, eating too much vegetable matter can cause acute gastrointestinal distress or blockages in canines. Any pet who suddenly develops the urge to eat large amounts of vegetation or other inedible items may be responding to disorders like vitamin deficiencies, brain lesions, or circulatory abnormalities and should be checked by a veterinarian. The best way to keep your pet safe from toxins of any sort is by careful observation of their behavior and environment.