What is Pigtail Plant Poisoning?
Pigtail plants are originally from the tropics of South America, but may be grown indoors as a potted plant. The plant can grow up to two feet tall with dark green heart shaped leaves and red or pink club shaped spathes (modified leaves) which each have a large, curly spadix. As a matter of fact, it is the curliness of the spadix that gave it the name of pigtail plant. The spadix, which ranges in color from white to orange, is actually a stem made up of dozens of tiny flowers. The entire plant contains varying amounts of the toxins calcium oxalates, oxalate acids, and proteolytic enzymes that can trigger a severe allergic reaction in some dogs.
The pigtail plant is an attractive, although toxic, houseplant that is capable of causing a serious condition in dogs from calcium oxalate and oxalic acid ingestion. The first thing you may notice if your dog has decided to snack on a pigtail is a yelp or whining from the pain caused by the calcium oxalate crystal raphides. These crystals are able to become embedded in the soft tissue of your pet’s mouth and digestive tract and create intense burning and vomiting. In some cases, the inflammation caused by the oxalate raphide injuries can make it difficult for your dog to swallow or even to breathe. The oxalic acid can also be worrisome because it may damage the airway, digestive system, and kidneys due to the solidifying and buildup of calcium oxalate in the tubules. Even though dogs will rarely eat enough to be fatal, the damage done to the kidneys, airway, and digestive system can create life threatening complications.
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Symptoms of Pigtail Plant Poisoning in Dogs
You may find your pet whining, gagging, or even drooling after eating part of a pigtail plant. The calcium oxalates can also cause your dog to show signs of gastrointestinal upset or skin irritation. The most commonly reported side effects are:
- Excessive drooling
- Watery and red eyes
- Irritation of the mouth and tongue
- Edema (swelling) of the face, mouth, and tongue
- Lip smacking
- Appetite loss
- Oral numbness and tingling
- Pawing at the face and mouth
- Foaming at the mouth
- Anxiousness and irritability
- Inability to eat and drink
- Breathing difficulty (choking or gasping for air)
- Irregular heartbeat (rare)
- Seizures (rare)
- Death from suffocation (rare)
The pigtail plant’s botanical name is Anthurium scherzerianum and it is from the Araceae family. This plant is also known by several other names, some of which are:
- Tail flower
- Flamingo flower
- Flamingo lily
- Flamingo plant
- Oilcloth flower
Causes of Pigtail Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Pigtail plant poisoning is a condition caused by consumption of any of the plants in the Araceae family. There are actually many toxic properties in the pigtail plant, but some of the most common are:
- Proteolytic enzymes cause the body to release histamines and kinins (proteins) that produce inflammation and an allergic reaction which may be serious
- Calcium oxalate raphides are bundles of sharply jagged crystals that are instantly painful from the irritation and puncture of the soft tissue which can also produce swelling
- Oxalic acid is a corrosive substance that can cause painful blistering, seizures, vomiting, and even death
Diagnosis of Pigtail Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Take your dog to see a veterinary professional as soon as you can to get medical advice, even if you do not see any serious symptoms from eating the pigtail plant. Bring a picture or a sample of the plant with you if possible because it could help with identification of the toxic properties in your dog’s system. The veterinarian will need to hear all the details you can remember about what happened, how much you think your pet may have eaten, and what symptoms you have noticed. You should also tell the veterinarian if your dog is on any kind of over the counter or prescription medication. This is very important because it can affect how the symptoms are presented and may change the treatment plan.
A physical examination will be done by the veterinarian during the conversation so the treatment can be started as soon as possible. The examination usually includes reflexes, body temperature and weight, coat and skin condition, oxygen level, pulse and respiratory rates, blood pressure, and breath sounds.
An endoscope will likely be used to take a look at your pet’s esophagus and upper airway, checking for obstructions and swelling, which can be removed with a small tool inserted into the endoscope. The veterinarian will probably need to sedate your dog during the endoscopy to prevent injury. Necessary laboratory tests include urinalysis to check for calcium oxalates and oxalic acid, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), CBC (complete blood count), serum chemistry profile, and liver enzyme panel. Also, abdominal x-rays (radiographs) will be needed to examine the digestive tract for obstructions, ultrasound to check kidney function and inflammation, and possibly a CT (computerized tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance image) if necessary.
Treatment of Pigtail Plant Poisoning in Dogs
The veterinarian will need to get the toxins out of your pet’s system as quickly as possible, which includes evacuation with emesis, detoxification by intravenous fluids, medications (if necessary), and possibly observation.
An emetic (ipecac or hydrogen peroxide) is usually chosen to encourage vomiting. Afterward, to absorb any undigested toxins the veterinarian will give your pet activated charcoal by mouth.
Intravenous (IV) fluids will be given to your dog, which will flush the toxins through the kidneys quickly to lessen the chance of absorption. This will also help keep your pet from getting dehydrated.
A mucoprotective agent, such as ranitidine or cimetidine, can be given to control stomach acids. Other necessary medications may be antiemetics to control vomiting, and corticosteroids for inflammation and pain.
There is usually no need to keep your dog for observation unless your pet has a severe reaction or complications.
Recovery of Pigtail Plant Poisoning in Dogs
Your dog will probably be allowed to go home right away unless there are complications. Recovery usually goes quite well, though you may need to feed your pet a bland diet for a few days while his mouth and stomach recover from the event. You will have to continue the prescriptions as directed and bring your pet back for the follow up examination. Call your veterinarian if you have any questions.