What is Pokeweed Poisoning?
While pokeweed is a plant that is native to many areas, it is not safe for consumption. The leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and berries are all toxic when ingested. It can lead to signs of gastrointestinal upset, respiratory issues and in severe cases, death. Fluid therapy, gastric lavage, and even a blood transfusion in serious cases may be required to bring your pet back to health. If you believe your pet sampled any part of the pokeweed or witnessed your dog eating the pokeweed plant, you need to seek veterinary care for him as soon as possible. Do not wait for symptoms of toxicity to appear; this could be a dangerous decision.
Pokeweed is a native flowering plant found throughout the United States. Every piece of the plant contains a toxin. If you see your dog ingest this plant, you need to contact your veterinarian immediately and head to the clinic for emergency care.
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Symptoms of Pokeweed Poisoning in Dogs
Onset of toxicity symptoms from the pokeweed plant will be determined by the amount he ingested. Symptoms include:
- Diarrhea - sometimes bloody
- Abdominal pain
- Respiratory distress
- Stomach inflammation
- Intestine inflammation
Severity of symptoms will vary from case to case.
The pokeweed plant’s scientific name is Phytolacca americana. It can be found across North America in disturbed rich soils such as clearings, pastures, open woods, damp thickets, roadsides and waste areas. The pokeweed is a branching plant with large leaves and small clusters of white flowers. The pokeweed also produces a poisonous fruit that should not be consumed. The pokeweed also goes by the names of Poke, pokeberry, pokesalad, and phytolacca.
Causes of Pokeweed Poisoning in Dogs
The pokeweed plant contains toxins known as saponins, phytolaccine, and oxalic acid. Saponins have a foaming action which leads to the gastrointestinal upset. Phytolaccine is the toxin that leads to respiratory depression and seizures. Toxins are found throughout the plant with the highest density dispersed through the roots and stems.
Diagnosis of Pokeweed Poisoning in Dogs
When you arrive at the veterinarian’s office, she will begin by performing a physical exam on your dog. Vitals will be taken and abnormalities will be noted. If your dog is having diarrhea, a fecal sample may be taken to rule out parasites or a bacterial overgrowth. If your dog is experiencing abdominal sensitivity, the veterinarian may take radiographs to check for any abnormalities or a blockage.
Lab work will be performed to assess how your dog’s internal organs are functioning. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will give the veterinarian a broad check to see if everything is still functioning properly. A packed cell volume (PCV) may be performed to evaluate your pet for any dehydration and a urinalysis will be done to assess kidney function. If you witnessed your dog consuming this plant, bring it in with you to the veterinary clinic. This will allow for proper identification of the plant and the toxin it contains.
Treatment of Pokeweed Poisoning in Dogs
The symptoms your dog is suffering will determine his treatment. If he is experiencing any type of respiratory distress, oxygen therapy will be started immediately. Your dog will be placed in an oxygen cage or receive oxygen via flow-by therapy depending on his needs. If he is in severe respiratory distress, the veterinarian may have to intubate and maintain his oxygen via intubation until he stabilizes.
Fluid therapy may also be started to correct for and prevent any dehydration. The fluids will also work to flush the toxin from your dog’s system quicker. If he is experiencing abdominal discomfort, the veterinarian may attempt to flush his stomach to remove any remaining plant particles. If this is unsuccessful, she may administer activated charcoal to absorb the remainder of the toxin before the body absorbs it. If the lining of the stomach or the intestine does not receive proper protective medications, it can lead to irreversible damage that may require surgical correction.
In extremely severe toxicity cases, a blood transfusion may be needed. Additional medications may be administered if deemed necessary by the veterinarian. This may include medications to protect the lining of the stomach and intestine, to stop seizures, to correct blood pressure, and any other additional therapy to help your dog rid the toxin with minimal side effects.
Recovery of Pokeweed Poisoning in Dogs
The prognosis of recovery from pokeweed poisoning will be affected by multiple factors. If your dog ingested a small amount of pokeweed and veterinary attention was sought out quickly, prognosis is good. However, if your dog ingested a large amount of pokeweed or you delayed taking him to the veterinarian, prognosis becomes guarded to poor.
If respiratory distress is a symptom your dog is experiencing, you must seek medical attention immediately. If you do not, consequences can be fatal. Severe dehydration and prolonged hypotension can also cause long term negative side effects.
If you know you have pokeweed on your property, try to keep your dog away from it. If your dog has full range of your property and all the plants on it, train your dog to not chew on or eat foliage. Prevention is the best form of treatment of pokeweed toxicity you can provide for your dog.
Pokeweed Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Can pokeweed berries cause acute kidney failure in dogs?
Pokeweed berries are generally considered to be of low, the rest of the plant (especially the roots) are highly toxic and can present with severe gastrointestinal signs including excessive salivation, gastrointestinal inflammation, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite as well as respiratory failure and tremors. Any suspected case of poisoning should be treated as an emergency and precautionary treatment should be taken at your local Veterinary Clinic. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
"Generally considered to be of low"...what? Toxicity? If you have pokeweed growing in your yard and have dogs, is it worth the risk? It is beneficial to songbirds and some mammals, so I have let it grow. I have never seen our dogs show any interest, but worry that even brushing against the leaves and then the dog licking its fur could be toxic.
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