What is Ragwort Poisoning?
Ragwort is an invasive weed that can cause toxicity symptoms in any species that ingests it. If your dog eats this plant, he may develop symptoms immediately or they may develop over a few days or a week. Symptoms can be mild, but it most cases they are severe and can be fatal. Mild symptoms may include lethargy and gastrointestinal upset while severe symptoms may include head pressing, liver damage or liver failure. Treatment will be determined by the symptoms your dog is experiencing. Even if you do seek immediate veterinary care for your dog, his prognosis of recovery is guarded.
Ragwort toxicity is a very serious medical problem. If you believe your dog ingested the ragwort plant, get him to a veterinarian immediately.
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Symptoms of Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms of ragwort poisoning may vary from case to case. Symptoms may include:
- Weight loss
- Excessive yawning
- Yellow mucous membranes
- Muddy mucous membranes
- Aimless walking
- Chewing motions
- Head pressing
- Liver damage
- Liver failure
Symptoms may appear very rapidly or over a few days to a week without any warning symptoms.
The ragwort plant is also known as golden ragwort and may be considered an invasive plant or weed in many areas. It is prohibited in nine states and is banned to be sold or purchased. It belongs to the Compositae family and to the Senecio genus. There are over seventy species of the ragwort plant all with different common names. It is a plant with green foliage and blooms with yellow flowers.
Causes of Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
Ragwort produces a toxin known as pyrrolizidine alkaloids. This is commonly known as a long term poison that results in liver failure. Each animal that ingests ragwort can react differently to its toxic properties. Short term poisoning would involve eating a large amount in one sitting; long term poisoning involves smaller amounts over a longer period of time. Signs of toxicity may not be shown for several weeks or even months after initial ingestion.
Diagnosis of Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
When you first arrive at the veterinarian’s office, she will examine your dog while getting a complete history from you. Let her know if you have been to new areas or if you noticed him eating foliage earlier that day or within the recent weeks. She will be sure to take special care to make note of all the symptoms he is experiencing, especially the color of his gums (mucous membranes) or any type of neurological related symptom.
If you know your dog ingested something earlier and then started showing toxicity symptoms, the veterinarian may induce vomiting in your dog to rid his stomach of the ingested contents. If your dog is having diarrhea, she will collect a sample for diagnostic tests to rule out other possible causes of the symptom.
A blood sample will be collected and diagnostic tests will be run to give the veterinarian a better idea of what is going on internally. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will be conducted for an overall look of how the body is handling the toxin. She may also run a packed cell volume (PCV) to check his hydration status and a urinalysis to check his kidney function. Depending on the initial lab work results, she may decide to run more detailed blood work.
The veterinarian may want to take a radiograph to look at your dog’s internal organs. This will allow her to look for any abnormalities of any organ, but especially the liver. Depending on what she sees, she may also want to perform an ultrasound for a different view of a suspected abnormality.
Treatment of Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
Treatment will be determined by the symptoms your dog is experiencing. He will be started on fluid therapy immediately to flush the toxin from his body as quickly and safely as possible. The fluids will also help correct any dehydration your dog may be experiencing. She may decide to add vitamins or electrolytes to his fluids to give him the added boost his immune system will desperately need.
If your dog is anorexic, losing weight, and vomiting, she will administer an antiemetic medication to stop the nausea. She will also administer an appetite stimulant to get him interested in food again. If he still does not want to eat on his own, she may decide to try and force feed him or in the most severe cases, she may have to place a feeding tube.
If the veterinarian suspects a toxin as the cause of your dog’s symptoms, she may administer activated charcoal to attempt to absorb any remaining toxin in his stomach or gastrointestinal tract. However, this will not be helpful if too much time has passed since he ingested the source.
Any type of neurological symptom will be treated very carefully. The brain is a very important organ; without it able to function properly, your dog will not survive. There are certain medications that can help with the symptoms your dog may be experiencing. Head pressing is indicative of a very serious issue; if you see your dog doing this, get him to his veterinarian immediately.
Recovery of Ragwort Poisoning in Dogs
Ragwort toxicity may be considered moderate to severe. Even if you seek medical attention as soon as your dog begins to display symptoms of toxicity, it may be too late. If the liver is so severely damaged it begins to fail, there is no cure. If the brain is affected, he may never return to his normal self. Also, if your dog had any existing health problem prior to ragwort ingestion, the prognosis of recovery for him is even more guarded than that of a healthy pet.
Do not let your dog chew on or ingest any unknown foliage. If you know you have this plant on your property or near your home, consider removing it for the safety of your dog. Since this plant can affect your dog quickly or over an extended period of time, it makes it even more dangerous than other plants. For example, if he ingested the plant several days ago but did not show any toxicity symptoms that day, you assume he is fine so you let your guard down when actually the toxin is still in his system causing problems.