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The sacred bamboo plant, originally from eastern Asia, has become a popular plant all over the world in gardens and as a houseplant. Even though it is called bamboo, it is not an actual bamboo plant; it is an evergreen bush or shrub. Sacred bamboo can reach up to seven feet tall and five feet across with glossy leaves that turn pink and red in springtime before they turn green. It has small white flowers that grow in cone-shaped clusters and round red berries that are visible all winter long. The berries have cyanogenic glycosides, which produce side effects similar to cyanide poisoning when eaten. Some of these side effects are gastric distress, bright red gums, fever, and increased heartbeat.
Sacred bamboo has the toxin cyanogenic glucoside, which is used to create cyanide. Hydrogen cyanide is actually released when your dog chews on the berries of the sacred bamboo plant, causing symptoms just like cyanide poisoning, although not as severe. Some of these side effects include gastrointestinal irritation (vomiting and stomach pain), central nervous system effects (dizziness and seizures), and cardiac changes (fast heartbeat and palpitations).
If your dog eats the berries from a sacred bamboo plant, you will most likely notice the bright red gums and agitation before any of the other side effects. Symptoms can vary greatly depending on the amount of berries your pet consumed, but most common are:
The scientific name for sacred bamboo is Nandina domestica from the Berberidaceae family. There are a few other names that sacred bamboo is known by, which are:
If you think your dog ingested sacred bamboo berries, it may be a life-threatening emergency; take your pet to see a veterinary professional immediately. If you cannot get in contact with your usual veterinarian, you should take your dog to an emergency veterinary hospital or clinic. It may be helpful to take a photograph of the plant to show the veterinarian for identification purposes. This can help get a more definitive diagnosis in a shorter amount of time. Also, tell the veterinarian if you have given your pet any medications, no matter whether prescribed or not, because certain medications and supplements may interact with treatment.
Physical examination of your pet comes next, which usually includes pulse oximetry (oxygen level), breath sounds, respiration and heart rate, blood pressure, skin and coat condition, pupil reaction time, reflexes, body temperature, and weight. The veterinarian can usually make a diagnosis just by examining your dog’s mucous membranes, but will probably still want to do other tests to be sure.
In addition, the veterinarian may want to do a procedure called an endoscopy, which is done by looking into your pet’s throat and airway for plant particles and obstructions. With the endoscope, the veterinarian will be able to use a tool to remove any foreign material and apply medication if needed to reduce inflammation. An EKG (electrocardiograph) and ECHO (echocardiography) can also be done to check the electrical and muscular function of the heart. Laboratory tests include blood urea nitrogen (BUN), blood count, liver enzyme panel, (PCV) packed cell volume, urinalysis, and a serum chemical analysis to look for an increase of ammonia and amino acids. Abdominal x-rays and an ultrasound will be done to look for obstructions and CT scans for checking renal perfusion. An MRI is also important if renal failure is suspected to see if there are any masses or obstructions in the kidneys or urethra.
Your pet’s treatment depends on the test results. If the veterinarian suspects kidney problems, your dog may need medication before doing any other procedures, including elimination, decontamination, medication, and observation.
To eliminate the toxic properties of Sacred bamboo the veterinarian will give your pet hydrogen peroxide or ipecac liquid. This will cause your dog to vomit, expelling the undigested plant particles. To help eliminate the digested berries, an absorbing agent (activated charcoal) will be given by mouth. The charcoal attracts and holds the toxins so your dog can rid the body of them through bowel movements.
Intravenous (IV) fluids and electrolytes are used to help flush the other toxic properties through the kidneys. This also reduces the dehydration caused by the vomiting and diarrhea.
The veterinarian will probably give your dog sodium nitrite or sodium thiosulfate to counteract the cyanotic effects, antiemetic to stop the vomiting, antibiotics to prevent infection, and antacids to reduce gastric irritation.
The veterinarian may want to keep your dog overnight for observation. While in the hospital, the medical personnel can give your pet medication, fluids, and oxygen as needed.
Prognosis for Sacred bamboo poisoning is fair, but it depends on how many berries your dog ate and how fast you were able to get treatment. If the kidneys are damaged, dialysis may be required. A longer stay in the hospital may also be recommended if a large amount was consumed.
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