What is Skunk Cabbage Poisoning?
Symplocarpus foetidus, most commonly known as the skunk cabbage, is a foul-smelling plant that grows low to the ground in the wetlands of the eastern portions of North America. All parts of the skunk cabbage contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals that can cause extreme pain and irritation when the plant is chewed or swallowed. This irritation usually prevents animals from doing more than sampling the plant, but on rare occasions, canines may swallow large amounts of plant material. Symptoms may include drooling, difficulty swallowing, vocalization of discomfort and distress, and in some cases, cardiac arrhythmia. Ingestion of a potentially toxic plant should be investigated by a qualified veterinarian.
Symplocarpus foetidus, also known as the skunk cabbage, contains calcium oxalate crystals which can cause intense pain and irritation in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract when chewed or swallowed.
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Symptoms of Skunk Cabbage Poisoning in Dogs
The skunk cabbage contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals in all parts of the plant. When chewed or swallowed these crystals can cause:
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Dilated eyes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Excessive drooling
- Hoarse barking
- Labored breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness of exposed area
- Obstruction of the airway
- Pawing/rubbing at the face or mouth
- Swelling of the lips or tongue
The skunk cabbage is a low-growing plant native to the eastern side of the North American continent. Symplocarpus foetidus is most commonly known as skunk cabbage, but it has also been referred to as meadow cabbage and clumpfoot cabbage. Several other types of plants contain insoluble calcium oxalate crystals which are the cause of irritation from skunk cabbage variety plants. These plants can include:
- Arrowhead vine (Syngonium podophyllum)
- Calla or arum lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestrum)
- Dumbcane (Dieffenbachia)
- Flamingo plant (Anthurium)
- Fruit salad plant (Monstera)
- Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
- Philodendron (Philodendron)
- Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)
- Wild calla (Calla)
Causes of Skunk Cabbage Poisoning in Dogs
All parts of the skunk cabbage plant contain the calcium oxalate crystals that cause your pet pain and swelling in the mouth. Calcium oxalate is a calcium salt of oxalic acid which produces instantaneous pain and irritation to any soft tissues it comes in contact with. Chewing any part of the plant may cause inflammation and swelling of the mouth, lips, tongue, and throat areas as the insoluble crystals can penetrate the soft tissues easily. If any of the sap or plant material is swallowed, the inflammation can extend to the throat, esophagus, and stomach causing internal swelling and pain. The swelling may cause severe breathing difficulty if the airway is blocked, and intubation may be required during treatment.
Diagnosis of Skunk Cabbage Poisoning in Dogs
Many of the symptoms of exposure to the calcium oxalate crystals from the anthurium plants will present immediately. In some cases though, symptoms can take up to two hours to show up. If you are unsure of what your pet ingested or if your dog ingested significant amounts of the plant material, your veterinarian may recommend a visit to the office. Bring a piece of the skunk cabbage plant with you to the clinic. This may help to speed up the diagnosis and subsequent treatment.
Your pet’s doctor will want to take particular note of any opportunistic eating that is suspected, in addition to any vitamins, supplements, or medications that your dog takes on a regular basis. A complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis will usually be done at this time as well, in order to uncover any underlying disease processes or disorders. If your dog has ingested enough of the plant material that he is vomiting, then the vomitus will also be examined and tested for toxins. Plant material in the vomit may help confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment of Skunk Cabbage Poisoning in Dogs
A call to the clinic may result in the advice that you start with a thorough rinsing of the mouth and affected areas with clean water to remove as many of the crystals as possible. You may want to offer your dog something cool to eat or drink to ease the pain before heading to the clinic. In most cases, the discomfort and unpleasant taste will prevent canines from ingesting much of the actual plant material and so a thorough rinsing of the mouth area may be all that is needed to inhibit further pain and calm your dog. In certain circumstances, your veterinarian will recommend giving your dog an appropriate pain reliever or antihistamine as well.
If a larger amount of the plant material or sap was ingested, a visit to the veterinarian’s office may be needed to address the symptoms. Intravenous fluid treatment will be most likely given to prevent dehydration and if an antihistamine was not previously administered, it may be prescribed at this time as an intramuscular injection. Pain relief if needed, in addition to gastro-protective medications may also be recommended to prevent damage to the lining of the stomach. If the airway is significantly swollen, your canine may need to be kept under observation at the office until the veterinarian feels your dog is out of danger.
Recovery of Skunk Cabbage Poisoning in Dogs
Prognosis for dogs affected by ingesting smaller amounts of the plants containing the calcium oxalate crystals, such as the skunk cabbage plant, is usually quite good. Any swelling in the airway should be evaluated and monitored by a veterinarian. The effects of the crystals in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract usually dissipate within twelve to twenty-four hours from ingestion. Massive doses are rare due to the initial pain and discomfort in the mouth. When they do occur, they can cause liver and kidney damage, so the liver and kidneys may need regular monitoring in the event of the ingestion of large quantities of the skunk cabbage plant.