What is Tree Tobacco Poisoning?
Tree tobacco is described as a small tree or large shrub that can grow up to about 18 feet tall. The oval leaves are usually around 6-8 inches long and the flowers are yellow and shaped like small funnels. There are more than 60 species of Nicotiana and all of them have the toxic principles piperidine and pyridine alkaloids. Some of these toxins are nicotine, germacrene, and anabasine and can be lethal if your pet eats enough tree tobacco. Nicotine is the most toxic and can cause death if only 5 milligrams is ingested in many cases. Anabasine is a nicotinic receptor agonist that is often used for making insect repellent. Germacrene is a pyridine alkaloid that causes uncontrolled defecation and urination, seizures, and paralysis.
Tree tobacco poisoning is caused by the many toxins in the nicotiana glauca tree, which can create side effects that include nausea, nervousness, rapid heart rate, paralysis, and even death if consumed by your dog. One of the poisons in this tree is nicotine, which is extremely toxic to all pets and children as well just like commercial tobacco and nicotine are. It only takes a few milligrams of nicotine for it to be lethal because it is absorbed quickly into the intestines, liver, and bloodstream and only a small amount is excreted through the kidneys.
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Symptoms of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Dogs
As with any condition, the symptoms can vary an incredible amount depending on your pet’s age, size and health of your dog, and the amount of the plant that was consumed. In fact, you may not see any signs of toxicity, but if you know your pet ate tree tobacco, you need to see a veterinary professional right away. If you wait until you notice symptoms, it may be too late for successful treatment. Common side effects of tree tobacco poisoning are:
- Pupil dilation
- Excessive drooling
- Rapid heart rate
- Abnormal heart and respiratory rate
- Nervousness and irritability
- Increased urination
- Muscle spasms that can progress to convulsions
- Respiratory distress
While you may know tree tobacco by this common name, the scientific name is Nicotiana glauca from the Solanaceae family.
- Wild tobacco
- Tobacco tree
- Tobacco plant
- Tobacco bush
- Mustard tree
Causes of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Dogs
There are many toxic properties in the tree tobacco, but most are still unknown. However, there are several common toxins that include:
- Anabasine is a piperidine-pyridine alkaloid
- Anatabine is a mildly toxic pyridine alkaloid
- Germacrene is a piperidine-pyridine alkaloid
- Nicotine is a pyridine alkaloid
- Nornicotine is an alkaloid similar to nicotine
Diagnosis of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Dogs
When you arrive at the veterinary hospital or clinic, try to have a photograph of the plant that your dog ingested. It is also helpful if you bring your dog’s medical records and be sure to let the veterinarian know if you have given your pet any medicine, whether over the counter or prescription. The veterinarian will start by conducting a thorough physical examination consisting of weight, temperature, pupil reaction time, heart and respiration rate, blood pressure, breath sounds, and pulse oximetry (oxygen level). Next, an electrocardiograph (EKG) will be done to determine the heart’s electrical and muscle function.
The CBC (complete blood count) and serum biochemical analysis are next, as they are two of the most important laboratory tests that need to be performed to get the proper diagnosis. In the case of tree tobacco poisoning, there will be elevated levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN), protein, and albumin. Some of the other diagnostic tests include, alkaline phosphatase (ALP), fluorescence polarization immunoassay, packed cell volume (PCV), high-performance liquid chromatography, creatinine phosphokinase (CPK), thin-layer chromatography, aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), gas chromatography, and spectrophotometry.
If there is suspicion of an obstruction, an endoscope will be used to check the throat and airway. If there are any foreign materials, the veterinarian will be able to insert a tool into the endoscope to remove them and apply medication, if needed. Finally, if your pet seems to be uncomfortable and further evaluation is required, abdominal imaging will be done with x-rays, and possibly an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.
Treatment of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Dogs
Your pet’s treatment plan depends on the results of the diagnostic tests and his clinical symptoms.
A hydrogen peroxide solution or ipecac fluid will be given to encourage emesis (vomiting). After, the veterinarian will give your pet activated charcoal to adhere to the toxins so they can be removed through defecation without further absorption.
Intravenous (IV) electrolytes and other fluids will be given in order to rehydrate and flush your dog’s renal system. Medication can be administered without causing distress for your pet through this method as well. The medication typically needed for tree tobacco poisoning consists of atropine for heartbeat irregularity, corticosteroids for edema, and possibly antibiotics to prevent infection.
If your companion is experiencing breathing difficulties he will be given oxygen. Your dog may need to be hospitalized overnight for observation, and if necessary, will continue to receive supportive treatment.
Recovery of Tree Tobacco Poisoning in Dogs
If a large amount of tree tobacco was ingested, even the best treatment may not be able to save your pet. However, timely treatment may be successful in realizing a positive outcome. Your dog will need to return to the veterinary clinic for a follow up visit as the effects of the toxins contained within the tree tobacco plant may cause lasting effects. Providing a quiet place to recuperate and careful administration of prescribed medications will be essential to recovery.