What is Umbrella Tree Poisoning?
The umbrella tree, also known as schefflera, is an evergreen shrub or tree and is a member of the family known as Araliaceae within the family of ginseng. These plants are often used to decorate large indoor areas since they only need a little light to flourish. It also comes in a dwarf size used in smaller spaces. It is within the genus Schefflera. This tree can grow as high as twelve meters and is a preferred plant for landscaping in tropical and warmer areas.
This tree resembles an umbrella, with the long trunk and branches with limbs and leaves that flow up and outward, thus providing a nice cover and shade. The dwarf varieties look somewhat similar to the actual tree, but in some types the branches do not flow outward as much as the large tree. The umbrella tree in both forms is toxic to dogs and other small animals; it contains insoluble calcium oxalates, saponins, and terpenoids (aromatic hydrocarbon chemical substances).
Umbrella Tree poisoning in dogs is caused by specific chemicals within the plant that are natural defenses. When dogs chew or ingest the umbrella tree, the toxic chemicals negatively affect the dog leading to symptoms such as agitation and swelling of the mouth.
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Symptoms of Umbrella Tree Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms of umbrella tree poisoning in dogs are the result of the saponins and insoluble calcium oxalates. Symptoms of toxicity include:
- Swelling of the mouth and gums
- Swelling of the face
- Pawing at the face
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Irritation of the skin due to the saponins
The umbrella tree has several other names in which dog owners should become familiar with. The following plants should be kept out of the home or away from the property of the dog.
- Octopus tree
- Australian ivy palm
- Parasol plant
Causes of Umbrella Tree Poisoning in Dogs
The umbrella tree contains the insoluble calcium oxalate crystals that proved to be the cause of the pain and discomfort. Specific causes of poisoning include:
- The release of calcium oxalate crystals, or raphides
- Raphides embed into the soft tissue of the mouth and release a toxic substance
- When swallowed, these crystals can cause swelling of the esophagus and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract
- Saponins add to this effect causing inflammation of the areas that come into contact with the chemicals
Diagnosis of Umbrella Tree Poisoning in Dogs
If your dog is experiencing any of the above symptoms and your home contains an Umbrella tree plant, call the veterinarian as soon as possible. Take a portion of the plant and with you to the doctor appointment. The veterinarian will quickly begin taking a closer look at your dog’s symptoms and will ask you questions relating to the quantity of the plant he possibly ate or chewed on, and the time frame of consuming the plant to when you arrived at the veterinarian’s office.
The veterinarian may thoroughly rinse your dog’s mouth and face area to help alleviate some of the pain caused by the raphides. Depending on how much of the plant your dog consumed, and if he swallowed any of the plant, your veterinarian may begin treatment without delay.
He will perform blood work, urinalysis, and a biochemistry profile to assist in his diagnosis; however, if you know your dog consumed the umbrella tree plant, your veterinarian may be able to come up with a diagnosis very quickly.
If your dog is vomiting, the veterinarian may choose to test the substance for signs of the plant. If your dog is having any airway blockages, your veterinarian may need to go further and insert a tube to help clear the airway in extreme circumstances.
Treatment of Umbrella Tree Poisoning in Dogs
Once your dog is diagnosed with umbrella tree poisoning, your veterinarian will begin treatment immediately. Treatment methods may include:
Decontamination of the face, paws, and skin, is essential in removing the saponin substance as well as the calcium oxalate crystals. The veterinarian will do this by washing the dog with a mild detergent and giving him a thorough rinse.
Your veterinarian may insert a tube into the stomach of the dog in order to flush out any contents from his stomach. Your veterinarian may also recommend emesis if your dog’s airway is not blocked and if his esophagus is not swollen. Typically, gastric lavage is the preferred method of treatment, except in very mild cases of umbrella tree poisoning. With both of these methods, he will then administer a dosage or two of activated charcoal to help absorb any of the remaining insoluble calcium oxalates.
In severe cases of poisoning, diazepam may be given through the IV to control any tremors or seizures. With this medication, your dog will have to be carefully observed, especially if he is having abnormalities with the central nervous system.
IV fluids will be given to restore hydration, keep your dog’s electrolyte levels stable, and promote further flushing of the toxins from his body. IV fluids promote proper kidney function and urination.
Your companion may have to be hospitalized for a few days. The veterinarian will want to monitor his liver enzymes and his central nervous system activity, as well as any gastrointestinal inflammation he may be suffering from. Your dog will be given IV fluids throughout this time and possibly oxygen therapy as well. Your medical professional will also continue to monitor his vital signs and take regular blood samples.
Recovery of Umbrella Tree Poisoning in Dogs
If the poisoning is caught right away and your dog effectively responds to treatment, prognosis is good. If symptoms become too severe before treatment is given, prognosis of this type of toxicity is guarded. If your dog is showing signs recovery after his stay in the hospital or his veterinary visit, he will be sent home with specific instructions for you to follow on his aftercare.
Encourage your dog to rest and avoid active play. Your dog may also be put on a bland diet, either in prescription form given by the veterinarian or with an at-home bland diet which includes boiled chicken and rice. Your veterinarian will want to see your dog again for future visits to be sure he is recovering properly.
Be sure to remove any plants with insoluble calcium oxalates from your home, as they can be ingested once again by your companion. Check to see if any of your other plants are also toxic as well. In order to do this, you can research online, contact your veterinarian, or contact your local ASPCA and they will tell you whether or not the plants in your home are poisonous.