As a pet owner, it is important to know about the dangers around your animals. While some of these dangers are obvious, such as bleach and other household cleaners, others will probably surprise you. Some of the most surprising hazards for pets are plants, and this includes the sago palm, a deadly local plant. Austin Veterinary Emergency and Specialty (AVES) is here to tell you everything you need to know about sago palm toxicity in dogs.
What is Sago Palm?
Sago palms are popular plants that are capable of growing both indoors and outdoors but are most often found outdoors in residential and commercial landscaping. These palm plants are part of the cycad family that has been around for millions of years. The hearty sago palm is easy to care for, which has led to it being an extremely popular landscaping plant.
Unfortunately, this plant, which is found in many yards in states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, can be deadly to dogs. The sago palm produces three different toxins: cycasin, beta-methylamino-L-alanine, and a third, unidentified toxin. While all parts of this plant are toxic, the seeds contain a larger amount of cycasin than other parts of the plant. It is not uncommon for pets to ingest or chew on the seeds.
Cats, horses, and humans can all be victims of sago palm poisoning. For those who are thinking of bringing a sago palm into their home or yard, be sure to exercise extreme caution around animals and small children.
Symptoms of Sago Palm Poisoning
If your dog displays the following symptoms after exposure to a sago palm, you may be looking at sago palm poisoning:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased thirst and urination
- Blood in stool
- Yellow coloration of gums and skin
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen
- Abdominal pain
- Paralysis or seizures
Sago palm toxicity is classified as “severe,” and treatment should be sought immediately if your dog is displaying any of these symptoms, or is observed chewing on or ingesting any part of a Sago plant (even fallen seeds). In some cases, it may take 24 hours for gastrointestinal problems to arise, and other symptoms may take up to 48 hours to present. Left untreated, symptoms can last for more than a week and are often fatal.
Treating Sago Palm Poisoning
Diagnosing sago palm poisoning isn’t easy, because there isn’t a blood test that looks for cycasin. If you believe that your pet may have ingested sago palm, it is important to let the veterinarian know of the possibility right away. The sooner the diagnosis is made, the sooner your pet can receive life-saving treatment.
Sago palm poisoning requires immediate medical attention, so if you realize that your pet has ingested any part of a sago palm, call an emergency veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Treatment is much easier if your pet is brought in early on.
For recent ingestion cases, veterinarians are likely to induce vomiting in an attempt to remove the toxic plant for your pet’s stomach. Vomiting may be induced with apomorphine, ipecac, or hydrogen peroxide. Activated charcoal may be given to your pet orally to absorb any toxins that have been released from the stomach. In some cases, your pet may have its stomach pumped.
In many cases owners won’t know that their pet has ingested sago palm, so by the time the pet receives medical care, the toxins have already been introduced into their system. If there are signs of liver failure, the veterinarian may give your pet an IV of fluids and blood or plasma transfusion. To control vomiting, pets may be given an anti-emetic, and the veterinarian may provide gastrointestinal protectants to soothe the GI tract.
If your pet is at risk for aspirating vomit, your veterinarian may give antibiotics to prevent pneumonia. To reduce bleeding, your pet may also receive vitamin K. For animals having seizures, anti-seizure medication will be administered. Additional supplements may also be prescribed to help your pet’s liver.
In some cases, an extended stay at a veterinary hospital may be required so your pet can be properly monitored and receive any necessary additional treatments. Follow-up visits will be necessary to monitor your pet’s liver function.
Even with all these aggressive treatment options, not all pets survive sago palm poisoning. There is an estimated mortality rate ranging from 32 to 50 percent in dogs.
Preventing Sago Palm Poisoning
When it comes to prevention, the best advice is to prevent access to the plant. If you want to keep a sago palm in your yard or home, it is best to keep your pet far away from the palm. If you notice that your pet has started to take an interest in the plant, you may want to get rid of it—especially if there is an opportunity for your pet to sneak a bite, or nibble on the plant or its seeds. AVES recommends that anyone with pets skip adding a sago palm to their home or yard.
Outdoor sago palms are harder to prevent your dog from coming into contact with and possibly ingesting. If you have a sago palm in your yard, make sure you never leave your dog unattended near it. When on walks, be sure that you keep a close eye on your dog. Even on a leash, a dog can quickly ingest plant material found on the ground.
AVES operates a 24-hour emergency clinic. If you believe your dog has ingested sago palm and you live in Austin, Texas, bring him or her to AVES right away. The emergency team at AVES will access your dog’s condition and provide any possible treatment. To contact AVES for emergency assistance, call 512-343-2837.