Allied Vet Emergency Blog
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Sago Palm - An Emerging Threat
Pet owners beware - there is a highly toxic and potentially fatal danger that sits among many people's landscapes all over our region and beyond. Sago Palm, which isn't actually a palm but a cycad, is a hearty ornamental plant that thrives in both indoor and outdoor settings. Over the past few years Sago Palms have been gaining in popularity among landscapers across the southeast. Over that same time veterinarians have begun to see a tremendous rise in incidence of Sago Palm toxicity in pets, with a reported increase of over 200% in some areas of the country.
The poison in these plants is the compound cycasin, and it is found in all parts of the plant including the leaves, roots, and especially the seeds. Adding to the risk, Sago Palms seem to be highly palatable to pets, especially dogs. After ingesting the plant pets will become lethargic and have a poor appetite. The symptoms then progress to vomiting and diarrhea. In the most severely affected pets this will progress to dehydration, jaundice, liver failure and death. There is a reported fatality rate of almost 50% in dogs who have ingested the plant.
Seeds of Sago Palm
Since there is no antidote for cycasin, treatment is aimed at minimizing the effects of the toxin on the body, particularly the liver, brain, and GI tract. Your veterinarian will likely induce vomiting (if it has been a relatively short time since ingestion) and then administer activated charcoal which can bind to the toxin and prevent absorption in the intestines. Blood tests will be recommended to evaluate organ function as well as beginning your pet on intravenous fluids. Additionally, medications need to be given to stabilize, support, and treat the effects of the poison on the body. Generally these are given by injection to allow the GI tract to rest. Most pets need to stay at the vet's office for an extended time (several days) while the treatment is being administered. While many pets do recover, without quick and aggressive intervention the outcome is often not good.
Sago Palms are only one of the toxic ornamental plants that are commonly found in and around homes in Florida. The toxicity of many of theses is generally mild, however, there are some like Sago that kill many pets each year. It is recommended that pet owners become knowledgeable about what plants they have in their home and their potential toxicity. An excellent resource is the ASPCA website (www.aspca.org), or even better - talk with your veterinarian. They will be familiar with the common toxins in your area and can advise you on what to do to prevent a crisis.