I suspect this is a pet toxicity that many of you have never heard of. In fact, I suspect many of you have never even heard of a cyclamen before - though you’ve likely seen them many times (they’re often on display as you walk into supermarkets or in their floral departments). Although popular, especially around the holidays, the cyclamen isn’t a well known about pet toxin. Its certainly far less well known about than the poinsettia. A point which is both ironic and sad, seeing as how the poinsettia really isn’t all that hazardous to pets. (Did you catch that in my introductory post for this series?) So read on and be sure to spread the word; together let’s remedy the lack of public awareness about the dangers that the lovely cyclamen can pose to pets.
The toxins of the cyclamen (terpenoid saponins) can cause a wide range of problems for the pets that ingest them, ranging from excessive salivation and digestive upset to seizures and heart rhythm abnormalities. In small ingestions most pets will suffer digestive upset, but in cases of large ingestion, this toxicity can prove fatal.
The greatest concentration of the toxins is contained in the tubers of the plant. These are basically the ‘lunch box’ or ‘food pantry’ for the plant, acting as a storage place for energy and nutrients. Fortunately for most pets, the tubers of the cyclamen are located beneath the soil. So for those pets that only nibble on a leaf or two, their clinical signs are likely to only be mild in nature. However, for those mischievous and destructive enough to dig up the roots and tubers, the end result can be far more significant.
Cyclamen are common holiday decorations and host gifts. They are readily available at supermarkets and garden stores. I suspect you’ll start noticing them everywhere, now that you are aware of them and what they look like - especially at this time of year.
Since the signs your pet will exhibit and the effect that the cyclamen will have is dependent on the amount of the plant your pet eats, with the quantity of tubers eaten being most important, the steps you should take in the event of an ingestion will vary too.
If your pet has eaten just a small amount of the plant (such as a nibble on a petal) you are likely only to see salivation (drooling) and maybe a decreased interest in food. In these cases no specific treatment is likely necessary. But if they progress to have additional signs, or if they remain ‘off’ their food for longer that two meals, a trip to the veterinarian is certainly warranted.
When the degree of exposure is slightly higher, additional signs of vomiting and diarrhea are more likely to be seen. In these cases the course of action necessary depends both on how severe the vomiting and diarrhea are and how long they last. In cases of short-lived and mild vomiting and diarrhea, it is sometimes possible to ‘wait it out’ at home (*see disclaimer below) by withholding food and water for 12-24 hours and then very slowly reintroducing first water and then small amounts of a highly-digestible & low-fat diet. Such a ‘bland diet’ typically consists of boiled chicken and boiled white rice - no skin, no seasonings, and no bones. You can substitute the boiled chicken for boiled turkey, boiled lean ground beef, or cottage cheese if desired. If your pet refuses to eat, or if the vomiting and diarrhea continues, they must be brought for veterinary evaluation and treatment to correct/prevent dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities that can prolong their condition and worsen their prognosis. Earlier veterinary intervention will typically shorten the course of their gastrointestinal upset and will often decrease the overall costs for you as well.
In cases of larger ingestion, when vomiting and diarrhea are likely to be of greater severity and your pet is more likely to suffer the neurologic and/or cardiac effects of the toxin, immediate veterinary evaluation and care should be obtained. Especially when neurologic or cardiac effects are present — typically manifest as weakness, collapse, ataxia (‘drunk walking’), or seizures — the prognosis for survival and full recovery is improved by rapid and appropriate treatment. There is no safe or effective at-home remedy for the neurologic or cardiac effects of cyclamen toxicity, in these cases your pet must be brought immediately to the veterinarian for care.
* Disclaimer: Because each pet’s situation may be different, because of any pre-existing medical conditions or certain medications or supplements they may be on, the safest thing to do in any event of cyclamen ingestion is to call the fine folks at one of the animal-specific poison control centers. Both the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center and the Pet Poison Helpline are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (even on holidays). Though there is a negligible fee for using their service, the peace of mind and expert individualized advice you will receive for your pet can be truly priceless - a quick call to either of these two fabulous resources may save you and your pet a trip to the ER, and it may save your pet’s life too.
Be aware, be prepared… be Preventive!™
Here’s a recap of The 12 Pet Hazards of Christmas so far…
Day 10: Liquid potpourri
Day 9: Wrapping bows & ribbons
Day 8: Chocolate
Day 6: Ornaments
Day 5: Lilies
Day 4: Batteries
Day 3: Mistletoe
Day 2: Fruitcake
Day 1: Tinsel
Jason Nicholas, BVetMed(Hons)
The Preventive Vet™
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