Toxic plants

Is Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed Toxic To Cats?

Is Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed Toxic To Cats? 
Written by Clair Chesterman

Also known as giant hogweed, cow parsnip is a tall herb that contains nitrates and furanocoumarins such as xanthotoxin, bergapten, and psoralens. All parts of cow parsnip are poisonous but toxins are mostly concentrated on its seeds. 

Cow parsnip toxins can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled during direct contact with the plant. Skin absorption is the most typical way for cats to become exposed to the plant. The toxins are photodynamic or reactive substances that the body of your cat cannot break down. These compounds accumulate in your cat’s tissues, which then suffer a hyper-reaction when exposed to UV radiation, resulting in a burning sensation.

What Is Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed?

Cow parsnip, also known scientifically as Heracleum maximum, is a beautiful blooming perennial that is native to North America. It can be usually found in forested areas, grasslands, shrubland, meadows, and alpine environments. This member of the Apiaceae family blooms in umbels of small white flowers in a cloud atop tall stems and can reach a height of 10 feet.

Cow parsnip or giant hogweed is characterized by big, serrated, and palmate leaves. Its stems are erect, sturdy, and feature little thorn-like protuberances while the flowers are creamy-white, lacy flat-topped clusters that can grow up to a foot in diameter.

Clinical Signs of Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed Poisoning in Cats

When cats are exposed to the toxic components in cow parsnip, they develop photosensitivity. The following are some of the signs and symptoms of cow parsnip poisoning:

  • Symptoms of photosensitization appear on the cat’s skin, ears, muzzle, and vulva.
  • Blindness
  • Cornea cloudy
  • Conjunctivokeratitis
  • Photophobia

First Aid and Treatment of Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed Poisoning in Cats

If your cat is showing signs of photosensitization, you should stop exposing him to UV radiation right once. If the cat has recently consumed cow parsnip, the mouth should be rinsed with water and vomiting should be induced to remove any leftover plant material. To bond with toxins and transit them through the gastrointestinal tract without further absorption, your veterinarian may perform gastric lavage and provide activated charcoal. While the effects of photosensitivity last, your cat will need to be kept out of direct sunlight.

Steroids for the eyes, as well as medication to deal with photosensitivity, will be administered. If a skin infection has developed as a result of germs infiltrating open wounds, antibiotics will be prescribed by the veterinarian. To avoid further contamination, an insect repellent designed for wounds may be also recommended.

Recovery from Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed Poisoning in Cats

The blisters on your cat’s skin should heal in a few days. However, if your cat’s eye has been damaged, scarring and impairment may be permanent, and his or her vision may be permanently affected. Photosensitive cats should be kept out of the sun until the poisons have passed through the body, which could take several days. Discuss post-treatment care with your veterinarian and ask questions relating to your cat’s recovery.

Prevention of Cow Parsnip or Giant Hogweed Poisoning in Cats

Exposure to cow parsnip or giant hogweed is unavoidable especially if you live near its natural habitat. You can minimize the risk of your cats’ exposure to the said plant by keeping them occupied and safe inside the comforts of your home. Make sure they are confined if you are leaving the house without taking them. Build additional safety fences and nets around your house to limit your cats from starting far from home.

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About the author

Clair Chesterman

Clair Chesterman is a professional cat breeder having her own cageless CFA and CCA Registered cattery & fostering company FluffyMeowPaws in Eugene, Oregon. Clair is a plant enthusiast too and she made in-depth research on toxic and non-toxic plants for cats.

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