Toxic plants

Is Nicotiana Toxic To Cats?

Is Nicotiana Toxic To Cats? 
Written by Clair Chesterman

Nicotiana or also commonly known as Tree Tobacco, Tobacco, and Mustard Tree is toxic to cats. Except for the seeds, all parts of the Nicotiana plant are high in the poisonous alkaloids nicotine and anabasine. Nicotine stimulates the neurons in the skeletal muscles, heart, and respiratory organs before temporarily depressing them and causing respiratory paralysis.

Each plant’s individual toxin concentration varies and is mostly determined by extrinsic factors such as soil type, culture, and ambient circumstances. One constant is that the amount of poison produced grows with the plant’s age. According to studies, the nicotiana plant contains two to eight percent nicotine, with the leaves having 60 percent of the poison. About 22 percent is found in the flowers and roots, while about 18 percent is found in the stem.

What Is Nicotiana?

Nicotiana is a Solanaceae genus of herbaceous plants and shrubs native to the Americas, Australia, South West Africa, and the South Pacific. Several Nicotiana species, also known as tobacco plants, are grown in gardens as ornamental plants. Nicotiana tabacum or cultivated tobacco is a plant that is grown all over the world to produce tobacco leaf, which is used to make cigarettes and other tobacco products. Nicotiana glauca or wild tobacco is a tiny tree or shrub, with several branches, that grow to a height of over two meters but can reach up to seven meters. It has thick, rubbery leaves that can grow up to 20 centimeters long and bears five-centimeter-long, one-centimeter-wide yellow tubular blooms.

Clinical Signs of Nicotiana Poisoning in Cats

Death could happen before the symptoms manifest if the cat has ingested a large amount of nicotine from the Nicotiana plant. This is because nicotine is a slow-acting poison. It is best to keep an eye out for the following clinical signs:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Slow pulse
  • Dizziness 
  • Malaise 
  • Hyperexcitability 
  • Depression
  • Collapse 
  • Myalgia 
  • Diaphoresis 
  • Mental confusion 
  • Weakness 
  • Faintness 
  • Hypertension 
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Respiratory muscle paralysis 
  • Respiratory failure 
  • Asystole 
  • Death

First Aid and Treatment of Nicotiana Poisoning in Cats

Nicotine and anabasine toxicity has no definitive antidote. Treatment is mostly symptomatic and supportive, with a focus on respiratory care because acute respiratory failure is usually often the cause of mortality. In addition, activated charcoal can be used to neutralize ingested nicotine in the stomach. The vet will continuously monitor the cat for signs of worsening neurological discomfort and treated it as needed.

Nicotine can also be diluted with a diluted potassium permanganate solution in the lavage fluid. To avoid shock, the cat should be relaxed and kept warm after the permanganate washing. If needed, the vet will use artificial respiration to keep the patient breathing.

If the cat is showing symptoms of parasympathetic or sympathetic hyperactivity, the vet will use atropine and phentolamine and administer it either intravenously or intramuscularly.  For cardiac arrhythmia, the vet may treat it using propranolol. If hypotension does not respond to standard treatment, patients with convulsions may require sedation and vasopressor medications.

Recovery from Nicotiana Poisoning in Cats

While the prognosis is favorable with prompt treatment, the unfortunate reality is that most cats ingesting a potentially deadly quantity of nicotine or anabasine will go undetected until clinical indications appear. 

After clinical indications appear, the feline may be able to recover, but only if only a little amount of poison was taken. In the instance of consumption of a huge nicotiana plant, the toxin will make its way through the feline’s body and cause death before clinical indications appear.

Prevention of Nicotiana Poisoning in Cats

It is best to keep your cat indoors, particularly if you are living in an area where tobacco trees grow wildly. If you are using tobacco products, keep them in a place where your cat cannot access them.

If you love plants but have cats at home, check out these lists:

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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