Toxic plants

Is Cowbane or Water Hemlock Toxic To Cats?

by Clair Chesterman
Is Cowbane or Water Hemlock Toxic To Cats? 

Cowbane, commonly known as Water Hemlock or Poison Parsnip, is a perennial herbaceous plant that contains cicutoxin and cicutol. These compounds are poisonous to cats because they impact brain neurons and cause the central nervous system to malfunction. The toxins are present in all parts of cowbane with the largest concentration in the roots. Drooling, dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, and weakness are some of the symptoms that a cat may suffer after ingesting any component of cowbane.

What Is Cowbane or Water Hemlock?

Poison Parsnip with a cat

Cowbane, formally known as cicuta virosa, is a perennial herbaceous plant with unique little green or white flowers clustered in an umbel that grows up to 2.5 meters tall. It belongs to the Apiaceae family, which includes carrots.

Cowbane or wet hemlock commonly grows in Northern Ireland and also in the rest of the UK. Some cowbane species are also found to grow in North America. It is called wet hemlock as it is a natural wildflower that grows in wet regions including irrigation ditches, marshes, moist spots in pastures, riverbanks, lake margins, and slow-moving streams.

Clinical Signs of Cowbane or Water Hemlock Poisoning in Cats

Poison Parsnip and cats

Poison parsnip poisoning symptoms can appear as soon as five minutes after eating, although for some cats signs may show after an hour. Because symptoms tend to increase with time, it’s critical to get your cat to a veterinarian as quickly as possible if you see any of the following indicators of poisoning:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Cardiac dysrhythmias
  • Renal Failure
  • Depression of the lungs
  • Death

First Aid and Treatment of Cowbane or Water Hemlock Poisoning in Cats

Poison Parsnip and a cat hissing at it

If your cat has not started vomiting yet, the veterinarian will start treating him by provoking vomit to get rid of any residual plant debris in his stomach. If your cat is vomiting and diarrhea is severe, he or she will require IV fluids to avoid dehydration and other complications.

To absorb any toxic leftover in your cat’s stomach, activated charcoal can be also used depending on your cat’s condition. If the situation calls, the veterinarian may also perform gastric lavage, which is a technique that will clean out your cat’s stomach.

To prevent your cat from suffering from respiratory depression as a result of the poisoning, the vet may need to insert an oxygen tube down his throat. If your cat is already having seizures, medication may be given to him. An IV can be used to administer benzodiazepines for this function.

Recovery from Cowbane or Water Hemlock Poisoning in Cats

Cats who haven’t had any seizures yet are more likely to recover than those who have had multiple seizures already. Consult your veterinarian to see if you need to switch to softer foods to avoid upsetting your cat’s sensitive stomach.

Your cat’s health may need to be monitored by the veterinarian after therapy. This is especially true if your cat was dehydrated or required the use of a respirator during treatment.

Prevention of Cowbane or Water Hemlock Poisoning in Cats

Cowbane or water hemlock is a wild plant, thus it’s very likely that your cat may come upon it outside. Restrict your cats’ access to the outdoors and keep them restricted inside your home to limit their risk of exposure.

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

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