Toxic plants

Is Cycad or Sago Palm Toxic To Cats?

by Clair Chesterman
Is Cycad or Sago Palm Toxic To Cats? 

Cycad or also known as Sago Palm and Fern Palm contain cycasin, which is a phytotoxin, and beta-methylamino-l-alanine or also known as BMAA — these two substances are both dangerous to cats. Cycasin may cause damage to intercellular tissues which will make oxidants released into the bloodstream. In sufficient amounts, these oxidants can cause damage to liver cells, eventually leading to organ failure, even death. On the other hand, BMAA is a neurotoxin that can affect neurons. Once neurons are affected, it will interfere with the brain’s function and disrupt the ability to communicate signals throughout the nervous system.

In an instance that your cat ingested a part of cycad, he or she may demonstrate vomiting, jaundice, increased thirst, and bloody diarrhea among other clinical symptoms. Contact your veterinarian right away once you caught your cat eating cycad or if he or she is showing any poisoning symptoms.

What Is Cycad or Sago Palm?

Sago palm with a cat in the background

Sago palms, also known as cycads, are terrestrial plants with a strong, woody stem and a crown of massive, robust, pinnate evergreen leaves. They range in different sizes, with trunks varying from a few centimeters to several meters. Cycads are known to grow slowly and live a long time, with some species estimated to be over 1,000 years old. These plants are members of the Cycadaceae family are frequently mistaken for palms or ferns due to their striking resemblance, however, they are not totally related to either group.

As their lineage is known to be old, cycads can be found all over the world, in both temperate and tropical climates. They are frequently utilized in gardens as a decorative element in landscapes, usually framing borders and along the walkways.

Clinical Signs of Cycad or Sago Palm Poisoning in Cats

Sago palm and cats

Because cycads are highly toxic, even a small bit of the plant swallowed can cause significant and life-threatening symptoms. Signs of gastrointestinal distress usually appear within 24 hours after consumption and include:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting which may contain blood
  • Diarrhea which may contain blood
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Appetite loss
  • Excessive thirst and urination

Additional symptoms of liver failure, bleeding disorders, and neurological abnormalities may occur as the liver damage advances, including:

  • Liver failure
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Jaundice 
  • Bleeding in the nose, mouth, and anus including in urine and stool
  • Bruising
  • Blemishes under the skin or petechiae
  • Dark, tarry stools
  • Seizures
  • Ataxia
  • Tremors
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Encephalopathy

First Aid and Treatment of Cycads or Sago Palm Poisoning in Cats

Sat sits near Sago palm

Unfortunately, there is no antidote to cycad poisoning; the focus of the treatment is to prevent further absorption of toxins as well as manage the symptoms. If the ingestion is just recent, gastric decontamination may be done by the veterinarian which may include inducing vomit with ipecac or pumping the cat’s stomach, also called gastric lavage.

Your veterinarian may also give your cat activated charcoal, which binds the poison in the cat’s stomach and eliminates it through a bowel movement. Gastric protectants, such as sucralfate, cimetidine, or famotidine, may be prescribed to coat the stomach lining and reduce stomach acid production. Liver protectants and other medications may be also given if needed in your cat’s condition.

Intravenous fluid therapy may also be done as it is necessary to replace the fluids lost in your cat’s body as a result of severe vomiting and diarrhea. This will also aid in the removal of toxic remnants from your cat’s stomach.

Recovery from Cycad or Sago Palm Poisoning in Cats

After the cat’s condition has stabilized, a bland diet is highly recommended for your cat to minimize distress on his or her stomach. Most cats should be back to their usual selves in two weeks but may take longer depending on the severity of the poisoning.

Prevention of Cycad or Sago Palm Poisoning in Cats

To prevent your cat from another exposure to sago palm, be sure that you do not have one at home or in your yards. Restrict your cat’s outdoor activities to minimize his risk of exposure to toxic plants that grow in your community. If you are leaving the house without them, it is better to keep them confined in a cat cage or playpen.

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

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