Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sago Palms - DANGEROUS!

The dangers of Sago Palm Trees

Posted by: N Gilbert

This is what a Sago Palm looks like.

Sago palms are not really palms at all; they just look like one. The sago palm is a cycad and contains the toxin cycasin and even very young plants are toxic enough to cause death in pets. Contrary to popular belief, all parts of both male and female plants are toxic, with the seeds being the most lethal component.

The reddish-orange seeds are round to oblong in shape and can be a little bigger than a golf ball in mature plants. Many dogs seem to enjoy chewing on these bitter seeds, which leads to nothing but trouble. I’ve even heard talk of people throwing the seeds like a ball for their dog, completely unaware of the deadly dangers!

Many people are unaware that the plant is deadly. And even if they have heard of the toxic effects, they don’t realize that the plant they are purchasing is actually a sago palm! Why is this? The plants are becoming increasingly popular in all areas of the country, and are often sold as unmarked potted plants in stores such as Target and Home Depot. They are simply labeled as a “palm tree,” without any warning label, and people are not aware that they are bringing home a potentially lethal plant. Over the past five years, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has seen an increase in sago palm toxicities by 200 percent, and according to their data, 50 to 75 percent of cases result in the death of the pet. This number includes pets that are euthanized due to the cost of care; on a slightly brighter note, 68 percent of those pets that are treated early are reported to survive.

The seeds from a Sago Palm Tree.
Dogs who have ingested any part of the plant soon begin vomiting, and this can be accompanied by diarrhea, depression, and lack of appetite. Liver failure generally occurs within 24-36 hours following ingestion, and in most cases, intensive treatment is necessary. If it has been 4-6 hours since ingestion, your veterinarian will attempt to induce vomiting, as well as give charcoal to help absorb the toxin. Intravenous fluids for 72 hours, medications to help support liver function, and possibly the transfusion of blood products are needed. Frequent monitoring of liver values will help to determine if your pet will survive the exposure.

So please, if you share your home or yard with a sago palm, now is the time to dig it up and dump it in the garbage. Make sure you are disposing of it in your “actual” garbage, and not your compost or yard waste bin, as these contents are often mulched and repurposed, putting the palm back into the environment where other pets can be exposed. If you believe that a pet may have eaten any part of a sago palm, please seek veterinary care immediately! And yes, it may sound harsh to say "throw it in the garbage" because the tree, after all, is a living thing, however, which would you rather prefer? A dead plant, or a dead pet? Think about it.

Thought an attractive tree, it is DEADLY!

Sago Palm Tree

Poisonous to: Cats, Dogs

Level of toxicity: Severe

Common signs to watch for:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetance
  • Abnormal fluid accumulation in the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice
  • Black-tarry stool

Sago palms are naturally found in tropical/subtropical environments; they are also used as ornamental Bonsai houseplants. These palms are members of the Order Cycadacae; genera Cycads, Macrozamia, and Zamias. Examples of the cycad family include Cycad (Cycas cirinalis), Japanese cycad (Cycad revolute), Coontie plant (Zamia pumila), and Cardbord palm (Zamia furfuracea). All parts of sago palm are considered poisonous, with the seeds (nuts) being the most toxic part of the plant. Sago palm contains cycasin, which is the primary active toxic agent resulting in severe liver failure in dogs. Ingestion results in acute gastrointestinal signs (e.g., drooling, inappetance, vomiting, diarrhea) within 15 minutes to several hours after ingestion. Central nervous system signs (e.g., weakness, ataxia, seizures, tremors, etc.) and severe liver failure can be seen within 2-3 days post-ingestion. Clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, inappetance, abnormal fluid accumulation in the abdomen, abdominal pain, jaundice, and black-tarry stool. Aggressive decontamination and treatment should be initiated. Even with aggressive treatment, the survival is about 50%.

If you suspect your dog or cat ate sago palm, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately for life-saving treatment recommendations.

Pet Poison Helpline: 24/7 Animal Poison Control Center 800-213-6680

Poison type: Plants

Alternate names: Cycads, Cycadaceae, sago, Zamias, Macrozamia, Cycas cirinalis, Japanese cycad, Cycad revolute, Coontie plant, Zamia pumila, Cardbord palm, Zamia furfuracea

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