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Oleander Poisoning in Cats

Cats can develop severe poisoning from oleander plants.

Oleander is a common decorative plant in many areas of the United States, especially warm climates. Common oleander (Nerium oleander) is used the most often. It is a popular landscaping bush and also grows wild in some areas.

Oleander Is Extremely Toxic to Cats

Common oleander is a shrub that flowers and also bears fruit. All parts of the oleander plant, including the leaves, stems, flowers, fruit, and roots, are toxic if ingested by a cat.

The toxins in oleander are cardiac glycosides. These compounds directly attack the heart by altering the electrolyte balance there, causing the heart muscle to be unable to function properly. Life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias, or rhythm disturbances, are the result.

Oleander toxicity also affects the gastrointestinal and neurologic systems of an affected cat.

Signs of Oleander Toxicity in Cats

Cats that have ingested oleander may show some or all of the following signs within 30 minutes:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Listlessness
  • Pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Wobbliness
  • Pupil dilation
  • Low heart rate
  • Arrhythmias

Diagnosis of Feline Oleander Toxicity

There are blood tests to determine the presence of cardiac glycosides in a cat's system, but they take too long when a cat is battling this toxicity. Generally, the diagnosis is made based on the history, signs, the presence of a heart arrhythmia, and possibly an increased blood potassium level.

Treatment of Oleander Toxicity in Cats

If a veterinarian suspects oleander poisoning in a cat, he or she may induce the cat to vomit and administer activated charcoal, a substance that can bind remaining toxin in the system and carry it out with less absorption into the cat's system.

Hospitalization for intravenous fluids, close cardiac monitoring, serial blood tests, and other supportive care is necessary.

There is an antidote drug, Digibind, which can be used to treat cats, but it is expensive and not always available.

It's important to be aware of oleander toxicity and ensure that your cat doesn't have access to this deadly plant.

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