The sago palm, Cycas revoluta, is a plant in the genus Cycad, which is a primitive group of palm-like plants that produce seeds and cones. Although it originated in Southern Japan, this benign-looking semitropical plant has become available as a houseplant through retailers across the United States. The plant is, however, extremely toxic and a danger to households with dogs and other pets or children.
Sago palm is grown as an outdoor landscaping plant in warm climates, and due to its slow growth rate, sago palms even appear in bonsai arrangements. Hence, sago palm is a danger both indoors and out. All Cycads are poisonous plants that resemble plants in the palm and fern families, but the sago palm isn't a true palm or fern at all.
Toxic Parts of the Sago Palm
Sago palm should not be confused with the Metroxylon true palm plants that are used widely to make starch products for human consumption, as they are also collectively known as Sago. All Cycad plants, including sago palm, are extremely poisonous.
Although many pets may find cycad plants very palatable and pleasing to chew on, all parts of this plant are highly toxic: leaves, trunk, roots, and seeds. The newly sprouting leaves and the reddish seeds are particularly poisonous. Ingesting even one seed can kill a dog.
The primary toxic agent of the sago palm and other cycads is called cycasin. It is both a neurotoxic glycoside (a nerve-poisoning plant sugar) and a carcinogen, a chemical that causes cancer in mammals. The mortality rate of pets that have ingested Sago plant is high at up to 75%.
Animals and People at Risk
Because many people are still unaware of just how toxic this plant is, cases of sago palm poisoning are on the rise. Dogs, cats, and children are most at risk in the home. Horses, sheep, and cattle are most at risk from ingesting sago palm that is planted as decorative landscape.
The best solution for sago palm poisoning is avoidance. If you have children, pets, or farm animals, it is best to avoid this plant altogether and not bring sago into your home. Neighbors should also be alerted as to the risks associated with any sago palm they plant.
Signs of Sago Palm Poisoning in Dogs
Symptoms are seen from within minutes to 12 hours after ingestion. The initial signs post-ingestion of any part of a sago palm plant (by dogs and other pets) include:
Later signs that accompany liver failure and nervous system toxicity include:
- Fluid in the abdomen
- Black (bloody) stools
Treatment for Sago Palm Poisoning
If you suspect your dog has chewed sago palm, call your veterinarian, veterinary emergency clinic or pet poison control center immediately. Survival rates are grim, but the sooner your pet is treated, the better the chance of survival. Dogs that receive rapid and thorough emergency treatment can potentially make a full recovery from Sago poison.
There is no antidote for the toxic agent cycasin. Treatment is aimed at quickly removing the poison from the system. Your vet will need to induce vomiting immediately and give activated charcoal or other strong binders to absorb the poison from the gastrointestinal tract. Gastric lavage (pumping the stomach) is essential. Giving cathartic medication will immediately evacuate the bowels.
Any sago-toxic dog will need to be provided with supportive care, which may include IV fluids, gastro protectants, anti-seizure medications, and other medications necessary to support the gastrointestinal system, liver, and nervous system. A poisoned dog must be given these treatments immediately and during long-term management.