A plant in the genus Cycad, the sago palm plant (Cycas revoluta) is often grown as an outdoor landscaping plant in warmer climates. But what many pet owners may not realize is that this group of palm-like plants is extremely toxic to both dogs and children.
Although it originated in Southern Japan, this semi-tropical plant that produces both seeds and cones is widely available as a houseplant across the United States. Due to its slower rate of growth, sago palm plants often appear in bonsai arrangements, so many pet owners bring these plants into their homes without even realizing the dangers to their four-legged friends.
Why Sago Palm Is Toxic to Dogs
Sago palm and all other Cycad plants are extremely poisonous. These plants contain a poisonous agent known as cycasin, a neurotoxic glycoside (or a nerve-poisoning plant sugar) and a carcinogen shown to cause cancer in mammals.
Though some dogs may find cycad plants palatable and enjoyable to chew on, the sago palm's leaves, trunk, roots, and seeds are extremely toxic. Its sprouting leaves and reddish seeds are especially poisonous—in fact, ingesting even just one seed can prove to be fatal for your pet. Sadly, the mortality rate of pets that have ingested the sago palm is generally estimated to be up to 50 percent.
How to Prevent Sago Palm Poisoning
Although many pet owners are aware of the foods that are toxic to dogs (such as chocolate or grapes), that doesn't necessarily mean they know the dangers of certain plants—or the safest plants to grow around dogs. As a result, instances of sago palm poisoning are on the rise among dogs, cats, and even children. Larger animals such as horses, sheep, and cattle have also been affected because they sometimes accidentally ingest sago palm that's been planted in decorative landscaping.
Therefore, the best prevention for sago palm poisoning is to never use this particular plant in your indoor bonsai arrangements or outdoor landscaping. Anyone with children, pets, or farm animals should avoid these plants all together. You may also want to educate yourself on exactly what the plant looks like so, you can warn neighbors about the risks of sago if you happen to spot these plants in your neighborhood.
As always, it's a good idea to keep your dog leashed on walks, keep a close eye on them at the park, and ensure that your backyard enclosure is escape-proof so they can't find and accidentally eat sago palm or any other potentially deadly plants.
Symptoms of Sago Palm Poisoning in Dogs
If your pup has accidentally consumed a part of a sago palm, you're likely to see symptoms anywhere from minutes later up to several hours after ingestion. Among the initial symptoms of poisoning by sago plant include:
Since Cycasin irritates the gastrointestinal tract, drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea are typically among the first signs of poisoning. Although these symptoms may seem minor, they will almost certainly lead to liver failure if left untreated. Initial symptoms can also progress into other more serious conditions that often accompany liver failure and nervous system toxicity, such as:
- Fluid in the abdomen
- Neurological symptoms (depression, walking in circles, paralysis, coma, seizures)
- Black, tarry (or bloody) stools
Treatment for Sago Palm Poisoning
If you suspect your dog has chewed on any portion of a sago palm plant, you'll need to call your veterinarian, veterinary emergency clinic, or pet poison control center immediately. Although survival rates are grim since the sago palm is extremely poisonous—and there is no antidote for sago palm toxins, only supportive treatment—the sooner your pet receives emergency treatment, the more likely they are to survive. Many dogs that have received immediate emergency treatment have recovered from sago palm poisoning.
There is no specific test to identify sago plant poisoning, so you'll have to be able to provide your veterinarian with detailed information as to the ingestion of the sago palm and the symptoms you've already witnessed in your dog.
The treatment for sago palm poisoning revolves around removing the poison from your pet's system as quickly as possible. Your veterinarian will likely give your dog activated charcoal to help absorb the poison from within the gastrointestinal tract, as well as ipecac, apomorphine, or hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting. They will also pump your dog's stomach (a procedure known as gastric lavage) and will likely give your dog cathartic medication to immediately evacuate their bowels.
Dogs with sago palm poisoning will then require supportive care such as IV fluids, anti-seizure medications, and any other other interventions necessary to support their gastrointestinal system, liver, and nervous system. Your pet may be given anti-emetic medications to help control vomiting as well as gastrointestinal protectants to help soothe their irritated GI tract.
Ongoing therapy to continue to rid your dog's body of toxins, treat their symptoms, and support liver function may require extended hospital stays. Supplements such as N-acetylcysteine, S-adenosylmethionine, or ursodeoxycholic acid may be administered to support your pet's liver, seizure medications can be given to control seizures, and Vitamin K can be used to reduce bleeding.
After your dog has been discharged, you'll want to schedule follow-up visits to monitor his or her liver function through blood and urine tests.
Lal JJ. Sago palm. In: Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition. Elsevier; 2003:5035-5039.