Sago Palms: Extremely Toxic Plants Deadly to Dogs

Sago palm leaf
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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. Cycads are characterized by short, woody trunks and large compound leaves that resemble plants in the palm and fern families. The sago palm, however, isn't a palm or fern at all.

Although it originated in Southern Japan, this semitropical plant has become available as a houseplant through retailers across the United States. Sago palm is grown as a landscaping plant in warm climates. Due to their slow growth rate, sago palms even appear in bonsai arrangements. The plant is, however, extremely toxic and a danger to households with dogs and other pets or children.

What Parts of the Sago Palm Are Toxic?

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 and a carcinogen, a chemical that causes cancer in mammals. The mortality rate of pets who have ingested Sago plant is high at up to 75%.

Animals and People at Risk

Cases of sago palm poisoning have been on the rise in recent years, as many people are unaware of just how toxic this plant is. 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. 

Signs of Sago Palm Poisoning in Dogs

Symptoms are seen from within minutes to twelve hours after ingestion. The initial signs post-ingestion of any part of a sago palm plant (by dogs and other pets) include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

Later signs that accompany liver failure and nervous system toxicity include:

  • Seizures
  • Fluid in the abdomen
  • Black (bloody) stools
  • Death

Treatment for Sago Palm Poisoning

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. Give these both immediately and during long-term management.

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.

If You Suspect Your Dog 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.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.