Camelid Plant Poisonings
Llamas and alpacas are generally very good at avoiding strange (and possibly poisonous) plants. However, there is always the possibility of a feed additive or a nonselective eater that can result in ingestion. This article is a LIMITED selection of poisonous plants that you may encounter. Much of the information provided is taken from an article presented by Dr. Murray E. Fowler, DVM at the 2009 UC Davis Camelid Symposium.
General information: Oleander is an ornamental shrub that is often planted on freeway medians or decoratively as a wind or visual break. It is not ingested by most animals in the “live” state. FOR GOOD REASON! Most often it is eaten by animals when trimmed leaves and branches are either dumped or blow into the pasture and are consumed dry.
Identification: Oleander may have blooms of red, pink or white. The leaves are long and slender with secondary leaf veins that run perpendicular to the axis of the leaf. The dried leaves of the oleander and the eucalyptus appear nearly the same. However, you may notice that the eucalyptus leaf (below right) has secondary veins that run at more of a 45 degree angle to the axis of the leaf.
Toxic Principle: Oleander leaves contain cardiac glycosides. Cardiac glycosides cause degenerative lesions in the heart and electrolyte disorders. The action is similar to the drug “digitalis” which is used for its actions upon the heart. The lethal dose, depending upon the size of the animals, is between 1 and 4 large leaves.
Symptoms: The symptoms of oleander poisonings may include diarrhea (often bloody), colic, cardiac dysfunction and dyspnea. Most often the only symptom is rapid death!
Treatment: In the unlikely event that an animal is diagnosed with oleander poisoning the first treatment is gastrotomy and removal of the leaves from the stomach. Treatment is rarely successful as the heart is often damaged beyond repair.
General Information: Rhododendrons are a member of the heather family of plants. There are literally hundreds of members of the heather family and MOST are NOT poisonous (i.e. blueberries, huckleberries, cranberries) . Some of the other poisonous members of the heather family include Rhododendrons (Rhododendrons, western azalea, California rosebay), Kalmia (alpine laurel, mountain laurel, lambkill, sheepkill, dwarf laurel, bog laurel)…
Toxic Principle: Rhododendrons (and its “cousins”) contain complex glycoside, andromedotoxin or grayanotoxin.
Symptoms: The symptoms of poisonings include anorexia, coughing, choking, retching, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, colic, paralysis, depression, groaning, muscle twitching and death.
Treatment: Supportive care and activated charcoal.
General Information: A number of different plants contain compounds called pyrrolizine Alkaloids. These include groundsel (senecio), fiddleneck (amsinckia) and Comfrey. Senecio and fiddleneck are common weeds in alfalfa and oat hay fields and if proper care is not taken they may be baled into the hay.
Toxic Principle: The toxin in these plants is a liver toxin. The toxin may take weeks, months or years to cause effect as it is toxin of accumulation. It will gradually begin to cause liver dysfunction/nonfunction.
Symptoms: The symptoms of poisoning are neurologic symptoms, incoordination, tremors, icterus, recumbency and eventually death.
Treatment: There is no true treatment of this poisoning as the liver damage is nonreversible.
General Information: Sudan grass is a major forage source and occasionally used as a hay feed. Heavy fertilization (nitrates) or accumulation of nitrates in low areas of fields can cause toxic levels of nitrates in the hay as Sudan grass is a “nitrate accumulator”. Sudan Grass is also a cyanide accumulator.
1. Nitrate is converted in the stomach to nitrite. Nitrite bonds to the hemoglobin in the red blood cells and decreases its ability to carry oxygen.
2. Cyanide poisons the energy production pathways of cells.
1. Difficulty breathing, brownish “chocolate” blood, collapse and death.
2. Excitement, tremors, “Cherry” red blood, difficulty breathing, convulsions, death within 15-30 minutes.
1. New methylene blue IV.
2. Sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate.
Note: There are MANY other poisonous plants that could be listed, however they are beyond the scope of this publication.