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Sago palms are poisonous to dogs, cats

Original Publication Date: March 14, 2016
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Sago palms are commonly used as attractive outdoor landscape vegetation and indoor house plants. They resemble small palm trees or ferns but are related to neither.

Sago palms are in a separate ancient group of plants known as cycads. Paleontological evidence indicates cycads were present 250 million years ago in the Triassic period. They were here even before the dinosaurs and continue to thrive today.

The beauty of these plants can be deceiving as even a small nibble can be deadly to dogs, cats and humans.

Veterinary Information Network reports cases of sago palm poisonings have been on the rise around the country in recent years. The threat hits close to home and may also already be on the rise here.

The sago palm is common in this area. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Everything from the leaves to the seeds are very sweet and palatable to pets. The seed is especially poisonous. Several poisons are present in the plant, but the one especially associated with toxicity is cycasin, a neurotoxic glycoside. There is no antidote.

Once any part of the plant is chewed or nibbled and ingested, symptoms may appear within minutes or take a few hours to develop. The early symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and lethargy.

Later symptoms include loss of coordination, black and bloody stools, seizures and death.

According to PetMd.com, the symptoms are a result of liver damage caused by cycasin. Liver disease may lead to clots in the bloodstream and neurological abnormalities.

Diagnosis is based on a history noting ingestion of the plant. The symptoms can be associated with other ailments, so be sure to tell your vet of a known ingestion of sago palm.

Sago palms are poisonous to dogs, cats
Sago palms are poisonous to dogs, cats (click image to enlarge)

Urine test results that support the presence of liver disease are also part of a diagnostic protocol.

Quick veterinary intervention is the only option. A vet may induce vomiting, activated charcoal may be used to absorb the poison in the stomach or gastric lavage or stomach pumping may be required. Additional supportive measures may be necessary. Once liver failure has begun, the end result is death.

The best prevention of sago palm poisoning is to prevent all contact with the plants. If you have pets or children, it is wise to remove sago palms from your yard and home. Neighbors may have them in their yards, so walk your dog on a leash and be mindful of where your children play.

Ingestion of even a small amount of the sago palm plant has quick consequences that can be irreversible and deadly.


Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at HolisticTouchTherapy.com.