Sago Palm - Poisonous to Dogs and Cats

Think twice before bringing this deadly decorative plant home

SagoPalm - NathanBlaney / Getty
SagoPalm. NathanBlaney / Getty

What is the Sago Palm?

The Sago Palm is a cycad, a primitive group of "palm-like" plants that produce seeds and cones (gynosperms). They are characterized by short, woody trunks and large compound leaves that resemble a palm or fern.

Typically a warm-climate plant, the sago palm has become available through retailers across the United States, sold as an indoor plant for colder climate zones.

Other common names: King sago palm, Japanese sago palm(1)

Related plants: Coontie plant (Zamia pumila), Cardbord palm (Zamia furfuracea)(2

What parts of this plant are toxic?

ALL parts of this plant are toxic: leaves, trunk, roots, and seeds. Especially the seeds.

What is the toxin?

The primary toxic agent of the sago palm is called Cycasin is a neurotoxic glycoside and is also a carcinogen (causes cancer in mammals).

Who is at most at risk?

Dogs, cats, horses, sheep, cattle, and children, but many other animals may be at risk.

Sago palms are used in outdoor landscaping in warm climates, as indoor houseplants, and even in bonsai arrangements.

According to a Veterinary Information Network (VIN) news story, cases of sago palm poisonings have been on the rise in recent years, and many people are unaware of just how toxic this plant is. 

A veterinarian quoted in the story:

"It's amazing how many owners are unaware just how toxic the plants in their yard or house can be. I saw a patient last year with acute liver failure 36 hours after the owner had been playing fetch with the patient using a sago palm seed pod instead of a ball. He didn't make it. Very sad case."

What are the signs seen with toxicity?

Signs are seen within minutes to several hours after ingestion.

Initial signs, post-ingestion of any part of the sago palm plant:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

Later signs - seen with accompanying liver failure and nervous system toxicity:

  • Ataxia - stumbling, unsteady gait
  • Jaundice, also called icterus
  • Black (bloody) stools
  • Seizures
  • Death

How is sago palm toxicity treated?

There is no antidote for the toxic agent cycasin. Treatment is aimed at decontamination (inducing vomiting, gastric lavage) and supportive care.

Supportive care may include: IV fluids, gastroprotectants, anti-seizure medications, and other medications necessary to support the gastrointestinal system, liver, and nervous system -- initially and for long-term management.

If you suspect that your pet has chewed on, or eaten, a 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 for survival.

Related Reading - Pet Poisons

 

References:

(1) Cycas revoluta, Sago Palm - Univeristy of Florida IFAS Extension

(2) Sago Palm - Pet Poison Helpline