Sago Palm Is Poisonous to Dogs and Cats

Think twice before bringing this deadly decorative plant home

SagoPalm - NathanBlaney / Getty
SagoPalm. NathanBlaney / Getty

The sago palm is a cycad, which is a primitive group of palm-like plants that produce seeds and cones. They are characterized by short, woody trunks and large compound leaves that resemble a palm or fern. The sago palm isn't a palm; it just looks like one. This semitropical plant has become available as a houseplant through retailers across the United States, and it is grown as a landscaping plant in warm climates.

They even appear in bonsai arrangements. However, the plant is toxic and a danger in homes with dogs and cats. Children should never be around a sago palm.

What Parts of the Sago Palm Are Toxic?

All parts of this plant are highly toxic: leaves, trunk, roots and seeds. The reddish seeds are particularly poisonous—ingesting one seed can kill a dog or cat. The primary toxic agent of the sago palm is called cycasin, which is a neurotoxic glycoside and a carcinogen that causes cancer in mammals, which makes this plant one of the most toxic houseplants. The mortality rate is high.

Who Is Most at Risk?

Dogs, cats and children are most at risk in the home. Horses, sheep and cattle are most at risk from ingesting sago palm in the landscape. 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. 

Signs of Sago Palm Poisoning in Dogs and Cats

Signs are seen within minutes to several hours after ingestion.

The initial signs post-ingestion of any part of the sago palm plant by dogs and cats include:

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

Later signs accompanying liver failure and nervous system toxicity:

  • 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 decontamination (inducing vomiting and gastric lavage) and 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—initially and for long-term management.

If You Suspect Your Pet Chewed on 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. Pets that receive rapid emergency treatment can make a full recovery from the poisoning