Cycads (aka sago palms or Cycas revoluta) are highly poisonous plants that look like palm trees. Because they reached the height of their diversity during the Jurassic Period, they are often described as living fossils. In fact, when Jurassic Park movies came out, potted cycads were often sold with the slogan “dinosaur food”. Their natural habitat is a tropical environment, but they are found as houseplants and landscaping features as far north as West Vancouver, B.C.
While it may have been appropriate food for the dinosaurs (although things didn’t work out so well for them), cycads are definitely highly toxic to modern mammals. Our cats and dogs seem to find sago palms particularly tasty, with fatal consequences.
While any part of the plant is poisonous, the large seeds are especially toxic. Within twelve hours of ingestion, the plant’s toxic agent cycasin can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures, liver failure and death.
Our new critical care specialist, Dr. Carsten Bandt, hails from Florida. There, he developed a particular dislike for this deadly plant, having witnessed its devastating effects first-hand. He was dismayed to spot it being grown in yards around Vancouver and for sale in plant stores.
There is NO effective treatment once the toxin is absorbed. Given this fact, knowledge and avoidance is the key preventative measure. If a pet is observed eating any part of the sago palm, seek immediate veterinary care; if caught rapidly enough, interventions may help prevent the poison from being fully absorbed.