Toxicology Brief: Brunfelsia species: Beautiful but deadly - Veterinary Medicine
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Toxicology Brief: Brunfelsia species: Beautiful but deadly


The Brunfelsia species involved in these cases were Brunfelsia calycina var. floribunda (n=19), Brunfelsia australis (n=7), Brunfelsia pauciflora (n=7), Brunfelsia americana (n=2), nonspecific Brunfelsia species (n=2), and Brunfelsia latifolia (n=1). Although most of the reported cases were from California (n=29), there were also cases from Texas (n=4), Oregon (n=3), Connecticut (n=1), and New Jersey (n=1).

The gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system (CNS) were most commonly affected. The outcome of 19 dogs is known: Thirteen dogs recovered with supportive care, two dogs died, two dogs developed sequelae (occasional seizure episodes), one dog was euthanized, and one dog had a continuation of clinical signs (lethargy) at follow-up.


There are case reports of Brunfelsia species toxicosis in cattle, dogs, rats, and mice.1-3,5-7 Several of these cases were fatal, with nonspecific necropsy findings. Although only a few Brunfelsia species (B. calycina var. floribunda, B. pauciflora, B. australis, B. bonodora) have been implicated in animal poisoning cases, all species and all parts of the plant (flowers, leaves, berries, and seeds) should be considered toxic to animals. Dogs appear to be particularly attracted to the berries and seeds. Four reports of Brunfelsia species toxicosis in dogs have been published—two in Australia5,6 and two in the United States.2,7

In the two Australian cases, the clinical signs of toxicosis included signs of buccal and gastric irritation (salivation, vomiting, and diarrhea), muscle spasm and rigidity, opisthotonus, and coma. Nystagmus was also described in one case. In one case, the dog recovered in two days with supportive treatment.5,6

In the first U.S. case, a 6-year-old female Siberian husky was presented for evaluation with excessive salivation, coughing, gagging, dilated pupils, muscular contractions, horizontal nystagmus, and clonic-tonic convulsions after eating B. pauciflora seeds. Convulsions stopped on the fifth day, and the dog completely recovered within three weeks. The dog was treated with activated charcoal, intravenous fluids, anticonvulsants (pentobarbital or primidone), corticosteroids, and a topical ophthalmic ointment.7

In the second U.S. case, an 11-week-old puppy was presented with acute-onset anxiety, persistent sneezing, vomiting, tremors, pyrexia, disorientation, ataxia, and seizures within two hours after exposure. The puppy died despite treatment with activated charcoal, diazepam, and prednisolone. The vomitus and stool contained several seeds of B. calycina var. floribunda. Necropsy findings in this puppy were unremarkable.2


Table 1: Clinical Signs Reported After Brunfelsia Species Ingestion in 42 Dogs
The literature and the ASPCA APCC cases indicate that the onset of clinical signs of Brunfelsia species toxicosis in dogs may occur within two to several hours after exposure. Clinical signs may start with agitation, nervousness, or excitement followed by tremors, shaking, muscular rigidity, paddling, and tonic-clonic seizures. Table 1 lists clinical signs in dogs reported to the ASPCA APCC. The tonic-clonic seizures and other clinical signs such as muscular rigidity or the sawhorse stance may resemble the signs caused by strychnine poisoning.

Clinical signs may last from a few hours to several days with or without treatment. Brunfelsia species poisoning does not seem to cause marked hematologic, serum chemistry, or pathologic changes in animals.


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