A Guide to Poison Prevention for Cats
Curiosity can indeed kill the cat. Our feline friends are constantly exploring their surroundings, harnessing their natural instincts to investigate, and honing their hunting skills. Unfortunately, a cat’s propensity for discovery can easily get them in trouble.
There’s a myth floating around that cats are less susceptible to poisoning than dogs thanks to their more discriminate eating habits, but that’s simply not the case. When you couple their curious nature with their grooming habits, they prove far from immune to the perils of poison. In fact, poisons and toxic substances can be even more hazardous to felines, since they have smaller body sizes and digestive systems less capable of breaking down certain substances.
It’s not uncommon for veterinarians and animal clinics to field frantic phone calls from owners who’ve discovered their cat ingested something that’s potentially toxic. With proper education and preventative efforts, we can strive to minimize such situations. National Poison Prevention Week, which runs the third week of March annually, represents a campaign designed to raise awareness regarding dangerous substances and how to handle a poison-related emergency.
Common household cleaners, rodent poisons, plants, and human medications can be deadly to cats and dogs. Your feline’s long-term well-being could very well depend on your ability to limit their exposure to common poisonous substances. Here’s what you need to know about cat poison prevention:
Poisoning in Cats – What You Should Know
We live our lives surrounded by various poisons and toxic substances, which can lead to illness in our feline friends. Damage inflicted to a cat’s body depends on the amount of poison ingested and how long the poison was present prior to treatment. If treatment is immediate, many poisons don’t result in significant illness. Some, regardless of how quickly treatment is administered, prove fatal or result in permanent damage.
The effects of a poison aren’t always immediate, and can take days or weeks to materialize. Therefore, if you witness your cat ingesting a potentially toxic substance, don’t be lured into a false sense of security simply because they haven’t immediately fallen ill. Every toxic ingestion is cause for concern and should prompt an immediate call to your veterinarian, local animal emergency facility, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.
While some poisons are inhaled or absorbed, the majority are ingested.
Signs of poisoning in cats include:
- Lethargy, depression, weakness, or sluggishness
- Anorexia or inappetence
- Stumbling or staggering
- Breathing difficulty
- Tremors or seizures
There are hundreds of substances your cat can access in the home, some of which are highly toxic. If you think your cat may have been exposed to a toxin, check the item’s label and read about its toxicity. Often, the information on the package regarding children is relevant to cats, and some manufacturers even discuss pet toxicity. If there’s an 800 number on the package – call it! It is usually a free call and they can often provide information or advise you on who to call if they don’t have the necessary information (such as ASPCA Animal Poison Control).
For most poisonings, there’s not much you can do at home. Consult your veterinarian or animal emergency facility if you suspect your feline has been poisoned. For some ingested poisons, your veterinarian may recommend inducing vomiting (in dogs), but that is nearly impossible to do at home with a cat. When you visit your vet, take the product’s packaging with you.
Diagnosing illness due to poisoning can be difficult if the exposure or ingestion wasn’t witnessed. Diagnosis can be made based on diagnostic tests, blood and urine tests, or physical examination. While some poisons have specific antidotes, general treatment for poisoning includes reducing additional absorption, delaying absorption, and speeding elimination.
Top Household Poisons for Cats
Cats are famous for their frisky and inquisitive nature, which often leads them to consume harmful items. Unfortunately, the average household contains many potentially dangerous substances that your feline might encounter – ranging from carpet cleaners to antifreeze and insecticides.
Here are five toxic substances commonly consumed by cats:
- Plants: Cats are infamous for eating plants and suffering the consequences. Ingestion of the Easter lily, for instance, can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, kidney failure, and death.
- Pesticides: Cats are primarily poisoned by contact with concentrated pesticides and fertilizers. This can occur if the product is not stored properly, if too much is used on the lawn, or if a dog product is used on a cat.
- House Products and Cleaners: These vary quite a bit in chemical makeup and toxicity. They can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea or chemical burns, often resulting in organ damage.
- Prescription Drugs: Pills can be dropped or, even if the container may be child-proof, your cat may succeed at getting the pills out of their packaging. All drugs should be placed out of reach of felines.
- Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications: It’s important to remember that certain OTC drugs won’t have the same effect on cats as they do on humans. Aspirin and ibuprofen, for instance, can be extremely dangerous.
Human Food: Is It Harmful for Cats?
Americans spend billions on pet food annually. Despite their owners often buying the best food available, some cats would rather eat what we eat. However, certain human foods can prove dangerous to your feline, causing varying degrees of illness.
Human foods that are potentially poisonous to cats include:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, and plums
- Baking powder and baking soda
- Fatty foods
- Dairy products
- Grapes and raisins
- Macadamia nuts
- Moldy or spoiled food
- Onions and garlic
- Yeast dough
Learn more about potentially toxic foods here.
Poisonous Plants and Your Cat
Though they are strict carnivores, cats often like the texture of certain plants, especially those that have grass-like leaves or fine texture, such as baby’s breath, ferns, sago palm, and dried flowers. Most plants will at least act as an emetic, meaning your cat will vomit soon after eating. Consumption of other plants can lead to kidney or liver failure, seizures, or even death.
To effectively treat a plant-poisoning problem, it’s important for you and your vet to know specifically what plant your cat consumed. Since both common names and scientific names are used, make sure to identify the plant correctly. If you’re unsure, bring the plant to your vet for identification.
Nicotine Toxicity in Cats
Nicotine is toxic for cats. The most common source of nicotine is tobacco products like cigarettes, cigarette butts, e-cigarette liquid, and even nicotine gum and patches. Cats can walk through spilled liquids and ingest products that get on their feet or hair. They can also be attracted to products like chewing tobacco that are supplemented with flavors like honey and sugar.
If you suspect your cat has ingested nicotine, consult your vet right away. Immediate treatment involves reducing the amount of nicotine in the stomach while keeping your cat alive until the nicotine is broken down by the body. This can be accomplished through inducing vomiting, intravenous fluid therapy, or pumping a cat’s stomach.
Despite treatment, some cats that have ingested large amounts of nicotine may not survive. If an animal survives the first four to five hours, the prognosis is considered good. Most nicotine is eliminated from the body within 16 to 20 hours.
Although not an acute toxicity, over time, cats can also be exposed to the toxic and deadly effects of secondhand smoke.
Who to Call for a Possible Poisoning
If you witness or are concerned that your cat ingested a dangerous substance, the safest thing to do is to take action. Call your local veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic. They commonly suggest that you call Animal Poison Control or a pet poison helpline.
Some options include:
- ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center
- Phone Number: (888) 426-4435
- Pet Poison Helpline
- Phone Number: (855) 764-7661
What You Should Know Before You Call Poison Control
If you believe your cat has been exposed to a toxic plant, human medications, a common household product, or anything else of concern, it is important to find the packaging and gather critical information.
Questions Animal Poison Control or your veterinarian may ask include:
- Age of your cat
- Weight of your cat
- Time of ingestion (how long ago)
- What was ingested (active ingredients)
- How much was ingested (if a human medication was ingested, it is important to know the name of the medication, milligram size of the pills, and the number of pills ingested)
- Symptoms your cat is experiencing
Tips for Poison Prevention for Cats
In order to protect your cat, it’s important to:
- NEVER bring known toxic plants, such as the Easter lily or sago palm, into a household with cats. Learn more here.
- Watch for plants that have been chewed on or played with.
- Get tips on how to plant a cat-safe garden (if your cat goes outdoors).
- Consider planting catnip or cat grass to fulfill an indoor cat’s need to chew on plants. Learn more here.
- Immediately clean up any spilled chemicals or medications. Cats that walk through leaked substances such as the hair regrowth medication Minoxidil®, bleach, or antifreeze can lick their contaminated feet or haircoat leading to life-threatening toxicity.
- Avoid liquid potpourri, since it can cause severe problems in homes with pets. When ingested, it can cause oral and esophageal ulcers. Learn more about potpourri toxicity here.
- Never give or apply a medication labeled or formulated for dogs on cats. Learn more about topical flea product toxicity here.
- Never give human medication to a cat without the permission of your veterinarian.
- Securely store all medication.
- Immediately find any dropped pills. Some cats love to play with dropped pills and may eventually ingest them.
- Be extremely careful with the placement of rodenticides (mouse or rat poison). Ensure they are not in an area that your cat can access.
- Call and take your cat to your veterinarian or local emergency clinic if you suspect they’ve consumed a poisonous plant or toxin.