A Guide to Poison Prevention for Cats

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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, cats’ 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 tendencies, but that’s simply not the case. When you couple felines’ curious nature with their grooming habit of licking substances found on their coats, they prove far from immune from 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, though, we can strive to minimize such situations. National Poison Prevention Week – which runs the third week of March annually (March 20-26 this year) – represents a campaign designed to raise awareness regarding dangerous substances and how to handle a poison-related emergency.

Your feline’s longterm well-being could very well depend on your ability to limit his exposure to common poisonous substances. Here’s what you need to know about your cat and 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 he doesn’t immediately become ill. Every toxic ingestion is cause for concern and should prompt an immediate call to your veterinarian or local animal emergency facility.

While some poisons are inhaled or absorbed, the majority are ingested. Signs of poisoning in cats include:

  • Lethargy or sluggishness
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stumbling or staggering
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Seizure

Your Guide to Common Cat Poisonings

There are hundreds of substances your cat can access. Some are highly toxic and others are non-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 packaging regarding children is relevant to cats and some manufacturers even discuss pet toxicity. If there’s an 800 number on the package – call it!

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 before bringing your cat in for examination and treatment. 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 treatments for poisoning include reducing additional absorption, delaying absorption, and speeding elimination.

Top Household Poisons Affecting 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 to insecticides.

The Animal Poison Hotline compiled the following list of the top-five toxic substances cats consume:

  • Plants: Cats are infamous for eating plants, and suffering the consequences. Ingestion of the Easter lily, for instance, can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and kidney failure.
  • Pesticides: Cats are primarily poisoned by contact with concentrated pesticides and fertilizers. This can occur if the product is not stored properly or if too much is used on the lawn.
  • House Products and Cleaners: These vary quite a bit in chemical makeup and toxicity. These products can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea or chemical burns, resulting in organ damage.
  • Prescription Drugs: The container may be child-proof, but your cat may succeed at getting to the pills inside. All drugs should be placed out of reach of felines.
  • Over-the-Counter Medication: It’s important to remember that certain OTC drugs won’t have the same effect on pets as they do on humans. Aspirin, for instance, can be dangerous.

Dangerous Foods: Are They Harmful to Your Cat?

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 with strong poisoning potential for cats include:

  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches, and Plums
  • Avocados
  • Baking Powder and Baking Soda
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Fatty Foods
  • Dairy Products
  • Grapes and Raisins
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Moldy or Spoiled Food
  • Nutmeg
  • Onions and Garlic
  • Yeast Dough

Poisonous Plants and Your Cat

Plants are attractive to cats. Though they’re strict carnivores, cats like the texture of certain plants, especially those that have grass-like leaves or fine texture, such as baby’s breath, ferns, 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 the identity is correct. If you’re unsure, bring the plant to your vet for identification.

In order to protect your cat from plant poisoning, it’s important to:

  • Keep known poisonous plants out of your cat’s reach.
  • Watch for plants that have been chewed on.
  • Monitor your cat for symptoms of poisoning.
  • Take your cat to the vet if you suspect he’s consumed a poisonous plant.

Nicotine Toxicity in Cats

Nicotine is toxic for cats. The most common source of nicotine is tobacco products like cigarettes, cigarette butts, and even nicotine gum and patches. Some cats are attracted to the products like chewing tobacco that are supplemented with flavors such as honey and sugar.

If you suspect your feline 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, introducing intravenous fluids, 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.

Resources for Cat Poison Prevention

Want more useful advice regarding keeping your feline safe from poisons? Check out our featured articles:

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