Potpourri Exposure in Cats

Potpourri Exposure in Cats

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Liquid potpourri is a popular household item. Typically, a few tablespoons of potpourri concentrate are added to water and allowed to heat slowly in potpourri simmer pots until warm, soothing and pleasant fragrances begin to permeate the house. Unfortunately, liquid potpourri can be toxic to pets, as it contains essential oils and cationic detergents, which are both toxic. Cats and curious puppies are most commonly exposed. Cats can rub against leaky potpourri bottles, paw at the substances in the simmer pots or spill the contents on themselves. When the liquid gets on the fur, cats can ingest potpourri while grooming.

Both essential oils and cationic detergents can irritate the gums and intestinal tract. Skin exposure can result in pain, redness, swelling and ulcers. Some pets can develop vomiting, breathing problems, low blood pressure or profound weakness.

What to Watch For

  • Burns on the skin or mouth
  • Not eating
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Weakness


    Diagnosis is based on exposure to potpourri. Frequently, the fragrance associated with the potpourri can be detected on the affected pet. Blood tests may be run to make sure the remainder of the body's organs are functioning normally. A thorough oral exam may reveal ulcers.


    Treatment for potpourri exposure is based on the severity of the signs. Pets with skin exposure need to be bathed in lukewarm water to remove any remaining potpourri. Since the potpourri is usually warm or hot, skin burns are possible. Other treatment may include:

  • Pain medication such as butorphanol or morphine
  • Anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling, most commonly prednisone or dexamethasone
  • Antibiotics to treat severe skin wounds with potential to become infected
  • Pet with eye exposure will need the eyes thoroughly irrigated. The surface of the eyes may be stained with fluorescein to reveal corneal ulcers or burns. If ulcers or burns are present, treatment with eye ointments with antibiotics are necessary.
  • Pets ingesting potpourri can develop severe burns in the mouth, throat or esophagus. Inducing vomiting and stomach lavage (washing) are not recommended because this can cause further burning. Charcoal is also not recommended since it is ineffective in binding the potpourri. Initial treatment is offering 1 ml per pound of body weight of milk or water to dilute the potpourri. For a 10-pound cat, that is 2 teaspoons of milk or water. In cases with severe mouth and throat burns, hospitalization with intravenous fluids may be necessary. Feeding tubes for those pets that will not eat may be required until the burns have healed and the pet begins to eat on his own.

    Home Care and Prevention

    After initial exposure, immediately bathing in lukewarm water and flushing eyes can help reduce further injury. Offering a small amount of milk or water can help reduce additional oral injury to those pets that have ingested potpourri. After initial home care, examination by a veterinarian is strongly recommended.

    The best way to prevent exposure to potpourri is to keep the simmer pots in an area that is not accessible to your pets. Don't forget that cats can easily jump onto high places. Keep potpourri liquid concentrate containers out of reach. With a little care and foresight, tragedies can be avoided.

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