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There are hundreds of items your pet can get access to. Some things are highly toxic and others are non-toxic. This article is a guide to help you determine if a particular item is a problem and link you on to more in-depth information.
If you think your pet may have been exposed to a toxin, the best thing to do is to check the label of the item you think your pet ingested. Read the information about toxicity. Often, but not always, the information on packaging regarding children is relevant to pets and some manufacturers even discuss pet toxicity. If there is an 800 number on the package – call them! It is also recommended that you call your veterinarian to confirm the recommendations. If you go to your veterinarian, take all packaging and any information you have on the product.
General Information. For most poisonings, there is not much you can do at home. Consult your veterinarian or veterinary emergency facility if you suspect your pet has been poisoned. For some ingested poisons, your veterinarian may recommend inducing vomiting before bringing the pet in for examination and treatment. Inducing vomiting of a toxic substance should never be done unless specifically directed by a veterinarian. For topical exposures, bathing in lukewarm water with a mild dish soap can reduce further toxin absorption before the pet is examined and treated by a veterinarian.
Amitraz. Amitraz is an insecticide used in some brands of dog tick collars and topical solutions. Toxicity most often affects cats who have a dog tick collar placed on them but can also occur if a cat licks the tick collar on the dog. Typical symptoms begin within about 2 to 6 hours of ingestion and often begin with the cat becoming weak and lethargic. Vomiting, diarrhea and disorientation are also common. Without treatment, coma may result. In severe untreated cases, toxicity may result in death. Prompt consultation with your family veterinarian or local veterinary emergency hospital is suggested if you realize an amitraz-based tick collar was placed on your cat or your cat licked a collar.
Antifreeze. Ethylene glycol toxicosis is a type of poisoning that occurs after ingestion of antifreeze or other fluids containing the ingredient ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol itself is not toxic, but it is metabolized in the animal’s body to several extremely toxic chemicals that are responsible for its potentially lethal effects. Ethylene glycol poisoning results in nervous system abnormalities and severe kidney failure with almost complete cessation of urine output. Ethylene glycol poisoning can be fatal if not treated soon after ingestion (within 4 to 8 hours). Cats are more susceptible to ethylene glycol poisoning than dogs (i.e. smaller amounts are required to cause poisoning). The minimum lethal dose for a cat is 1.5 milliliters of antifreeze per kilogram of body weight. Therefore, a teaspoonful can be lethal to a 7 pound cat. Definitive treatment should be started as soon as possible after consumption of ethylene glycol (within a few hours). If treated promptly and appropriately, pets that have consumed ethylene glycol will not develop kidney failure and have a good chance of survival. Signs to watch for include: nausea, vomiting, increased thirst, lethargy and incoordination progressing to coma. Pets may act as if they are intoxicated. These signs develop within 30 minutes to 12 hours after ingestion of ethylene glycol depending on the amount ingested.
Aspirin. Aspirin toxicity (salicylate toxicity) is poisoning that occurs following the ingestion of aspirin or aspirin-containing products. Cats and young animals are more susceptible to the effects of aspirin than are dogs because they are unable to metabolize the drug as quickly. Aspirin interferes with platelets, which are responsible for helping the blood to clot. Disruption of platelet function increases the amount of time it takes the blood to clot after being cut. Spontaneous bleeding may also occur causing pinpoint bruises to appear in the skin and on the gums (petechiae). Aspirin toxicity may cause gastrointestinal problems, respiratory difficulties, neurological problems, bleeding disorders and kidney failure. If accidental ingestion has occurred, remove any remaining pills from the environment. Take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment. If you live more than 30 minutes from the veterinary hospital, call ahead for advice on whether or not to induce vomiting at home prior to transportation.
Arsenic. Although a common poison in the days of Agatha Christie, arsenic is somewhat difficult to obtain and animal poisonings are rare. Usually, poisoning is due to the ingestion of very old insect traps. Since 1989, the use of arsenic in insect traps has greatly diminished but there are still some out there. The lethal dose is 1 to 25 mg per kilogram of weight and signs of poisoning include severe vomiting, diarrhea and nausea. If caught early, most pets are treated and recover. If treatment is delayed and the signs of illness are severe, pets usually do not survive. If your pet has ingested an insect trap, make sure to check the label to see if arsenic is present and call your veterinarian.
Bathroom Cleaners, Bleach, Lysol and Other Corrosives. Household cleaners can cause very serious “chemical burns.” Most often these chemicals are ingested or licked causing a caustic or corrosive burn usually affecting the tongue and upper esophagus. If chemical ingestion is witnessed, immediately flush the mouth with large amounts of water. This can help reduce the amount of chemical in the mouth and may reduce the damage. Chemical oral burns may not show up immediately. Call your veterinarian for additional treatment recommendations. Common signs include: lack of appetite, drooling, pawing at the mouth, and excessive swallowing.
Carbon Monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas, that when absorbed into the bloodstream, forms a compound that causes hypoxia (reduced oxygen supply) of the heart and brain. Pets can be exposed by automotive exhaust in a closed garage, faulty exhaust system, non-vented furnace, gas water heater, gas/kerosene space heater and/or smoke inhalation from a fire. Some pets are predisposed to toxicity due to preexisting heart or lung disease. Symptoms of toxicity include drowsiness, lethargy, weakness, incoordination, bright red color to the skin and gums, difficulty breathing, coma and/or abrupt death. Occasionally, chronic (low-grade, long-term) exposure may cause exercise intolerance, changes in gait (walking), and disturbances of normal reflexes. Be aware that if the source of poisoning still exists, both you and your cat are at risk. Prevent toxicity by minimizing exposure and using carbon monoxide detectors around your home.
Carbamate Insecticides. Carbamates are a type of insecticides used to treat insects on our crops and soils, prevent and treat flea infestations and are used in ant and roach baits. The majority of toxicities related to this chemical are due to improper use of the chemical, especially when many different types of insecticides are used at the same time. The dog formula should never be used on cats. Carbamates affect the nerve-muscle junctions. Without a normal nerve impulse through the muscle, the function of the muscle is impaired. Since muscle tissue is present in the intestinal tract as well as the heart and skeleton, various signs may be seen if a pet is exposed to toxic levels of this insecticide. Symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, difficulty breathing, muscles tremors, twitching, weakness and paralysis. Prompt veterinary care is required to survive a toxic exposure.
Chocolate. Chocolate, in addition to having a high fat content, contains caffeine and theobromine. These two compounds are nervous system stimulants and can be toxic to your dog in high amounts but is rarely a problem in cats due to their more “discriminating” palate. The levels of caffeine and theobromine vary between different types of chocolate. For example, white chocolate has the lowest concentration of stimulants and baking chocolate or cacao beans have the highest concentration. However if enough is eaten and depending on the type of chocolate ingested and the amount eaten, various problems can occur. The high fat content in chocolate may result in vomiting and possibly diarrhea. Once toxic levels are eaten, the stimulant effect becomes apparent. You may notice restlessness, hyperactivity, muscle twitching, increased urination and possibly excessive panting. Heart rate and blood pressure levels may also be increased. Seizure activity may occur in severe cases.
Cocaine. Cocaine is rapidly absorbed from the stomach, nasal passages and lungs. Following exposure the cocaine usually leaves the system within four to six hours. Pets exposed to cocaine show signs of intermittent hyperactivity followed by profound lethargy. Some may develop seizures. Treatment is aimed at supporting the body systems. Inducing vomiting is not helpful since cocaine is so rapidly absorbed. Hospitalization with intravenous fluids and sedatives are typical treatments. Depending on the severity of illness, amount ingested and time lapsed before treatment, some pets exposed to cocaine do not survive.
Detergents and Soaps. Most soaps and detergents are generally non-toxic. You can expect some vomiting and maybe even a little diarrhea from eating a non-food item. Read the container for additional information. If ingestion is witnessed, you may flush the mouth with large amounts of water.
Easter Lily. The Easter lily plant is highly toxic to cats. Chewing on just a few leaves can result in serious illness. Cats initially stop eating, begin vomiting and may progress to lethargy and coma. The unknown toxic substance within the Easter lily eventually causes kidney failure. Untreated cats often do not survive. If treated early, the kidney failure may be reversible and the cat can do well if hospitalized on intravenous fluids for 1 to 2 days.
Estrogen Toxicity. Estrogen toxicity is a condition in which a group of estrogen compounds (female hormones), either produced in excess within the body or administered from the outside, become poisonous to the body. Estrogen toxicity is seen most commonly in reproductive-age females and aged males. Symptoms can include: lethargy, pale gums, bleeding, fever, thin hair coat and feminization (female sex characteristics) in males.
Ethanol. Ethanol is an alcohol that is used commonly as a solvent (liquid that dissolves) in medications and is the major ingredient of alcoholic beverages. Common causes of toxicity include direct access to alcoholic beverages or spilled medication, ingestion of fermented products (bread), intentional or malicious administration by human beings, and/or dermal (skin) exposure to these products. Toxicity can cause a wide variety of signs, and may lead to death. Signs can include: odor of alcohol on the animal’s breath or stomach contents, incoordination, staggering, behavioral change, excitement or depression, excessive urination and/or urinary incontinence, slow respiratory rate, cardiac arrest and death. If you suspect your pet has ingested a form of ethanol, please call your veterinarian for additional instructions.
Glow Jewelry. The active ingredient in most glow jewelry and other glow-in-the-dark products is dibutyl phthalate. This substance has low toxicity and there has not been a report of an animal poisoned by its ingestion. If your pet has ingested dibutyl phthalate, encourage him to drink a small amount of milk, tuna juice or canned cat food. This will help dilute the taste of the dibutyl phthalate. Even rinsing the mouth out with water can help reduce the signs associated with glow jewelry exposure. Even after rinsing the mouth, you may want to bathe your pet to remove any dibutyl that may have leaked out of the tooth marks and onto the pet’s hair coat.
Herbal Medications. While most plants used have beneficial properties, it is important to remember that the strength of the plant’s active ingredients will vary with the variety of herb and the horticultural practices used to grow them. Herbs can be sprayed with pesticides, fungicides or fertilizers. They may have been fertilized with improperly prepared compost, which can harbor harmful bacteria. They may produce more than one active compound causing unwanted side effects, which may worsen some medical conditions. There are no standards for quality control in production and dosages. Onion, garlic, pennyroyal and ginseng are a few of the commonly used herbal preparations that can cause toxicities if used inappropriately. Many have vomiting and diarrhea as a side effect. Even if your pet is taking an herbal supplement without complication, make sure your veterinarian knows what you are giving. Some herbs interfere with other health concerns and other medications.
Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is a popular and effective over-the-counter medication available to treat pain and inflammation in people. For cats, ibuprofen can easily exceed toxic levels. The most common cause of ibuprofen toxicity is a well-meaning owner who tries to alleviate pain in his cat by administering a dose he thinks is adequate without knowing the toxic dose. The initial toxic effect is bleeding stomach ulcers. In addition to ulcers, increasing doses of ibuprofen eventually lead to kidney failure and, if left untreated, can be fatal. Symptoms include poor appetite, vomiting, black tarry stools, vomiting blood, abdominal pain, weakness and lethargy. Cats are more sensitive to the effects of ibuprofen than dogs and one tablet can cause rapid kidney failure and subsequent death.
Inhaled Toxins. Carbon monoxide poisoning is typically associated with confinement in a running vehicle but can also occur in a home with improper ventilation and faulty furnaces. If you suspect that your cat has been exposed to carbon monoxide, remove him from the scene and place him in an area with fresh air. Contact your veterinarian or local emergency facility for further instructions. Smoke inhalation is another common inhaled toxin.
Iron. Iron is a chemical element that is normally important to red blood cell production in the body. It is found in a variety of supplements and vitamins. Iron toxicity typically occurs after accidental ingestion of the supplements or from overdoses of supplements. Toxic levels of iron cause damage to the stomach and intestinal lining as well as cause severe liver damage and heart damage. The first signs generally occur within six hours of eating a toxic amount. Even without treatment, your cat may appear to have improved after the initial gastrointestinal upset. Unfortunately, spontaneous recovery has not really occurred and about 24 hours later, diarrhea returns along with liver failure, shock and possible coma. Bleeding disorders can also occur. See your veterinarian immediately if you suspect iron toxicity.
Lead. Lead toxicity refers to poisoning due to ingestion or inhalation of products containing the element lead. Pets may be exposed to lead from several different sources. Lead toxicity can cause anemia (low red blood cell count), gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea) and nervous system problems (seizures). Lead crosses the placenta from pregnant mother to babies and is also excreted in her milk. Thus, the developing fetus and nursing young can be affected. See your veterinarian if you suspect lead exposure.
Marijuana. The primary active ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. It takes about 1.5 grams of marijuana per pound of body weight to be fatal. Therefore, death from ingested marijuana is not common. However, pets ingesting marijuana become incoordination and begin stumbling. Most become quite lethargic. Some may experience hallucinations. The danger with marijuana is that vomiting is common, and if the pet is profoundly lethargic and begins vomiting, aspiration of the vomitus into the lungs can lead to severe breathing problems and even death. Treatment of marijuana exposure usually involves the induction of vomiting to remove any residual THC and, depending on the severity of the signs, some pets require hospitalization with intravenous fluids. The vast majority of pets exposed to marijuana fully recover within 24 hours.
Medication. Never give any medication, prescription or over-the-counter, without approval from your veterinarian. There are several medications available for people that can help animals but you must be careful to give the correct medicine at the proper dose. Some common medications that can have serious effects on animals if not used correctly include: pseudoephedrine, aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Imodium, diphenhydramine, diazepam, Percodan and Claritan. If your pet has ingested an unprescribed medication, contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility. Give the name of the medication, how many and what dose your pet received, what time the ingestion could have occurred, as well as pet information such as breed, age and any health problems he/she may have. You may receive instructions for what to do at home or what to watch for. In some situations, emergency examination and treatment are crucial.
Metaldehyde. Metaldehyde poisoning results from the ingestion of products containing the active ingredient metaldehyde. This is a common ingredient used in molluscicides, which are products used to kill snails and slugs. Slug and snail baits generally contain three percent metaldehyde and products are formulated as blue or green colored pellets, powder, liquid or granules. The use of molluscicides increases the risk of exposure for pets, and a metaldehyde dosage of 190 to 240 milligrams per kilogram of body weight is lethal for 50 percent of cats. Metaldehyde toxicity causes rapid onset of neurological symptoms that begin 1 to 4 hours after exposure. Repeated seizures can cause a very high body temperature, which can lead to complications that are fatal. Affected pets usually require hospitalization for 24 to 72 hours after metaldehyde ingestion.
Metronidazole. Metronidazole (Flagyl®) is a commonly used and very effective antibiotic. Unfortunately, as with all drugs, toxicity and adverse effects can occur. However, toxicity from metronidazole is uncommon and is generally associated with prolonged use (many weeks) or high doses of the drug. Animals with underlying liver disease are more prone to metronidazole toxicity. Toxic levels of metronidazole affect the brain and equilibrium. Symptoms include: not eating, vomiting, staggering or difficulty walking, involuntary and constant eye movements (nystagmus), lethargy and seizures. There is no home care for metronidazole toxicity. If you suspect that metronidazole is responsible for illness in your pet, consult your veterinarian.
Mushrooms. Mushroom poisoning occurs as a result of ingesting toxic mushrooms and most commonly associated with curious kittens. Not all mushrooms are poisonous, but each type of poisonous mushroom can cause different signs of illness. Poisonous mushrooms are classified into four main categories, based on the clinical signs they cause, or into seven categories, based on the toxins they contain. The onset of clinical signs may occur anywhere from minutes to hours following ingestion. Signs may include: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lethargy, jaundice (yellow skin color), seizures, coma and/or excess salivation. There is no adequate home care for poisonous mushroom ingestion. If you suspect that your cat has eaten a dangerous mushroom, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are toxic substances secreted by molds and are commonly ingested when cats raid the trash. Ingestion of certain moldy foods can result in signs of illness, primary whole body tremors. If left untreated, the tremors worsen and can progress to seizures. The cat’s body temperature increases and heat-related complications can occur. The most commonly implicated moldy foods are dairy products and pasta but any mold may develop the specific toxins. Cats that do not receive treatment may not survive.
Naproxen. Naproxen is a popular and effective over-the-counter medication available to treat pain and inflammation in people. For cats, naproxen can easily exceed toxic levels. The most common cause of naproxen toxicity is a well-meaning owner who tries to alleviate pain in his cat by giving the medication without knowing the toxic dose. The initial toxic effect is bleeding stomach ulcers. In addition to ulcers, increasing doses of naproxen eventually leads to kidney failure and, if left untreated, can be fatal.
Nicotine. Nicotine is found in a variety of sources, primarily cigarettes, cigars, tobacco, nicotine gum and nicotine patches. The toxic level of nicotine in cats is 5 milligrams of nicotine per pound of body weight. For example, one cigarette contains 15 to 25 milligrams of nicotine, and nicotine patches contain between 8 to 114 milligrams of nicotine. A 10-pound cat would only need to eat 2 to 4 cigarettes in order to show toxic signs. You should note that even after smoking, tobacco retains a significant amount of nicotine residue. Signs of nicotine toxicity generally develop soon after ingestion and include vomiting, drooling, excitement, tremors, low heart rate or seizures. When large amounts are consumed, the effects can be life-threatening, but even small amounts can induce symptoms. Without treatment, nicotine toxicity can cause paralysis of the breathing muscles and your cat may die from an inability to breathe, sometimes within a few hours. If your pet has ingested nicotine, call your veterinarian.
Onions. Onion toxicity can be caused from raw onions, cooked onions, onion powders or flavorings. Cats lack the enzyme necessary to digest onions properly and this could result in gas, diarrhea or severe gastrointestinal distress. The most common source of onions for cats is in human baby food. Some baby foods have onion powder added for taste. When consistently fed baby food with added onion powder, signs of toxicity can develop. The red blood cells may become fragile and break apart, resulting in severe anemia and possibly even death.
Organophosphate Insecticides. An organophosphate is a type of insecticides used to treat insects on our crops and soils, prevent and treat flea infestations, and are used in ant and roach baits. The majority of toxicities related to this chemical are due to improper use of the chemical, especially when many different types of insecticides are used at the same time. The canine formula should never be used on cats. Overdosing has also resulted in toxicity. Organophosphates affect the nerve-muscle junctions. Without a normal nerve impulse through the muscle, the function of the muscle is impaired. Since muscle tissue is present in the intestinal tract as well as the heart and skeleton, various signs may be seen if a pet is exposed to toxic levels of this insecticide. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, difficulty breathing, muscles tremors, twitching, weakness and paralysis. Prompt veterinary care is required to survive a toxic exposure.
Potpourri. Curious cats often find simmering potpourri pots irresistible. Not only are burns a potential problem but the potpourri is caustic. Ingesting or even licking the potpourri can result in chemical burns to the tongue, throat and esophagus. Severely burned cats may require hospitalization with feeding tubes until the wounds heal.
Pyrethrin and Permethrin Insecticides. The most common types of insecticide used to kill fleas are pyrethrins. Toxicity related to pyrethrins is usually associated with applying much more of the product than directed. Permethrin is a stronger synthetic insecticide that has a much greater potential for resulting in toxicity. Permethrin based topical flea products are usually labeled “for use in dogs only.” Application of permethrin-based insecticide to a cat will usually result in toxic signs within 6 hours. Overdosing can cause toxic signs in both dogs and cats. Signs include drooling, lethargy, muscle tremors, vomiting and seizures. If you suspect your pet may have permethrin/pyrethrin toxicity, the most important part of home care is to bathe your pet in lukewarm water using mild dish soap. Do not use flea shampoo. Avoid hot water since that will dilate blood vessels in the skin and increase the absorption of the flea product. Once the pet is bathed, contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility immediately.
Plants – Toxicity of Common Plants in the House. House plants are popular additions to many rooms. Usually, plants and pets live together harmoniously, although some curious pets often venture to take a little taste. The title link will take you to 20 of the most popular houseplants and their levels of toxicity.
Poison Ivy and Oak. The principal toxin principle in poison oak and poison ivy is urushiol which is an oil resin found in the plant sap. Animals are quite resistant to the effects of urushiol but can transmit the toxin to a person. Dogs and cats typically come in contact with the poison ivy or poison oak plant in wooded areas. They may ingest some of the plant but, more likely, they will rub against it while walking. The sap from the plant can adhere to the hair coat. When you pet your dog or cat later, the sap can transfer from their fur to your skin. If you are susceptible to poison oak or poison ivy, skin irritation can occur. In animals, exposure to urushiol infrequently results in skin irritation.
Rat Poison. Rodenticide poisoning is the accidental ingestion of products used to kill rodents such as mice, rats and gophers. These products are common and accidental exposure is frequent. Poisoning is most commonly caused by ingestion of a product containing one of the following ingredients: bromethalin, cholecalciferol (vitamin D3), strychnine, zinc phosphide and anticoagulants (such as warfarin, fumarin, chlorophacinone, diphacinone, pindone, bromadiolone, brodaficoum). The impact on the poisoned animal varies depending on the type of poison ingested. An animal may develop a bleeding disorder, neurological problems, gastrointestinal distress or kidney failure. In some cases, rodenticide poisoning is fatal. If you suspect that your pet has ingested rat poison, call your veterinarian immediately.
Smoke Inhalation. Smoke can create significant damage within the airways. Pets, as well as people, can quickly succumb to the effects of smoke inhalation. If your pet is exposed to smoke, remove him from the area immediately and provide him with access to fresh air. If oxygen is available, offer by face mask. Contact your veterinarian or local emergency facility immediately. Your pet will require additional medical treatment for a successful outcome.
Strychnine. Strychnine is a toxin derived from the seeds of Strychnos nux vomica and S. ignatii, used to control rats, moles and other predators. However, when ingested by cats, it is extremely toxic, and can cause death. Direct exposure to bait is the most common cause in cats, although intentional poisonings are not uncommon. Toxicity can also occur from the ingestion of poisoned rodents and birds. The primary effect of the toxin is on the neurological system. The toxin interferes with inhibitory transmitters, which produce a state of muscle rigidity and stimulation. Death is often caused by the effect on muscles that stimulate breathing. If you witness your cat ingesting strychnine, contact your veterinarian at once. He or she may direct you to induce vomiting immediately, if it is within minutes of ingestion. Take all poison packages with you to your veterinarian’s office.
Toads. The Colorado River toad and the giant toad (also called the marine toad) are the two most common poisonous toads found in the United States. Though most toads are bitter tasting and usually result in profuse drooling in any pet that tries to take a taste, only a couple of species of toads are truly poisonous. The poisonous secretions from these toads can affect animals who come in contact with them, causing a host of clinical signs. The poison is highly toxic to pets. Cats have a high probability of dying if untreated.
Topical Poisons. Poisoning associated with topical medications is uncommon in dogs and cats. The topical product usually associated with toxicity is an inappropriately applied topical flea product. The products specifically labeled for use in dogs can result in serious toxicity if administered to cats. The toxic substance in these products is permethrin, which can have devastating effects if given to cats.
Tylenol. Acetaminophen is a medication commonly used to alleviate fever and pain. Common brands include Tylenol®, Percoset®, aspirin free Excedrin® and various sinus, cold and flu medications. Cats are much more sensitive to acetaminophen than dogs and are therefore more susceptible to acetaminophen toxicity. One regular strength acetaminophen tablet is toxic and potentially lethal to a cat. There is no home care for acetaminophen toxicity. If you suspect that your cat has ingested any amount of acetaminophen, contact your family veterinarian or local veterinary emergency facility immediately.
Vitamins.Vitamin toxicity occurs when the intake of a dietary vitamin exceeds the normal requirement causing adverse clinical signs or disease. Normal requirements differ for different vitamins and there are a variety of causes of vitamin toxicity, depending on the type of vitamin.
Zinc. Zinc toxicity is most often seen in young dogs that ingest some form of zinc but may also occur in cats. The most common sources are pennies minted after 1982, zinc nuts and bolts, which can be found in transport cages, galvanized metals, zinc-containing ointments (e.g. zinc oxide ointment) and zinc game pieces from board games. Zinc is directly irritating to the stomach lining so it may cause gastrointestinal irritation as well as a potentially fatal blood disorder. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy and pale gums. A toxic dose for a typical cat may be as few as 1 penny.