Your Guide to Common Cat Poisonings


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.

Plants – Fall and Winter. This link takes you to the common plants associated with the fall and winter holidays.

Plants – Spring and Summer. Springtime holidays are often associated with bulb plants and ingestion of the bulbs can cause the most severe illnesses. Summer holidays are associated with plants. This link takes you to the common plants associated with the spring and summer months.

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.


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