What can I do if I’m concerned about cat poison?
By: Ernest E. Ward, Jr., DVM
Are cat poison incidents common?
- More common than you’d think.
- While cats may be finicky eaters, their curiosity and fastidious grooming habits cause them to ingest all kinds of poisons.
- Even a small exposure to toxins can make cats very ill because their bodies are small and they lack certain liver enzymes necessary to decontaminate certain chemicals.
- Since cats often hide when they’re ill, owners don’t see the symptoms.
- Poisoned cats are less likely to recover than dogs.
What household items are known to be cat poisons?
The most common hazards are human medications, household chemicals, garden insecticides and rodenticides (rat or mouse poisons). Here’s a detailed list:
- Garage: Antifreeze, fuels, wood preservatives, lead-based paints
- Kitchen/laundry/household cleaning: Acids, alkalis, bleach, disinfectants
- Human medications: Aspirin, acetaminophen, paracetamol, antidepressants, other prescription drugs
- Foods: Liver, onions, cocoa, raw fish
- Food contaminants: Bacteria, fungi
- Food additives: Propylene glycol
- Garden chemicals: Including rodenticides(warfarin and related substances, calciferol, strychnine, bromethalin), herbicides(sodium chlorate, paraquat), fungicides(pentachlorophenols or PCP), insecticides (pyrethrins, pyrethroids, organochlorines organophosphates and carbamates), and slug baits(metaldehyde)
- Plants: Lilies, mushrooms, marijuana, and pine needles
- Animals: Toads, snakes and stinging insects
- Their own cat illnesses: Endogenous toxins (produced within the body due to kidney failure, liver problems and other conditions) are not technically poisons, but they can cause poison symptoms in cats.
How can a cat become poisoned by a toxic substance?
- Directly ingesting it (eating or licking the substance)
- Eating poisoned prey such as a mouse
- Grooming fur that’s contaminated with the chemical
- Absorbing it through the skin, particularly the paws
- Inhaling it
What kind of cat poison symptoms should I watch for?
Your cat’s health may be compromise by a toxin if you see any of these symptoms:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Tremors, lack of coordination, seizures, excitability, depression, or coma
- Coughing, sneezing, or difficult breathing
- Skin signs of redness, inflammation and swelling
- Increased drinking
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
Some toxins produce a combination of symptoms. Some reactions are sudden problems; others may be delayed and chronic (lasting and recurring). Chronic poison symptoms can be very difficult to recognize and treat.
I think my cat has been poisoned or swallowed poison. What should I do?
Call your vet immediately, ask for advice, and plan to take your cat to your vet clinic or a local veterinary emergency hospital.
- If your cat refuses to be held or helped, wrap him or her in a towel and place in a box so you won’t get scratched or bitten.
- This also prevents your cat from licking more contamination from its coat.
- If you suspect that your cat swallowed the toxin, try to get your cat to drink water or milk to help dilute any absorbed toxins.
- Do NOT try to make your cat vomit, since he or she may choke on it. You may want to call the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888- 426-4435. (A $65 ASPCA consultation fee may be applied to your credit card.)
My cat seems to have a “chemical” on its fur. What should I do?
Call your vet to determine whether you should try home treatment or bring your cat to the clinic.
If the contamination is mild enough for home treatment, do the following to prevent skin absorption or keep your cat from licking it.
- Remove your cat’s collar (and clean it if it was also contaminated).
- Clip off contaminated hair and remove as much of the contamination as possible to avoid spreading it during the wash phase.
- Remove oily or tarry material by rubbing it with clean, warm cooking oil or mineral oil on a cotton ball, and then wiping the residue off thoroughly before bathing your cat.
- Wash your cat in warm soapy water.
- After bathing, dry your cat thoroughly.
- Keep your cat indoors, in a warm, quiet room, for 24 hours of observation.
The good news is – exposure to a toxin does not have to end badly. Call your vet immediately for help.
Your vet is the best guide on what to do.