Because cats are fussy eaters, some believe that they’re less easily poisoned than dogs, but because of their grooming behaviour and curious nature, intoxication isn’t that uncommon.
Once exposed to a poison, their small size, ability to hide so it isn’t quickly discovered, and the fact they lack certain liver enzymes as obligate carnivores meaning they can’t breakdown certain chemicals, mean that effects can be serious.
There are a number of different products and chemicals around the house and garden that can prove to be poisonous to cats. Some might seem obvious, and some less so, and in the coming weeks we’ll be looking at these in more detail. In this introductory article we’ll look at a few common household poisons, and the signs of poisoning.
Whilst the obvious cause of poisoning may be directly through eating a toxic substance, this isn’t the only way that cats can be poisoned, it can happen through:
- Ingesting a toxic substance through eating it.
- Swallowing poisons when grooming their fur.
- Inhaling the poison.
- Absorbing toxins through the skin, particularly the paws.
If you believe your cat has ingested ANY toxin, immediate veterinary advice should be sought.
Common household and garden poisons
The examples below are by no means exhaustive, but give an idea of some common household and garden products that are poisonous to cats.
Cleaning and hygiene products
- Cleaning fluids and creams
- Disinfectants (particularly phenolic compounds like ‘Dettol’ which turn milky in water)
- Laundry capsules and concentrated liquids
- Furniture and metal polishes.
- Concentrated washing liquids or powders
- Hair dyes
- Nail polish and remover
- Suntan lotion
- Paint remover
- White spirit
- Wood preservatives (such as creosote)
- Antifreeze, which often contains ethylene glycol or methanol, which are toxic to cats (also found in car screenwashes and de-icers). Many animals find antifreeze sweet tasting, and ingesting even the smallest amount can lead to kidney failure and death, especially in cats. This will feature as a separate Keeping Cats Safe topic.
- Brake fluid
- Windscreen washer fluid
Miscellaneous household items
- Photographic developer
- Shoe polish
- Insecticides (insect killers including ant and wasp killers Such as organophosphates and pyrethroids.
- Molluscicides (slug and snail killers) such as metaldehyde and methiocarb
- Fungicides (for treating fungal infections, eg, mildews, rusts, rose black spot) such as thiophanage-methyl and benomyl
- Rodenticides (rat and mouse killers) such as brodifacoum, difenacoum, chlorphacione and coumatetralyl. Rodenticides are the most common pesticides implicated in the poisoning of cats, usually because the cat has eaten poisoned prey. The other pesticides are normally safe for cats when used at their correct working strength, provided that cats are excluded from the treated area until the spray has dried.
- Paracetamol is extremely poisonous to cats and should never be given. This will feature as a Keeping Cats Safe topic in its own right.
Tips for avoiding accidental poisoning
Make sure that poisonous products are stored safely and spills are cleaned up quickly and thoroughly. Be mindful that cats can push and break containers on shelves, so secure, closed cupboards are safer.
Don’t give cats products intended for people, unless told otherwise by your vet.
Dispose of antifreeze safely and responsibly.
When using sprays of pesticides or herbicides in the garden keep the cat in until they have dried.
Signs of poisoning
The clinical signs of poisoning are very variable and will depend on the particular poison concerned. These can be:
- Gastrointestinal signs – vomiting and diarrhoea
- Neurological signs – tremors, incoordination, seizures, excitability, depression, or coma
- Respiratory signs – coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing
- Skin signs – Inflammation, swelling
- Liver failure – Jaundice, vomiting
- Kidney failure – Increased drinking, inappetence and weight loss
- Some toxins act on more than one body system, and can produce a combination of the above signs.
While most cases of intoxication will cause acute problems, chronic intoxication can arise, and this often proves even more difficult to recognise and treat.
If your pet shows any of the following signs take them to a vet immediately:
- Increased urination
- Increased drinking
- Lethargy (being abnormally sleepy)
- Appearing drunk and uncoordinated
- Seizures (fitting)
- Abnormally fast heartbeat
- Very fast, shallow breathing
The sooner veterinary treatment is received, the better their chances of survival. If left untreated pets can suffer, and will die.
I am the feline behaviour specialist at feline charity ‘International Cat Care’. We are about engaging, educating and empowering people throughout the world to improve the health and welfare of cats by sharing advice, training and passion.
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