March is National Poison Prevention Awareness Month
The majority of cats live indoors, and it is important to be aware of potential toxins in the home environment. Unlike dogs, where ingestion of hazardous substances may be directly witnessed, many potential toxin ingestions in the cat are not seen by anyone at the time.
The most common cat toxins include:
- Human or veterinary drugs
- Poisonous plants
- Insecticides and over the counter dewormers
- Household cleaners
- Other toxins
Human or veterinary drugs – with any accidental medication ingestion, immediate veterinary care is imperative. Treat your pets like your children when it comes to medications (even those prescribed for your cat): keep them out of reach. Always use medications prescribed for your cat only as directed, and only for the cat for which the medication was prescribed unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian. Some of the most dangerous human drugs for cats are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), including aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil®), which can cause severe kidney failure, stomach ulcers and anemia. One acetaminophen (Tylenol®) tablet can be fatal. Antidepressants are also a common toxicant – in particular, venlafaxine (Effexor®) seems to have a desirable smell and taste for cats. Do not give any medications to your cat unless directed by your veterinarian.
Poisonous plants – cats like to nibble on plants. The most dangerous of indoor plants are lilies, and these flowers are often included in arrangements. True lilies (Lilium and Hemerocallis spp.), including the Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies, are among the most deadly and cause kidney failure in cats. All parts of the plant, including flowers and pollen, are poisonous and ingestion can be lethal. Mortality is high if treatment is initiated late, and surviving animals may develop long term kidney disease. Should you suspect that your cat has eaten a plant, bring the plant (or part of it) to the veterinary clinic so the source of the poisoning can be identified. If you are unsure as to the safety of a specific plant in your house, please call or consult an expert. Lists of toxic and non-toxic plants are available.
Insecticides – the most dangerous products are topical flea and tick medications meant for dogs, containing high concentrations of pyrethrins or pyrethroids. Toxicity can occur through direct application, or by a cat coming into contact with a dog that has been treated within the past few hours with one of these products. Signs include muscle tremors and seizures, and can rapidly lead to death. Always read labels carefully before using any kind of insecticide and ask about appropriate flea and tick medications for your cat.
Household cleaners – cats are usually contaminated by getting these products on their coats or feet, and they ingest the toxin through grooming. Like medications, keep these out of reach of cats, make sure all excess liquid/residue is cleaned up after use, and only allow cats back into cleaned areas after products have completely dried.
Other toxins – Other common toxins include mouse or rat poison (cats are usually poisoned when they catch a mouse or rat that ingested the poison). Human foods usually result in mild stomach upset, but foods such as onion, garlic, chives, chocolate, and caffeine can make your cat seriously ill.
The signs that a cat has ingested a toxin can be vague and non-specific, including vomiting, anorexia, drooling and depression, sometimes progressing to twitching and convulsions, seizures, and potentially death.
With all toxin ingestions, the sooner a poisoning is diagnosed, the easier, less expensive, and safer it is to treat your cat. If you are ever concerned that your cat has ingested something it should not have, call your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital.
Excellent sources of information are:
- ASPCA Animal Poison Control 24-hour Emergency Poison Hotline at 888-426-4435
- Pet Poison Helpline: 24-hour Emergency Poison Hotline at 800-213-6680
[Dr. Amy Lowe]
. . . . .