Cats are much less likely to suffer from poisoning than dogs because they are usually more careful about what they eat! However, curiosity can indeed kill the cat, and young adventurous felines are definitely at risk in a human world. In this blog, we’re going to highlight the most important poisons for cats, so you can make sure they’re kept well away from curious creatures!
Many types of antifreeze contain a chemical called ethylene glycol. This is a very sweet-tasting substance (so sweet that even cats can detect it!). As a result, cats tend to drink it up, given the chance. Once in the body, it acts a bit like alcohol, causing confusion and wobbliness. This is potentially dangerous for the cat, but if untreated, it gets worse, as a day or so later, their kidneys suddenly shut down – usually with fatal consequences. If treated early, intensive care and the use of the antidote can save them, but if they have gone into kidney failure before treatment starts, the prognosis is very poor.
We tend to think of dogs getting chocolate poisoning, not cats – but cats are susceptible as well. The active ingredient is a chemical called theobromine, which over-excites the heart and nervous system. This chemical is closely related to caffeine, which has similar effects. Poisoned cats may suffer vomiting and diarrhoea, abnormal heartbeats, seizures or even collapse and death; however, fortunately it is rare for cats to eat enough to become seriously ill. Different types of chocolate contain different amounts of theobromine – white chocolate has the least, then milk, then dark, and cocoa powder the most. If your cat does gobble up some chocolate, give us a ring for advice!
Dog flea treatments
One common ingredient in some (although not all) dog and rabbit flea spot-ons is permethrin. This is safe in dogs, but it’s lethally toxic to cats. It damages the nervous system causing hypersalivation, tremors, high temperature then severe seizures, coma and usually death. Permethrin can even poison cats that have just rubbed up against a treated dog! If you think your cat may have been dosed with a permethrin-containing product, call us immediately. To prevent problems, NEVER use dog or rabbit products on a cat unless the label specifically states that it is safe to do so. No flea treatment offered by Goddard Veterinary Group contains permethrin.
All parts of the lily plant are poisonous to cats, even the pollen. The toxin causes catastrophic and usually irreversible kidney failure. Cats become poisoned after grooming themselves, having touched a lily plant, or having got pollen on their coat. In some cases, poisonings have even occurred after cats drink water that lilies had been in. If you have cats – no lilies in the house! If you’re concerned, call us right away.
Most human medicines are toxic to cats – partly for dose reasons (humans being much bigger need higher doses!), but also because cats do not break down medications as efficiently as humans do. The most dangerous is paracetamol, which is a lethal poison for cats – never, ever give paracetamol medications to a cat. It’s a really common thing that we see, though, causing depression, vomiting, damage to red blood cells (so the gums go blue or even brown), swollen head and paws, then liver failure and death. There is an antidote, but it needs to be given really quickly!
Although insecticides (like wasp or ant killers) and slug pellets are highly toxic to cats, poisoning is rare. However, we often see cats that have been poisoned with rat- or mouse-poisons – often because they’ve eaten a poisoned animal. This “secondary poisoning” is most likely with the “professional-strength” rat baits, and usually results in uncontrolled bleeding. The symptoms are depression, lethargy, bruising, maybe a rash, and bleeding from the nose, mouth and bowels; sometimes, the bleeding is entirely internal. There is an antidote that is very effective, but very sick cats tend to run away and hide, so if your cat starts showing early signs and there’s rat-bait down, get them to us ASAP. Some of these poisons can stay active in the body for many weeks, so affected cats may need regular dosing with the antidote for a prolonged time after poisoning.
Washing liquids and detergents
Possibly the most overlooked item on this list – but just as deadly as the others. Concentrated washing liquids (e.g. the gel or liquid sachets for use in a washing machine) are lethal to cats. They tend to play with them, but when their claws burst the envelope, the liquid causes deep burns to their skin. This is painful and very nasty, but not usually fatal – unfortunately, cats then try to lick it off. Once in the mouth, the detergents burn the mouth, gullet and windpipe, resulting in fluid loss, shock, and often suffocation as the airways swell. If exposed, wash them as soon as possible and then call us – they’ll probably need intensive care, and even then the prognosis is guarded.
If you think your cat may have been poisoned, call us IMMEDIATELY. We also need to know, if possible, what it is they’ve been exposed to. Remember, any delay in treatment may prove fatal.