Last year, there were more than 100,000 cases of pet poisoning in the U.S. Many of these were caused by substances you probably have in your home, substances that may seem perfectly harmless to you. But just because something is safe for people doesn't mean it won't hurt beloved pets. Some of the most dangerous cat poisons are foods and medications we take on a daily basis.
Depending on how a particular substance affects your cat's body and how much was ingested or inhaled, pet poisoning symptoms can include gastrointestinal and neurological problems, cardiac and respiratory distress, coma, and even death.
Top 10 Cat Poisons
Cat poison No. 1: Medications for people. Pets have a much greater sensitivity to many of the common over-the-counter and prescription medications that may be in your home.
Some of the medications that often poison cats include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. The most common cause of pet poisoning, these painkillers can cause ulcers in the stomach and intestines, and kidney damage.
- Acetaminophen is particularly toxic to cats, resulting in red blood cell damage. Just two extra-strength tablets may prove fatal to felines.
- Antidepressants, which may cause vomiting and, in more serious instances, serotonin syndrome - a dangerous condition that raises temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, and may cause seizures.
- Methylphenidate. This attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug is a stimulant for pets, raising heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature.
Cat poison No. 2: Flea and tick products. Poisoning can occur by ingestion of a topical product or overzealous application. In addition, certain flea control products manufactured for dogs can be lethal if used on cats.
Cat poison No. 3: People food. It is important to take care that your cat doesn't ingest foods that might cause pet poisoning or stomach upset. Foods to keep away from your cat include:
- Chocolate. Experts don't recommend giving chocolate, caffeine, or coffee to your cat.
- Onions, garlic, chives. These plant foods can irritate the stomach and damage red blood cells.
Cat poison No. 4: Rat and mouse poison. Rodenticides, if ingested, can cause severe symptoms and may be fatal.
Cat poison No. 5: Pet medications. Just as we can be sickened or killed by medications intended to help us, cases of pet poisoning by veterinary drugs are not uncommon. Some of the more commonly reported problem medications include painkillers and de-wormers.
Cat poison No. 6: Household plants. Cats are notorious for noshing on houseplants, and the habit isn't just bad for your potted treasures. Many common, beautiful houseplants contain cat poisons that can cause serious harm, and even death. Some of the plants toxic to cats include:
- Lilies. Ingesting even small amounts of Easter lilies and related plants can cause severe kidney failure in cats.
- Azaleas and rhododendrons. These pretty flowering plants contain toxins that may result in vomiting, diarrhea, coma, and sometimes even death.
- Tulips and daffodils. The bulbs of these plants, if ingested, may cause serious stomach problems, convulsions, and damage to the heart.
- Sago palms. Eating just a few seeds may be enough to cause vomiting, seizures, and liver failure.
Cat poison No. 7: Chemical hazards. Not surprisingly, chemicals contained in antifreeze and paint thinner, and chemicals for pools can act as cat poisons. The symptoms they may produce include stomach upset, depression, and chemical burns.
Cat poison No. 8: Household cleaners. Just as cleaners like bleach can poison people, they are also a leading cause of pet poisoning, resulting in stomach and respiratory tract problems.
Cat poison No. 9: Heavy metals. Lead, which can be found in paint, linoleum, and batteries, can be poisonous if eaten by your cat. If ingested, lead can cause gastrointestinal and neurological problems.
Cat poison No. 10: Fertilizer. Products for your lawn and garden may be poisonous to animals that ingest them, perhaps by grooming themselves after walking or laying in a recently treated area.
What to do for suspected cat poisoning
If you think your cat has been poisoned, try to stay calm. It is important to act quickly, but rationally.
First, gather up any of the potential poison that remains - this may be helpful to your veterinarian and any outside experts who assist with the case. If your cat has vomited, collect the sample in case your veterinarian needs to see it.
Then, try to keep your pet calm and call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at (888) 426-4435. Experts at the APCC are available to answer questions and provide guidance 24 hours a day for a $60 consultation fee.
Poison Protection: Pet-Proofing Your House
The best way to reduce the chances that your beloved cat will be the victim of pet poisoning is by preventing exposure to dangerous substances.
- Keep all medications, even those in child-proof bottles, in cabinets that are inaccessible to your cat. If you inadvertently drop a pill on the floor, be sure to look for it immediately. Supervise anyone, such as the elderly, who may need help taking medications.
- Always follow guidelines on flea or tick products, and never use products formulated for dogs on cats.
- Although you can give some “people foods” safely to your pets as a treat, others are toxic. If you have any questions about what is safe, ask your veterinarian. Or, err on the safe side and give treats made specifically for animals.
- Be sure any rodenticides you use are kept in metal cabinets or high on shelves where your pets can't find them. Remember that cats can be fatally poisoned by eating an exposed rodent, so always be very cautious about using these products. Tell your neighbors if you put out rat bait, so they can protect their pets from exposure, and ask them to do the same for you.
- When buying plants for your home, opt for those that won't cause problems if your cat happens to nibble on them. The ASPCA has an online list of toxic and nontoxic plants by species. If you choose to have toxic plants, be sure they are kept in a place where your pets can't reach them.
- Store all chemicals and cleaners in pet-inaccessible areas of your home.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Web site: “Top 10 Pet Poisons of 2008.”
ASPCA Web site: “Top 10 Human Medications That Poison Our Pets.”
ASPCA Web site: “People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets.”
American Animal Hospital Association Web site, Healthypet.com: “Chocolate is dangerous for pets.”
American Veterinary Medical Association: “A Pet Owners Guide to Poisons.”
ASPCA web site: “17 Common Poisonous Plants.”
American Animal Hospital Association Web site, Healthypet.com: “Flea control products.”
Veterinary Information Network Web site, Veterinarypartner.com: “Easter Lilies Can be Deadly for your Cat.”
ASPCA Web site: “What To Do If Your Pet Is Poisoned.”