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Cat Poisoning - What You Need To Know

Aug 17, 2007
Many kinds of poisons from many sources can kill cats. Sometimes the poisoning occurs when a cat consumes a toxic substance. Other times it is the result of a cats self-grooming and ingesting poison. For example, a cat may walk through a rodent tracking powder, a petroleum product or antifreeze and consequent consumption of the toxic substance occurs during grooming. Still other poisons may be absorbed through the skin, particularly petroleum-based chemicals or coal-tar products.

Unless the cat has been seen consuming the poison, it may be difficult to diagnose the cause as rapidly as is desirable. Prevention is the best means of protecting your cat.

The following information is by no means complete as it lists some of the more common poisons. It is presented as an alert to keep toxic substances away from cats and to help you assess a situation in which you think your cat may have been accidentally poisoned.

Dangerous Household Products Here are examples of potentially toxic products found in the home:

Cleaning and household supplies: ammonia, bleach, cleaning fluids and disinfectants, drain cleaner, soaps and detergents, mothballs and matches.
Garage items: gasoline, kerosene, brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid and antifreeze. Many cats are attracted to the sweet taste of antifreeze and lap it up when it is spilled on the ground or not properly stored.

Agricultural products: insecticides, rodenticides, herbicides, fungicides, snail or slug bait, worm and mollusk toxicants and plant growth hormones.
Workshop supplies: paints, paint thinners and removers, wood preservatives and mineral spirits.

Medicines: aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol and other similar products), diet pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizers, laxatives and rubbing alcohol.

Cosmetics deodorants, hair coloring, nail polish and remover, permanent wave lotion, suntan lotion, hair spray and perfumes.

Other hazards: scrapings from lead-based paints; contaminated food; water from toilet bowels, especially if chemically treated.

To protect a cat from accidental poisoning, store products found around the home in inaccessible containers, properly dispose of empty containers and clean up spills promptly.

Dangerous Plants The list of plants potentially dangerous to cats is long. Some of the more common plants that can be poisonous to cats are:

Dieffenbachia, philodendron and caladium cause throat irritation and will burn the throat just as much coming up as going down. Do not induce vomiting and seek veterinary treatment.

English ivy, iris, amaryllis, daffodil and tulip (especially the bulbs) cause gastric irritation and sometimes central nervous system excitement followed by coma and, in severe cases, death. Induce vomiting and seek veterinary treatment.

Foxglove, lily of the valley, oleander, monkshood and larkspur can be life threatening because the cardiovascular system is affected.

The different species of yew are also toxic because they affect the nervous system. If any of these are ingested, get the cat to a veterinarian immediately. Remember you are dealing with a life-threatening emergency.

Poison By Inhalation Cats are vulnerable to the following gases if inhaled: ammonia, carbon monoxide, fumes from heating or cooking gas. A cat suffering from poisoning by inhalation may exhibit weakness and dizziness, breathing difficulties, and bright red lips and tongue. Get the cat into fresh air as quickly as possible. Prompt veterinary treatment is essential.

Symptoms General symptoms of poison by ingestion include pain, nausea, vomiting, and/or collapse. Burns around the mouth, lips and tongue indicate that an acid or alkali such as drain cleaner or paint thinner has been swallowed or the cat has suffered an electric shock. An abnormal odor to the cats breath, coughing or bloody vomitus occur when a petroleum product such as kerosene or gasoline has been swallowed. If the poison is an acid, alkali or petroleum product, do not induce vomiting.

If the cat has swallowed medicine, cosmetics or other noncorrosives, an emetic such as syrup of ipecac can be used to induce vomiting.

Mental confusion, vomiting and eventual collapse are symptoms of antifreeze poisoning. All cases of antifreeze poisoning require immediate treatment by a veterinarian if the cat is to survive.

Insect Bites and Stings Insect bites and stings can cause a mild or severe reaction depending upon the potency of the venom and the sensitivity of the victim. Spider bites most often occur on the front paws or face of the cat. Swelling and reddening of the skin occur at the site of the bite.

Gastrointestinal upsets and nervousness are indications of a toxic reaction and the cat should receive immediate treatment by a veterinarian.

Inquisitive kittens and young cats are most often the victims of bee or wasp stings. The sting site will be red and swollen and the stinger may still be in the cats skin. The stinger should be carefully removed and cold compresses applied to the wound site. A paste of baking soda and water will help relieve irritation and itching. Severe cases may require treatment by a veterinarian. If the sting is in the mouth, swelling within the mouth, tongue or throat can block air passages. Prompt veterinary treatment is essential.

The Dangers of Rodenticides Rodenticides pose another danger to cats. Most rodenticides are formulated for use as toxic baits or tracking powders. When well designed, the baits are attractive to rodents and have little potential for direct ingestion by cats. However, secondary poisoning may result when a cat catches and ingests a poisoned rodent.

Tracking powders are a direct threat to cats. The powders adhere to the paws and the coat of the cat and are ingested when the cat grooms itself. If you observe your cat ingesting tracking powder, consult your veterinarian immediately. If, for any reason, this is not possible, check the package label for information concerning antidotes. If the label does not provide this information, induce vomiting with 1/2 teaspoon ipecac syrup and bathe the cat to remove tracking powder remaining on its body.

Many of the rodenticides contain anticoagulant (blood thinning) chemicals. When ingested by a cat, life-threatening hemorrhaging can result. Signs of anticoagulant poisoning include weakness, blood in the urine or stools, bleeding gums and nose bleeds. However, it can take several days before any of these signs are apparent, depending on the quantity ingested and the time period of ingestion. If your cat exhibits any of these signs, prompt treatment by your veterinarian is essential.

Another danger for cats is a new class of rodenticides, which cause organ failure and death through soft tissue calcification. The kidneys, heart and lungs are vulnerable to calcification. Signs of this kind of poisoning vary with organs most affected. They may include twitching, nausea and vomiting blood. The best protection against rodenticide poisoning is to use safety baits in a rodent control program. If tracking powders are used, keep all pets and children away from the area.
About the Author
Tristan Andrews writes useful articles about cats and kittens. Discover and explore the feline world. Find out how to better care for, train and live with your cat at the cat forums at http://www.i-love-cats.com
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