Discover how to protect your pet against comomon cat poisons found within the home.
Cat poisons in your home
There are several household items that can be very poisonous for cats. Some cat poisons may seem obvious, but others are much less well known.
It is unlikely that your cat would voluntarily consume most of these items, so do not become overly paranoid about your kitten’s safety, but do bear it in mind. That said, cats and kittens do have very inquisitive natures, which can lead them to eat and chew things. Cats will also groom anything off their coats, with their tongues. So any substance that gets onto a cat will almost certainly end up being ingested.
Once a cat has become exposed to a toxin or poison, they can be quite vulnerable to its effects because they have small body sizes, meaning even a small amount of toxin can have a large effect, and they lack certain liver enzymes to break down certain chemicals. Cats are therefore less likely to recover from poisoning than dogs are.
Cats can become sick from a toxic substance by consuming it, grooming it off their bodies, absorbing the toxin through their skin or inhaling the poison.
Common cat poisons
Here is a list of some common substances that can cause cats to become very ill.
Antifreeze and windscreen wash
Antifreeze for some bizarre reason tastes sweet to cats, which makes it delicious for them. It contains ethylene glycol or methanol and even the smallest amount of this can be fatal for a cat. Seek veterinary attention immediately if you think your cat may have ingested any antifreeze or screen wash. Keep bottles safely in a cupboard with lids tightly on, and wipe up even the smallest of any spillages immediately.
Cat poisons: chocolate
Cocoa contains caffeine and theobromine which can both be toxic to cats. Fortunately cats, unlike dogs, are not inclined to eat everything in the house! But there are occasions when cats do eat chocolate. Fortunately chocolate is not immediately lethal to cats, and if they eat only a small amount they will probably be ok, although a vet visit is always worthwhile. If your cat consumes a large quantity of chocolate, or displays any of the following symptoms, seek emergency veterinary attention. Symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhea, muscle rigidity, fever, rapid heart rate, increased breathing, seizures or any neurological symptoms.
Cat poisons: Dettol
Dettol contains phenols that are very bad for cats, and can be fatal. Anything that turns cloudy when you add it to water likely contains phenols. If you are in any doubt, check the label on the cleaning product.
Dog flea treatment
Many dog flea treatments contain permethrin. It is also in some ant powders. Cats are often treated with dog flea treatments, either accidentally, or because people do not realise that there is a significant difference between the two types of product. If your cat is exposed to dog flea treatment you must seek veterinary care immediately. Symptoms include salivating, high thirst, fever and tremors or convulsions. Icatcare is running a petition to have permethrin better regulated. You can find a link to the petition here.
Houseplants and garden plants
Many houseplants are toxic to cats. Cats that are permitted outdoors will often chew or eat grass as a digestive aid. Where cats are kept indoors, this natural instinct may lead them to eat your houseplants instead! Be aware that many plants are toxic - look up any plants you have at home to make sure they are safe. You can find a comprehensive list of plants that are poisonous to cats on the icatcare website.
This is very dangerous for cats. It burns their respiratory systems, and can easily be fatal. Whilst it is unlikely that a cat would choose to consume laundry detergent, it is not uncommon for cats to walk in small spillages of it, and then clean it off their paws with their tongue. Since a utility room or kitchen can be a perfect location for a cat bed or litter tray, it is all too easy for our feline friends to come into contact with laundry detergent. Keep laundry bottles safely hidden away in cupboards, so that they cannot be knocked over and cracked, and wipe up any spillages immediately and thoroughly, drying the area afterwards. If you think your cat has come into contact with laundry liquid seek veterinary care immediately.
Cat poisons: lilies
Every part of the lily plant is toxic to cats. The leaves, stamen, pollen and stems. Consumption of any part of a lily plant, or any member of the lily family, can be fatal.
We are speaking from personal experience with this one: lilies were always my favourite plant. I had seen the ‘lethal lilies’ sign in our veterinary practice, but it had never really sunk in. As a child we always had cats, and our garden was full of lilies and we never had any problems. So in my subconscious, it just wasn’t an issue.
One day we had a vase of lilies in our house. Our beautiful colourpoint British Shorthair, Marilyn, was pottering around. I looked at her, and thought ‘why is her face orange?’...within seconds it dawned on me, and I remembered the sign in the vet's. We picked her up and wrapped her in a towel - a cat burrito - so she couldn't groom herself. We tried to wash the pollen off with a very diluted mix of fairy liquid and water, and we called the vet. She was rushed into our vet who shaved off all of her fur that had pollen on it and kept her in for 2 days on a drip to support her kidney function. Fortunately she was absolutely fine - but only because we spotted her before she had a chance to ingest any of the lily pollen. Over that 48 hours she became the absolute favourite of all the nurses - they didn’t want me to pick her up, and they all love seeing her for her vaccinations now! We were incredibly lucky. We no longer have lilies in the house.
Whilst not toxic, pine needles can cause severe damage to the gastrointestinal tract of a cat. They are exceptionally sharp, and can pierce the bowel, passing through it and causing life threatening illness. If this happens the pine needle must be located and surgery performed to remove it - a complicated operation that doesn’t always work. It is also difficult to identify the problem, because the symptoms can come on very slowly - weight loss and a gradual onset of lethargy, so the cause is not obvious. Tempting as it is at Christmas time to let your kitten play under the tree - don’t do it!
Cat poisons: raisins
We only recently learnt about this danger. We took Pixie to the vet for her vaccinations and annual check up. Whilst we were there we jokingly mentioned that she had eaten a bit of cake the day before. The vet looked at me, wide eyed and urgently asked me ‘what cake?’. I was a bit mystified but it all became clear: it was December time and she explained to me that they had had loads of cats in who had been poisoned by eating Christmas cake because of the raisins in it. Luckily, our cat had eaten only a few crumbs of a vanilla sponge. Turns out, that if a cat eats even one raisin, you must seek immediate veterinary attention - they will induce vomiting in the cat to remove the raisin as quickly as possible. It is very serious.
Cat poisons: soap
Some soaps, shower gels and beauty products contain substances that are toxic to cats. Always keep your toiletries in a cupboard, out of reach so they cannot be knocked onto the floor by your cat by accident, and risk splitting open.
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