Some of the Most Common Household Items Are Toxic to Your Cat! - July/August 11
Did You Know?
by Cheryl Waterman
As you might suspect, the large majority of calls to the Pet Poison Helpline concern dogs. However, in 2010 almost 9% of the calls were concerning potentially poisoned cats. The top culprits are things you may not realize can harm your cat(s).
Human Drugs — Not for Cats
Almost 40% of the feline cases at the Helpline involved cats that had ingested human or veterinary drugs. The worst offenders tend to be over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.), naproxen (Aleve) and chewable veterinary NSAIDS (carprofen, deracoxib, etc.)
The issue is that cats have difficulty metabolizing certain drugs, especially compared to humans. Common drugs such as NSAIDS are some of the most deadly to cats. Once ingested by a cat, NSAIDS result in kidney failure and/or stomach ulcers. Just one acetaminophen tablet can be fatal to your cat, because it causes damage to red blood cells. Other toxic drugs, which you may find surprising, are antidepressants. Cats seem to like the taste of certain antidepressants (e.g. Effexor) which may contain an attractive smell or flavor in the coating.
With NSAID toxicity, vomiting (sometimes bloody), lethargy, increased urination and thirst, and halitosis may be noticed. With acetaminophen you may notice a swollen face, difficulty breathing, weakness and paleness. Death may result very quickly. With the antidepressants, severe agitation, aggression, tremors, tail twitching and seizures will usually be noticeable. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is critical that you get your cat to your veterinarian immediately. Any delay may cause death. The prognosis is good if the cat is treated BEFORE any of these symptoms develop.
Plants Can Be Poisonous
The second most common feline toxin, representing almost 14 percent of calls to the poison helpline, are poisonous plants. The worst offenders are True lilies (Lilium and Hemerocallis spp.), including Tiger lilies, Day lilies, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies. These are among the most deadly and will cause kidney failure in cats. This can be dangerous because these flowers are fragrant, inexpensive and long-lasting, many florists include them in flower arrangements. Even a small ingestion of two or three petals or leaves (even the pollen) can result in severe poisoning to cats. You may notice vomiting, lethargy, increased thirst and urination. Eventually, decreased thirst and urination, difficulty breathing, and death may occur before end-stage kidney failure. These symptoms must be treated immediately and aggressively. Be sure to waste no time getting your cat to your veterinarian should you discover he/she has ingested any of these. Usually, if cats are given IV fluids within 18 hours of ingestion the outcome can be excellent.
There are some plants that are called “lilies,” however, that are not true lilies. These are the Peace, Peruvian and Calla lily. These do not cause kidney failure. They may cause minor symptoms such as irritation in the mouth, tongue, pharynx and esophagus. You may notice excessive drooling, licking or oral swelling. With these symptoms, flushing the mouth, anti-vomiting medication and/or subcutaneous fluids may be necessary. The outcome is usually excellent.
Another Killer — Insecticides
Nine percent of feline related calls in 2010 were for cats exposed to insecticides or inappropriately treated with a topical flea and tick medication meant for dogs. The worst offenders are insecticides such as lawn and garden products, sprays, granules or powders used on your lawn. Poisoning may occur when a cat walks through the treated area and then licks the poison off his/her feet; however, serious poisoning is rare. Symptoms are usually somewhat mild, such as mild vomiting and diarrhea, or loss of appetite. Still, a trip to your veterinarian is warranted just to make certain everything will be okay.
The most serious poisonings are seen in cats exposed to concentrated topical flea and tick medications meant for dogs. The issue here is that dog-specific parasiticides usually contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids, which are highly toxic to cats. Poisoning occurs when pet owners unknowingly apply these products directly to cats OR the cats lick the medication off the dogs that live with them. The symptoms with these medications designed for dogs, are severe drooling, tremors and life-threatening seizures. The outcome may be good, IF the cats are treated immediately and aggressively.
Read the Label Carefully
Owners should always read labels carefully before using any type of insecticide AND consult their veterinarian BEFORE using any topical flea and tick medication on their cats. There are many good choices of appropriate flea and tick medications for cats exclusively.
Household cleaners accounted for approximately 6 percent of poison helpline calls. The worst offenders are floor and surface cleaners and glass cleaners that are present in many homes. Even more dangerous chemicals include oven cleaners, rust removal agents, lime-removal and certain toilet bowl cleaning agents. The main issue here is that many owners don’t realize that some of the most common cleaners are toxic to their cats. The signs include profuse drooling, difficulty breathing, vomiting and even organ damage. There may even be oral ulcerations and burns to mouth, skin and eyes. Some of the more dangerous chemicals must be carefully and copiously flushed. Prompt treatment from a veterinarian and calling the Poison Helpline is critical in these cases.
Remember to make sure all excess residue is wiped up or eliminated after using any household cleaners. Pets should only be allowed back in the area after the products are completely dry. And, always store these products out of reach.
The remainder of the feline-related calls during 2010 involved such things as glow sticks and liquid potpourri. There isn’t enough space to cover everything in one article, however, please make certain that you keep the Pet Poison Helpline’s number 1-800-213-6680 and website (www.petpoisonhelpline.com) handy. They are a division of SafetyCall International and the service is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance in treating a potentially poisoned pet.
Cheryl Waterman is the Hospital Administrator at the Cat Clinic of Johnson County and a long-time cat lover. She has been with the Clinic for the past 13 years, and in 2007 received Certification in Veterinary Practice Management (CVPM) designation. She is a member of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association and the American Animal Hospital Association. You can contact her directed at the Cat Clinic of Johnson County, (913) 541-0478.