Everything You Need to Know About Preventing Your Cat from Getting Poisoned
The focus of National Poison Prevention Week is teaching people how to avoid being poisoned. It's the third week in March each year. There’s no such week for cats, but there should be, because the majority of calls received by the Pet Poison Helpline, about 40 percent, are from owners who are concerned that their cats have eaten prescription or over-the-counter human or veterinary drugs.
According to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, about one-quarter of its calls involve cats who have eaten human medications. Common medications that are poisonous to cats include aspirin and other pain killers that contain acetaminophen (in the brand-name Tylenol), ibruprofen (in Advil and Motrin) or naproxen. Also common are cold and flu products containing the above and/or pseudoephedrine. Lastly, antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor and Cymbalta are also commonly ingested by cats. Why would cats do that when they’re so good at spitting out medicines you want them to swallow?
Then there are cats who like to graze on plants, some of which are toxic, including lilies of any kind, cyclamen, Kalanchoe species, Dieffenbachia species and daffodils. Less common, but also problematic, are rodent poisons, antifreeze containing ethylene glycol, paints and varnishes, and potpourri oil -- even when they’re stored in cabinets.
Lots of cats, including one of mine, can open cabinets. In addition to opening cabinets with her paw, Jenny likes to stand on her hind legs and grab the top of the cabinet door. She then hangs onto the door, which swings open under her weight. I really think she enjoys the ride because once the door is open, she walks away.
Most household cleaner containers warn people that the products are harmful if swallowed. A good rule of thumb to follow is if it’s dangerous for people to swallow, it’s potentially dangerous for cats. Remember that cats may be harmed by licking these products from their fur or feet. That means you should never clean the litter box with these potentially dangerous products. Products containing phenols, such as Lysol and Pine-Sol, are definitely dangerous.
Using the wrong flea medication can also pose a threat. When I worked as a veterinary technician, it wasn’t uncommon to treat cats whose owners applied topical flea and tick preventives meant for dogs, especially those that contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids (such as permethrins), including Adams Flea and Tick Control, Bio Spot Spot On Flea and Tick Control, K9 Advantix, and Zodiac Spot On Flea and Tick Control.
Cats can be harmed simply by licking something toxic or by grooming fur that’s contaminated with a toxic substance. Toxic substances can be absorbed through their skin, particularly their paws, inhaled or eaten secondhand, for example, by eating prey, such as a mouse, that has been poisoned.
The best way to reduce the chances that your beloved cat will be poisoned is by preventing exposure to dangerous substances and using medications, cleaners and other substances properly: Never give any medication without first consulting with your veterinarian. Store all medications, even if they’re for your cat or in child-proof bottles, in a safe place that your cat can’t reach. Follow label instructions on flea or tick products exactly and never use dog products on cats. Follow label directions for proper use of chemicals, cleaners, and poisons and store them when they are inaccessible to your cat.
Food can also be an issue. Give treats made specifically for 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, check out Catster’s lists of safe and unsafe food at the end of this post.
Keep your pet indoors to avoid the risk of poisoning, not to mention being hit by a car. If your cat has been outside and comes home wet or dirty, it may be necessary to bathe him. If he licks his paws or grooms himself, he could ingest antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals.
Take a pet first-aid class and have a cat first aid book and pet first aid kit. These may all be available from your local Red Cross. The best way to save a cat who has been poisoned is to recognize the signs of poisoning, which may occur immediately, within hours, or days after a cat has been exposed to a toxic substance. Signs include: vomiting or diarrhea; difficulty breathing; seizures or other abnormal behaviors such as hyper-excitability, trembling, depression, drowsiness or loss of consciousness; drooling or foaming at the mouth; swollen, red irritated skin or eyes; ulcers in the mouth, burned lips, mouth or skin; and bleeding from the anus, mouth or any body cavity.
If you think your cat has been poisoned, act fast. First telephone your veterinary hospital to be sure the doctor is there and to help the staff prepare for your pet. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions and make your pet throw up only if the poison control or veterinary professional tells you to. That’s because caustic and corrosive substances will cause even more tissue damage coming back up. You might be instructed to bring your cat to the hospital or emergency veterinary clinic immediately. If possible find the poison and bring the container with you.
You can also get help by calling a pet poison control center or hotline, such as ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435, Angell Animal Poison Control Hotline at 1-877-226-4355, and Pet Poison Hotline at 1-800-213-6680. Keep these numbers handy just in case.
I hope you'll use these tips to make your home cat safe. I’ve made it darn near impossible for my cats to be poisoned. If I drop a pill, I don’t quit searching until I’ve found it. When I have guests, they get the drill on keeping my cats safe. I’ve even got child safety plugs in the electrical outlets, but that’s another story.
Has your cat ever been poisoned? How did you deal with it? Share your stories and advice in the comments.
Read more about foods and household substances safe and unsafe for cats:
- Which Human Foods Are Safe for Cats? Which Are Not Safe?
- 6 Everyday Foods that Are Toxic to Cats
- Ask a Vet: Is It Safe For Cats to Share in Thanksgiving Feasts?
- 15 Common Household Hazards for Cats
- 4 Ingestible Hazards for Cats
- 8 Things You Probably Have at Home That Can Kill Your Cat
- Take It from a Vet: Lilies Are Toxic to Cats
- Plants and Foods that are Poisonous to Cats
Learn more about your cat with Catster:
- Weird Cat Facts: 8 Reasons Your Cat Likes to Lick You
- 10 Sounds That Cats Make -- and What They Mean
- 8 Things to Try When Your Cat Won't Eat
About the author: Nancy Peterson is a registered veterinary technician and award-winning writer. She joined The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization, in 1998 and is currently the Cat Programs Manager. She lives in Maryland with her cats Luna, adopted from a feline rescue; Toby, adopted from an animal shelter; and Jenny, a feral kitten she fostered. Check out the HSUS cat information at humanesociety.org/cats and humanesociety.org/outdoorcats