They’re lurking quietly: in your kitchen, in your garden, in your medicine cabinet, on your nightstand. Substances potentially hazardous to your cat are everywhere.
Human medications are a very common cause of toxicity in cats. Cats have a unique metabolism, and some drugs that people tolerate well can be harmful or even fatal to cats. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are particularly dangerous and include drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen. Cats rarely eat these voluntarily. Sadly, most cases of NSAID toxicity are due to deliberate administration by well-meaning cat owners. Ingestion can result in stomach ulcers and severe kidney failure.
Acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, is often combined with other over-the-counter cold and flu preparations, such as Nyquil. Acetaminophen is extremely toxic in cats. One regular (325 mg) or extra-strength (500 mg) tablet can be lethal. Other human medications commonly encountered by cats include antidepressants, cancer medications and dietary supplements.
Many cats (like my own cats, Mittens and Glitter) are very focused on food, and it is not beyond them to sneak something off of my plate if I’m not paying attention. Some human foods, however, can be poisonous to cats, such as grapes, raisins, avocado, onions, garlic, xylitol (a sweetener found in sugarless gums and candies) and chocolate. Fortunately, this is more of a theoretical concern because, as carnivores, cats typically have very little interest in these foods. Some cats are weird, though, and I’d keep these foods out of reach, just to be safe.
Insecticides and rodenticides
Ridding our homes, and our pets, of unwanted critters is a constant battle that can unwittingly put our beloved cats at risk. Flea-control products containing permethrin that are designed for dogs can be dangerous or even deadly if accidentally (or deliberately, if ignoring the warnings on the label) applied to cats. Cats can be poisoned simply by sleeping near or grooming a dog recently treated with a topical permethrin product. Rat and mouse baits designed to attract rodents contain ingredients that are attractive to cats as well. Depending on the type of rodenticide, ingestion can be potentially life-threatening, resulting in bleeding, kidney failure or seizures. Indoor and outdoor plants
A variety of indoor and outdoor plants can pose a risk to your cat. These include poinsettias, mistletoe, holly, tulips, foxglove, philodendrons, amaryllis, baby’s breath and hydrangeas. Most of these, if ingested, will cause gastrointestinal upset, like nausea and/or vomiting, or perhaps irritation to the mouth and tongue.
In terms of toxicity, however, lilies are in a class by themselves. True lilies (Lilium and Hemerocallis species), such as Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies, are among the deadliest plants for cats. All parts of the plant (even the pollen!) are toxic, and even small ingestions (two or three petals or leaves) can result in kidney failure. If you learn only one thing from this article, let it be this: If you own a cat, do not bring lilies into your house. Ever.
Essential oils and potpourri
Essential oils are extracted from plants and are used in many products, from perfumes to herbal headache remedies. They are easily absorbed through mucous membranes and often through the skin as well, irritating the membranes and the gastrointestinal system. Cationic detergents are often used in fabric softeners, germicides and sanitizers. Skin, when exposed to cationic detergents, may become red, swollen, ulcerated and painful.
Liquid potpourris are popular. Potpourri solutions are simmered in pots that are heated, usually by a candle, releasing the fragrance. The fragrance is harmless to cats, but the water containing the potpourri is not. Liquid potpourris may contain essential oils as well as cationic detergents, both of which are toxic if swallowed. In addition, the hot liquid can burn a cat’s skin.
Around the house
And speaking of potpourri, it would be almost impossible to cover the myriad items that could pose a danger to our feline friends. Here’s my personal potpourri of potential problems you may never have considered:
- Household cleaners: Bleaches, detergents and disinfectants can irritate the respiratory tract if inhaled. Cats walking on floors treated with cleaners may lick their paw pads, exposing themselves unwittingly. Confine kitty until surfaces are dry.
- Venetian blinds: Cats (kittens especially) can strangle themselves on venetian blind cords. Keep cords elevated and out of reach.
- Ironing board and iron. Cats enjoy exploring elevated surfaces, and an ironing board may be enticing. They are rickety, however, and a hot iron resting on it is double trouble. Confine your cat until the ironing is completed, and put the ironing board away promptly.
- Thread, string, tinsel, ribbons and dental floss: Cats love to play with stringy things. If swallowed, though, a string may cause an intestinal obstruction that can damage the intestines and require expensive surgery to remove. Keep sewing kits out of reach, make sure the bathroom trashcan has a lid, and skip the tinsel at Christmas.
- Treated toilet water: Disinfectant cakes or tablets are convenient for keeping our toilets clean, but they can be dangerous if your cat drinks the treated water. If you can’t avoid using them, keep that lid down!
- Washer and dryer: Cats are curious by nature, and there is no shortage of tales of cats napping in a washer or dryer that gets accidentally turned on. Make it a habit to always check these machines before starting them.
- Open windows: Warm weather leads to open windows. Cats are usually agile and careful, but birds or butterflies that pass by can throw cats off balance. Make sure all windows have sturdy screens.
The environment we provide for our feline friends is usually safe and secure, but hidden hazards abound. An increased awareness of potential perils is important in keeping our cats happy, healthy and out of harm’s way.