Top 5 household items toxic to cats

While dogs account for a large majority of calls to Pet Poison Helpline, almost 9 percent of calls during 2010 were for potentially poisoned cats. Here are the five most frequent feline-related calls.
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Jan 31, 2011

medications

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Human and veterinary medications

Fact: About 40 percent of feline cases at Pet Poison Helpline involved cats that improperly ingested human or veterinary drugs.

Worst offenders: OTC medications like acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin, etc.), naproxen (e.g., Aleve, Motrin, etc.), chewable veterinary NSAIDS (e.g., carprofen, deracoxib, etc.).

Threat to cats:

  • Cats have difficulty metabolizing certain drugs, especially as compared to dogs and humans.
  • Common drugs such as NSAIDS are some of the most deadly to cats. When ingested, NSAIDS can result in severe kidney failure and stomach ulcers.
  • One acetaminophen tablet can be fatal to a cat, as it results in damage to red blood cells.
  • Cats also seem to like the taste of certain antidepressants (e.g., Effexor), which seem to contain an attractive smell or flavor in the coating. With any accidental medication ingestion, immediate veterinary care is imperative.

Signs: With NSAID toxicity, vomiting (including bloody vomit), lethargy, increased thirst and urination, and halitosis can be seen. With acetaminophen, a swollen face, difficulty breathing, yellow gums, weakness, paleness (secondary to a severe anemia), and death may be seen. With certain antidepressants, severe agitation, tail twitching, ear flicking, aggression, tremors, and seizures can be observed.

Treatment: Prompt decontamination with emesis (vomiting) induction and activated charcoal. Pet owners should never attempt emesis induction at home with cats, as nothing is effective and safe for at-home emesis induction. Veterinary attention for prompt decontamination with emesis (vomiting) induction and activated charcoal is imperative. Aggressive IV fluids (to protect the kidneys), frequent blood work monitoring (to check the kidney and liver function), anti-vomiting medication, an antidote called n-acetylcysteine (for acetaminophen toxicity), hepatoprotectants, muscle relaxants, and anti-convulsants may be necessary.

Prognosis: Excellent if cats are treated before signs begin. Once kidney or liver failure develop, the prognosis is much worse. With any poisoning, prompt therapy is always necessary to increase the survival to our feline patients.

lilly

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Plants

Fact: Poisonous plants were the second most common cat toxin in 2010, representing about 14 percent of feline-related calls.

Worst offenders: True lilies (Lilium and Hemerocallis spp.), including the Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies, are among the most deadly and cause kidney failure in cats. Because these flowers are fragrant, inexpensive, and long-lasting, florists often include them in arrangements. Small ingestions of two or three petals or leaves – even the pollen – can result in severe poisoning in cats. (Despite their name, other plants such as the Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lily are not true lilies and do not cause kidney failure. Instead, these plants contain insoluble oxalate crystals.)

Threat to cats:

  • True lilies cause severe, potentially irreversible kidney failure and must be treated aggressively.
  • Plants containing insoluble oxalate crystals cause minor symptoms, such as irritation in the mouth, tongue, pharynx and esophagus.

Signs: With true lilies, vomiting, lethargy, increased thirst and urination, and halitosis can be seen. Eventually, decreased thirst and urination, difficulty breathing, and death may be seen secondary to end-stage kidney failure.
With plants containing insoluble oxalate crystals, minor symptoms such as excessive drooling, licking or oral swelling may occur.

Treatment: Prompt decontamination with emesis (vomiting) induction and activated charcoal. Remember, pet owners should never attempt emesis induction at home with cats, as nothing is effective and safe for at-home emesis induction. With true lilies, aggressive IV fluids (to protect the kidneys), anti-vomiting medication, blood pressure monitoring, urine output monitoring, and frequent blood work monitoring (to check the kidney function) are all necessary. For plants containing insoluble oxalate crystals, flushing out the mouth, anti-vomiting medication, and potentially SQ fluids may be necessary.

Prognosis: For true lilies, excellent if cats are started on IV fluids within 18 hours of ingestion. Once moderate to severe kidney failure develops (e.g., anuric renal failure), the prognosis is grave. For plants containing insoluble oxalate crystals, the prognosis is excellent. With any poisoning, prompt therapy is always necessary to increase the survival to our feline patients.

insecticides

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Insecticides

Fact: Nine percent of feline-related calls in 2010 were for cats exposed to household insecticides or inappropriately treated with a topical flea and tick medication meant for dogs.

Worst offenders: Exposure to household insecticides such as lawn and garden products, sprays, powders, or granules often occurs when a cat walks through a treated area; however, serious poisoning is rare. More serious poisonings can be seen in cats exposed to concentrated topical flea and tick medications meant for dogs.

Threat to cats:

  • Dog-specific parasiticides containing pyrethrins or pyrethroids are highly toxic to cats. Poisoning occurs when pet owners apply such products directly to cats or cats lick these medications off dogs that live with them.

Signs: With household insecticides, mild vomiting, decreased appetite, and diarrhea may be seen. With topical flea and tick medications designed for dogs but applied to cats, severe drooling, tremors, and life-threatening seizures can occur.

Treatment: With household insecticides, bathing the product off the paws or diluting the taste out of the mouth (with a tasty liquid like canned tuna water or chicken broth) may be necessary. Anti-vomiting medication and subcutaneous fluids also may be necessary. For pyrethrins, wash the product off the fur and skin with a liquid dish detergent. Sedation, muscle relaxants (e.g., methocarbamol), anti-seizure medication, and IV fluids are necessary.

Prognosis: Excellent if cats are treated immediately and aggressively.

Hint: Encourage clients to always read labels carefully before using any kind of insecticide. Also tell them about the need to consult the veterinarian and veterinary team about the proper and appropriate type of topical flea and tick medication to use for cats.

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Household Cleaners

Fact: Exposure to household cleaners accounted for approximately six percent of feline-related calls to Pet Poison Helpline in 2010.

Worst offenders: Floor and surface cleaners and glass cleaners that are commonly present in many households. More dangerous chemicals (including corrosive agents) include oven cleaners, rust-removal agents, lime-removal products, and certain toilet bowl cleaners.

Threat to cats:

  • Many cat owners don’t realize that some common household cleaners like kitchen and bath surface cleaners, carpet cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners can be toxic to cats.

Signs: Profuse drooling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and even organ damage. With more dangerous chemicals (e.g., corrosives), oral ulcerations and burns to the mouth, skin, and eyes may occur.

Treatment: Anti-vomiting medication, fluid therapy (subcutaneous or intravenous) may be needed for more benign household cleaners. More dangerous chemicals must be carefully and copiously lavaged and flushed. Prompt treatment and call initiation to an animal poison helpline is imperative for corrosive agents.

Hint: Tell your clients that after using household cleaners in the home or work environment, it’s smart to make sure all excess liquid or residue is wiped up or eliminated. (It’s also important to stow the products out of reach.) Pets should only be allowed back into the area after the products have completely dried.

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Other Toxins

Fact: The remainder of feline-related calls during 2010 involved less obvious toxins, such as glow sticks and liquid potpourri. Click on the links above to learn more about how to protect your feline patients against those harmful toxins.

Justine A. Lee, DVM, DACVECC is the Associate Director of Veterinary Services at Pet Poison Helpline.

About Pet Poison Hotline: Pet Poison Helpline, a division of SafetyCall International, is a service available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff can provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $35 per incident includes unlimited follow-up consultations. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com.