Beware of these common seasonal poisons for cats
Lots of substances that are around us everyday can be a poison or toxin for cats. Cats are most commonly exposed to poisons by eating them but poisons can also be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Not all poisonings are fatal. Most poisons do not have an antidote and treatment is usually aimed at giving supportive care and treating the signs of poisoning until the poison is removed from the cat’s system.
There are no specific signs that cover all types of poisoning. If you notice any change in your cat’s health, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, incoordination or changes in appetite or thirst then contact your vet for advice. Other signs that your cat may have been poisoned include foreign material on his hair or feet, foreign material in his vomitus, or a strange smell to his hair, breath, vomitus or faeces.
If you think your cat may have come into contact with something he shouldn’t have, contact your vet for further advice.
Below are some common seasonal poisons that cats come into contact with.
Spring and summer:
- Permethrin (insecticides). Permethrin is an insecticide commonly found in many over the counter 'spot-on' flea treatments for dogs. It is very toxic to cats and unfortunately at Vets Now we see numerous cases of poisoning every month. Poisonings happen all year round but there is a peak in late summer as this is when the flea numbers are at their highest. Cats are most commonly poisoned after their owners mistakenly use a dog product on the cat, but they can also show mild signs after close contact with a recently treated dog. The effects are usually rapid in onset. Signs of insecticide poisoning include drooling, tremors, twitching and seizures. Any remaining product should be washed from the cat's hair coat (or clipped in long haired cats) using cool water, as warm water will increase
the absorbtion of the product. Controlling the convulsions is often difficult and your cat may need to be hospitalised for several days. The Veterinary Poisons Information Service reports that 15% of cases result in death or euthanasia. However, cats that receive immediate treatment and survive usually suffer no long-term effects.
- Toad toxicity. We see occasional cases of exposure to toads in the summer months when the toads are spawning. Toads are most active around dawn and dusk and most toad-related incidents occur in the evening when cats lick them. The onset of signs of poisoning is rapid and you can see drooling, frothing, foaming, pain around the mouth, vomiting, wobbliness, seizures and collapse in severe cases.
- Slug and snail pellets (Metaldehyde). This is a common poison we see in dogs, however we do see occasional cases in cats. The toxic compound is metaldehyde (note – not all slug pellets contain metaldehyde). Only small amounts of pellets are needed to cause significant poisoning. Signs will be seen within an hour of ingestion and include incoordination, muscle spasms, twitching, tremors and seizures. Pets need urgent veterinary treatment if they are to survive poisoning with slug pellets.
- Anti-histamines. Antihistamines are quite low toxicity – your cat needs to eat quite a few to cause problems. However ingestion of large amounts of anti-histamines can result in signs including vomiting, lethargy, incoordination, wobbliness and tremors. Signs are seen within 4-7 hours of ingestion. Some cats can become hyperactive and hyper-excitable.
Autumn and winter:
- Ethylene Glycol. Unfortunately ethylene glycol poisoning is commonly seen in cats. Ethylene glycol is the compound in most types of antifreeze and is also present in other products. It smells and tastes sweet so cats will drink it from puddles/spills on the ground or will lick it off their paws if they walk through some. The toxic dose is very small and even a few drops of ethylene glycol in a puddle will be enough to cause serious kidney damage and can be fatal. Signs will be seen within the first few hours after ingestion but are mild and easy to miss. They include vomiting, drooling, incoordination (drunkenness – ethylene glycol is a type of alcohol). After the first 24-48hours, signs of poisoning are related to kidney failure and will include loss of appetite, vomiting, excessive urination or no urination at all. Seek urgent veterinary attention if you suspect your cat has ingested ethylene glycol - the longer the delay between ingestion of the anti freeze and initiation of treatment, the less favourable the prognosis.
- Luminous necklaces. Luminous necklaces consist of plastic tubing with a core of luminescent chemicals, which are apparently attractive to cats as they account for the majority of reported poisonings. The chemical mixture is very irritating to the mucous membranes of the mouth - commonly causing salivation, frothing/foaming from the mouth, vomiting and stomach pain. Whilst these signs look dramatic, ingestion is unlikely to cause significant problems, with effects mostly limited to gut and mouth. Contact your vet for further advice.
Assume all human medications are poisonous to your cat, unless instructed otherwise by your veterinary surgeon. Some everyday, over the counter human medications such as paracetamol are highly toxic to cats and can lead to kidney or liver failure and death.
Increasingly animal medications are being made ‘palatable’ to make them easier to give to your pet. The downside is that if your cat gets hold of the medication they may eat more than they should. Make sure you keep all animal medications safely locked away to avoid these cases of self-overdosing.
There are a number of plants toxic to cats and some of these are listed below. Assume all parts of the plant are poisonous, although some parts of the plant may have higher concentrations of the toxin than others. Many plants are irritants, causing inflammation of the skin, mouth and stomach.
- Lilies (Lilium sp.) (including daffodils)
- Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta)
- Tulip and Narcissus bulbs (Tulipa and Narcissus sp.)
- Azaleas and Rhododendrons (Rhododendron sp.)
- Oleander (Nerium oleander)
- Castor Bean (Ricinus communis)
- Cyclamen (Cyclamen sp.)
- Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe sp.)
- Yew (Taxus sp.)
- Amaryllis (Amaryllis sp.)
- Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale)
- Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum sp.)
- English Ivy (Hedera helix)
- Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum sp.)
- Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
- Schefflera Schefflera (Brassaia actinophylla)
Here is a list of human foods that can be dangerous for your cat. For more information about each item, please see our human foods that are poisonous to cats article.
- Coffee, Tea, Energy Drinks
- Dairy Products
- Fat Trimmings, Raw Meat, Eggs, Fish
- Grapes and Raisins
- Onions and Garlic
Contact dermatitis can occur if your cat comes in to contact with something that causes irritation to the skin. If your cat licks or swallows these toxins, his mouth and digestive tract can be affected as well. Look out for any foreign substance on your cat’s body and feet, any unusual smells, especially a chemical smell, redness, swelling, hair loss, itchiness, blisters, or ulcers on the skin or feet where the substance is located. You may see drooling, coughing, sores in the mouth, vomiting or diarrhoea, if your cat swallowed the substance.
Contact dermatitis is most commonly caused but household chemicals, insecticides, and petroleum products.
What can I do?
Wearing protective gloves, remove as much of the foreign material from your cat as you can. Do not let your cat lick the substance – wrap him in a towel or put a buster collar on if you have one. Contact your vet for further advice.
A variety of inhaled substances can have adverse affects on cats. In general, these substances are the same things that would cause problems for people such as carbon monoxide, smoke, fumes from bleach and other cleaning products and sprayed insecticides. Most of these substances irritate the airways. If your cat is exposed to an inhaled toxin, move him immediately to an open, well-ventilated area with clean air, then call your veterinary surgeon for further advice.
Keep all chemicals, medications, plants and food items out of cat’s reach. Ensure you read all labels carefully and follow product guidelines on species, age and weight.
If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, identify the poison involved (if at all possible) and bring the container label, plant or any other information you have with you when you visit the vet.
Vets Now assumes no liability for the content of this page. This advice is not
a substitute for a proper consultation with a vet and is only intended as a
guide. Please contact your local veterinary practice for advice or treatment
immediately if you are worried about your pet’s health - even if they are
closed, they will always have an out of hours service available. Find out more
about what to do in an out of hours emergency.
Advice from our Veterinary Team on common poisons in dogs