In honor of poison prevention month we ask you to take the time to educate yourself about toxic products that are often used around the house. Doing the research now may help when a true emergency arises. Keep the number for Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680) handy. There is a fee for this service which is available 24/7. If you’d like more information go to www.petpoisonhelpline.com.
Some say because cats are fussy eaters they are less easily poisoned than dogs. However, with their curiosity and fastidious grooming, it’s not uncommon.
How can a cat become poisoned?
Cats can be poisoned via a number of routes. Contamination of the digestive system can result from the direct ingestion of a toxic substance, ingestion of poisoned prey, or from grooming contaminated fur can cause problems. Some toxins can even be absorbed through the skin of the cat, (particularly the paws), and a few can gain entry by inhalation.
The clinical signs are variable depending on the particular poison concerned. Many toxins produce gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and diarrhea), others produce neurological signs (tremors, in-coordination, seizures, excitability, depression, coma), respiratory signs (coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing), skin signs (inflammation, swelling), liver failure (jaundice, vomiting) or kidney failure (increased drinking, no appetite, weight loss). Some toxins act on more than one body system, and so can produce any combination of the above signs. It is important to remember that while most cases of intoxication will cause acute problems, chronic intoxication can also arise, and often proves even more difficult to recognize and treat.
What sort of things can cats be poisoned by?
Many everyday items are potentially hazardous yet, if one is aware of them, accidents can be prevented. Exposure to household cleaners accounted for approximately six percent of feline-related calls to Pet Poison Helpline in 2010.
Below are a few of the items that are dangerous for pets.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center gets over 130,000 calls a year. The top calls involve common household goods and products. Prescription and over the counter drugs, human and pet variety, top the list. Always keep all medications, inhalers, and dietary supplements safely locked in secure cupboards.
NSAIDS Cats may be exposed to nonsteroidal anti-flammatory drugs (NSAIDs) either by the owner administration or, more rarely, by self-ingestion. NSAIDS like ibuprofen or naproxen are the most common cause of pet poisoning in small animals, and can cause serious problems even in minimal doses. Pets are extremely sensitive to their effects, and may experience gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting, diarrhea, ulceration, hemorrhage, and ulcer perforation and, in the case of cats, kidney damage.
In general, cats have a low tolerance for NSAIDs. Cats are thought to be at least twice as sensitive to ibuprofen as dogs.
Acetaminophen As with NSAIDs, acetaminophen is often administered to sick cats by their owners. Acetaminophen has a narrow margin of safety in cats. One adult tablet (325 to 500mg) could be lethal
Mothballs In most cases of involving mothballs, the exposure was oral, but dermal, and inhalation exposures have also been reported. Napthalene is an active ingredient in mothballs with paradichlorobenzene as an inactive ingredient. The products can be formulated into balls, crystals, or flakes. Signs reported after ingesting include;vomiting, lethargy,anorexia and trembling.
Antifreeze Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) poisoning is usually associated with pets licking antifreeze drips or spills off the ground. For a cat, as little as a teaspoon can prove fatal. The toxic element in antifreeze, ethylene glycol, can be found in other products as well. This chemical is odorless and sweet tasting. It can be found in de-icers, hydraulic brake fluids, photograph developing chemicals, and may also be used to weigh down portable basketball hoops.
Pets who ingest antifreeze often act as if the animal was intoxicated with alcohol: stumbling, vomiting and depression are common signs. Seizures, increased urination at the early stages (in later stages, urinary output is decreased) and increased thirst may also be seen.
Kidney failure usually happens 12-24 hours after ingestion in cats, and 36-72 hours post ingestion in dogs. Success of treatment is dependent upon quick treatment. If antifreeze ingestion is known or even suspected, do not delay. This is not a “wait-and-see” situation; kidney damage will be more severe as time (hours) goes by.
Dishwashing detergents Dishwashing detergent is a household cleaning staple. While it can be a safe product to use one must still use care around small animals.Cats can develop vomiting, salivation, seizures, respiratory depression, muscle weakness, and skin irritation if exposed to a large amount of soap.
Rodenticides-Anticoagulants: These toxins cause the mouse or rat to bleed to death by interfering with blood clotting. Older anticoagulant rodenticides include warfarin, diphacinone, chlorphacinone, pindone and valone. Newer anticoagulants include brodificoum and bromadiolone. These last a lot longer and will kill warfarin resistant rats and mice. They are also more difficult to treat for when a cat or dog ingests them due to the long duration of effect.
Cholecalciferol rodenticides: these are toxic doses of Vitamin D (cholecalciferol). They cause the calcium regulation in the body to be derailed and high calcium levels to build up in the blood stream, causing failure of major body systems (heart, nervous system, kidneys, etc.)
Bromethalin rodenticides: Bromethalin is an active ingredient in Assault, Fastrac, Gladiator, Rampage, Talpirid, and Vengeance, and causes brain and spinal cord swelling characterized by weakness, in-coordination, seizures, paralysis, and death. There is no definitive diagnostic test and no antidote. Supportive treatments are available but they are intensive, and animals that survive are often left with neurological problems.
Ant Baits Ant bait is a less-toxic alternative to indoor insecticide sprays, but is not completely without potential danger. Ant baits work by attracting worker ants to the bait. The worker ants then carry the poison food back to the nest where it kills the queen and young ants. All ant baits contain boric acid, which the Environmental Protection Agency deems “moderately acutely toxic.” To avoid an adverse health reaction to the boric acid in ant bait, you should avoid all contact with the bait with your clothing, skin and eyes. If you do come into direct contact with the ant bait, wash your skin and clothes immediately and thoroughly.
Many baits contain arsenic which cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, ataxia, collapse, and death.
In Part 2 we will cover some of the most common plants that are harmful to pets.