What is Contact Poisoning?
Suspected contact poisoning requires veterinary intervention.
Curious cats like to forage and touch whatever they find, so they are vulnerable to poison contacting their fur or skin. If the poisonous substance gets on an animal's fur or paws, the cat is liable to ingest the poison through grooming, or the substance may be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Poisons have many different sources, and they harm the cat in various ways. Felines may become very ill or die from contact poisoning, and toxicity may have lasting after-effects.
Symptoms of Contact Poisoning in Cats
Every year The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center receives over 100,000 emergency calls seeking information about feline poisonings or seeking help for emergency ingestion of toxins.
A poisoned cat may be unsteady, sluggish and drooling. Other symptoms may include:
- Inflamed or irritated skin
- Chemical burns
- Bald patches or fur falling out
- Skin rashes
- Unexplained wounds
- Irritated eyes Sneezing
- Odor on breath or fur
- Increased respiratory rate
- Excessive vocalization
If these signs or behaviors are observed, immediate veterinary care is necessary to save the animal's life.
Causes of Contact Poisoning in Cats
If allowed, cats will explore all territory within reach, so the causes of toxic exposure may be numerous.
Poisonings within the household include:
- Contact with flea toxins, such as permethrin
- Contact with potpourri or citrus oils
- Brushing against or chewing ornamental plants like poinsettia or lily
- Licking spilled household cleaners from feet
Causes of contact poisoning outside the house may include:
- Rodent dusting poisons
- Garden products like fertilizer in areas where a cat may dig
- Insecticides applied where a cat may walk
- Spilled antifreeze and swimming pool chemicals contacting skin
Diagnosis of Contact Poisoning in Cats
Observation of a cat grooming and ingesting a contact poison would be the ideal method of finding an antidote. Cats are notoriously secretive, so this may be a slim option. Usually, cats will hide when not feeling well, and the animal's absence from activities usually pursued may be the first indication of illness.
Owner's observations may include:
- Chewed or broken plants
- Spilled household cleaner or medication
- A strange, chemical odor on the cat's fur or breath
- Unusual material in vomit or feces
- Dark urine
- Unusual material stuck to fur or feet
Do not cause the cat to vomit because some poisons may cause organ damage when vomited.
Veterinary intervention will include testing to identify toxins that the veterinarian or owner may suspect. A physical examination will be performed and history of symptom onset recorded. A chemical blood profile will be indicated, and a CBC, or complete blood count. A blood test to confirm the cat's calcium levels may be done to confirm poisons specific to blood calcium levels. A urinalysis will determine if the cat has ingested antifreeze products containing ethylene glycol. If possible, a fecal or vomit sample should be obtained and examined for poisonous substance. If the poisonous substance is confirmed, an antidote to the toxin may be administered. At times, there is no antidote to the particular toxin identified.
Treatment of Contact Poisoning in Cats
Veterinary treatment will attempt to correct symptoms with an antidote, if available, and through IV restoration of bodily fluids, calcium levels and electrolyte balance if the only option is palliative care. The cat will be observed for fluid loss through vomiting or diarrhea. A percentage of saline will be added to water to sustain fluid retention. The saline will encourage normal renal function and excretion of the poisonous substance.
Plants such as lilies are very toxic, and renal failure is common with lily contact if immediate fluid therapy and decontamination therapy are not begun.
Poisons such as permethrin in dog flea medications have no identifiable diagnostic tests. Diagnosis is made by observation of clinical signs such as anxiety, increased respiratory rate, seizures or excessive vocalization. Again, supportive therapy is all that can be done. Muscle relaxants and seizure medication may be used, as well as supportive care such as rehydration. If begun immediately, survival rates may be from 63-95 percent.
Recovery of Contact Poisoning in Cats
Excessive salivation may be noted for several days after poisoning from a chemical such as permethrin. After stabilization from veterinary procedures and recovery, a cat should be bathed well with liquid soap for hand-washing. This is critical to remove all chemicals that the cat may ingest later.
Other poisonings may resolve only slowly. Cats who seem to have recovered from poisoning such as lily or antifreeze ingestion may have renal damage and eventually progress to kidney failure.
Kidney failure is treated by management of the disease progression. Support of kidney function is optimal. For owners, this includes proper hydration with canned, rather than dry foods. Cats receive most of their hydration with food.
Restricting protein content is important for cats in renal failure. Toxicity in the blood comes from the body's inability to break down protein with lowered renal function. Restricted protein must be viewed with care, as cats require protein for general health.
Dietary management and introduction of new foods slowly will grant success.
Periodic veterinary management includes blood pressure tests, blood and urine tests. Kidney transplants for cats have been done by specialists in countries other than the United States. Success is said to be limited, and good palliative care is described as comparable to a transplant.