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What are Tylenol Poisoning in Cats?

Tylenol (or acetaminophen) is an over-the-counter pain reliever. In headache, menstrual relief, and cold medications, Tylenol is often combined with other drugs. With proper usage, this medication is relatively safe for humans but can be deadly to cats and dogs.

Tylenol poisoning occurs when a feline ingests Tylenol-containing drugs. Since Tylenol is formulated for humans, it doesn’t take much to reach toxic doses in our much smaller feline counterparts. Well-meaning pet parents may offer Tylenol to their fur-baby as a pain reliever and may accidentally give them too much. Symptoms of Tylenol poisoning can occur in doses as low as 10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight.

Can you give a cat Tylenol? How much Tylenol is fatal to a cat? How is Tylenol poisoning treated? Read on to find out.

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Symptoms of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats

Symptoms of Tylenol poisoning can be very severe, especially in small cats. Symptoms of Tylenol poisoning in cats include:

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Causes of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats

Tylenol poisoning can occur any time a feline consumes Tylenol. There's no "safe" dosage for cats — even small amounts can be fatal. Toxicity may happen when a curious cat knocks over a bottle of Tylenol-containing medicine and decides to try it or when a pet parent offers the medication.

Pet parents often mistake Tylenol as a safe drug for pets and give it to their cat, unaware of the dangerous effects this drug can have on them. Unlike humans, a cat’s liver is unable to process Tylenol effectively. When cats ingest Tylenol, their body excretes toxic byproducts that can harm the liver and interfere with the ability of blood cells to transport oxygen (a condition called methemoglobinemia).

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Diagnosis of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats

Tylenol poisoning is a life-or-death condition that requires immediate veterinary attention.

To diagnose Tylenol poisoning, your vet will perform a visual exam, ask you questions about the cat's health history and the poisoning incident, and run some diagnostic tests. The vet will examine your feline for color changes in the gums, tongue, eyes, or skin. They'll also check your pet’s respiration, heart rate, and temperature.

Asking questions can help the vet determine how much Tylenol was consumed and the approximate time ingestion took place. Your vet will gauge the severity of poisoning by administering blood and urine tests to check for liver damage and measure blood cell counts. 

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Treatment of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats

The treatment protocol for Tylenol poisoning in cats depends on the severity of the condition and how much time has passed since the cat ingested it. Below are some of the most common treatments vets use to treat felines with Tylenol poisoning.

Induced vomiting

If the feline arrives at the vet within 2 hours of Tylenol ingestion, the vet may be able to induce vomiting to remove most of the medication from their stomach. Induced vomiting is most effective if performed within a half-hour of Tylenol ingestion.

Typically, vets will inject the drug xylazine to stimulate your cat to vomit. Unfortunately, vomiting will only remove about half of the stomach contents, so additional treatment such as activated charcoal and fluids may be necessary.

Activated charcoal

Administering activated charcoal can minimize intestinal absorption of Tylenol if administered within 6 hours of Tylenol consumption.

Activated charcoal works by attaching to toxic molecules, helping them pass through the digestive tract without absorption.

Experts estimate that activated charcoal can reduce the absorption of toxic chemicals by as much as 60%. The use of activated charcoal in cats carries little to no risk since this product is completely non-toxic. 

Fluid therapy

Vets typically administer fluid therapy to cats showing signs of Tylenol poisoning. Fluid therapy can prevent dehydration due to vomiting and help the body remove the toxins faster. The placement of an IV can also make administering medication easier. 

N-acetylcysteine

Treatment with n-acetylcysteine has proven highly effective for Tylenol poisoning in cats. N-acetylcysteine helps prevent liver damage and protects cats against the effects of toxic byproducts of Tylenol metabolism.

Vets often give n-acetylcysteine along with the antioxidant s-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e) to further minimize liver damage. N-acetylcysteine has contraindications with blood thinners and blood pressure medicines, so this therapy may not be an option for some cats. 

Blood transfusion

In severe cases of poisoning-related methemoglobinemia or anemia, blood transfusions may be necessary. Blood transfusions can promote blood oxygenation and replace blood lost due to liver damage.

Respiratory support

Cats with Tylenol toxicity may require respiratory support. Supplemental oxygen can help promote blood oxygenation in cats that develop methemoglobinemia.

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Recovery of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats

Prompt treatment is essential for the best prognosis, especially for cats who ingest high dosages of Tylenol.

Recovering from Tylenol poisoning can be a long road for cats. Felines typically require continued treatment to prevent liver damage even after they get home from the animal hospital. Medication and regular testing can help monitor and protect liver function.

Unfortunately, sometimes Tylenol poisoning causes permanent liver damage in cats. Cats with permanent liver damage may require lifelong treatment to ensure a high quality of life. A prescription diet can be helpful in minimizing the liver’s workload in felines with liver damage. These diets are usually low in protein, free of chemicals, and high in vitamins.

Tylenol poisoning can be very costly to treat. If your cat is prone to eating things they shouldn’t (like human medication), consider investing in pet insurance. Pet insurance can help with veterinary expenses for a wide variety of accidents and illnesses. The sooner you insure your pet, the more protection you’ll have from unexpected vet costs.

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Tylenol Poisoning in Cats Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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© 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.