5 min read

What Are the Symptoms of Poisoning in Cats?

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By Aurus Sy

Published: 03/24/2022, edited: 04/04/2022

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Overview

Cats are curious and fastidious critters; unfortunately, their eagerness to explore coupled with their grooming habits can sometimes get them in trouble. Poisoning in cats is not uncommon and can even happen in your own home, but knowing what everyday items pose a risk and how to recognize cat poisoning symptoms can help to keep your feline friend happy and healthy.

Let's take a look at the signs that can indicate your cat was exposed to something harmful, and what to do to help them if the unexpected happens. 


What are the signs of poisoning in cats?

Aside from directly eating a toxic substance, cats can be poisoned by inhaling a toxin, absorbing it through the skin (particularly the paws), grooming contaminated fur, or eating poisoned prey. The symptoms of poisoning in cats can vary depending on the toxin consumed and include:

A cat who has been poisoned can show multiple symptoms, as some toxins affect more than one body system. 


cat sniffing green grapes

What are some common cat poisons?

Several household items can actually be harmful to our feline friends. Some are more obvious, like antifreeze, while others, like lilies, may come as a surprise to many cat parents. The following everyday items can lead to poisoning in cats:

Household products

A number of products that are commonly kept in the house, particularly in the garage or garden, are poisonous to cats. These include bleach, disinfectants, cleaning fluids, laundry capsules, weed killers, insecticides, rodenticides, hair dyes, nail polish, paint, varnish, white spirit, furniture and metal polishes, mothballs, and antifreeze. Antifreeze usually contains ethylene glycol or methanol, and ingesting even the tiniest amount can cause kidney failure and death. 

Human medicines

Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, and aspirin should never be given to cats. Cats are very sensitive to these medications and just one tablet can lead to severe liver damage and even death. Signs of poisoning include swelling of the face and paws, pale blue gums, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and dark urine. 

Lilies

Many plants are dangerous to felines and lilies are especially deadly. All parts of the lily plant are toxic to cats, including the stamen, bulb, flower, leaf, and pollen. Cats can be poisoned by nibbling on the plant or even by brushing against it and then licking the pollen off their fur. Lilies can cause kidney failure, and a cat might become lethargic or start to vomit within minutes of consuming any part of the plant.

Dog flea products 

Many flea treatments for dogs contain permethrin, which is tolerated by canines but is highly toxic to felines. Cats can be poisoned when they are accidentally treated with such products or groom other animals who have been treated with it. Signs that a cat has been poisoned by a dog flea product include excessive drooling, increased thirst, convulsions and a high temperature

Human foods

Certain human foods such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, and garlic should never be fed to cats. Chocolate, grapes, and raisins can cause excessive thirst, vomiting and diarrhea, while onions and garlic can lead to anaemia, abdominal discomfort and lethargy. 

Essential oils

Many of us use essential oils to improve our health. However, most of them are toxic to cats, especially if undiluted. Essential oils that you’ll want to keep out of your cat’s reach include, but are not limited to, citrus oil, peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, sweet birch oil, cinnamon oil, tea tree oil, and ylang ylang oil. Essential oils can cause respiratory distress, liver failure, seizures, and even death in cats.


cat laying on table being examined by veterinarian

How do you flush poison out of a cat's system?

An online search will turn up various home remedies for pet poisoning. You may read that milk neutralizes all poisons, or that oil or butter can help a toxic substance pass through. Not only are these home remedies ineffective, but they can also sometimes make things worse. Most cats are lactose intolerant, and oil and butter can trigger pancreatitis

When you take your cat to the vet, they will treat the poisoning by:

  • Taking immediate, life-saving measures if needed
  • Preventing further absorption of the poison
  • Administering an antidote, if available
  • Providing supportive care to facilitate recovery

Specifically, your vet may:

  • Decontaminate your cat’s coat or skin by washing it thoroughly with soap and water. If your cat has long hair, it may need to be clipped.
  • Induce vomiting to remove the toxic substance from the stomach. However, your vet will not induce vomiting if more than a few hours have passed, if the poison can harm the stomach or esophagus on the way up, or if there is a risk of inhaling the vomit into the lungs. 
  • Start fluid therapy to dilute the poison and flush it from the body faster, as well as maintain hydration and blood flow. 
  • Flush the stomach via a stomach tube.
  • Administer laxatives and medications to remove the toxin from the gastrointestinal tract. 
  • Administer activated charcoal to bind with the poison and prevent further absorption if it cannot be physically removed. 

Supportive care is usually needed until the poison is metabolized and eliminated. This may come in the form of maintaining breathing, treating shock, controlling seizures, regulating the heart rate or treating pain. Not all poisons have a known antidote. 


Can cats survive being poisoned?

Cats are sometimes less likely to recover from poisoning than dogs due to their small size, inability to break down certain chemicals, and tendency to hide so that illness is not always apparent. But in many cases, early treatment can help a cat survive being poisoned. Timing is critical—the sooner your cat gets medical attention, the less time the poison has to make its way through their system, and the higher chances of recovery. 


long-haired tiger stripe cat looking depressed - symptoms of poisoning in cats

What should I do if I think my cat has been poisoned?

Different toxins affect cats differently, so it can take anywhere from minutes or hours to days for a cat to show signs of poisoning. For example, a lily leaf will make a cat sick immediately, while painkillers may take two to three days before symptoms show. Antifreeze has three stages of poisoning, including one where signs seem to improve but internal injury continues to occur.

Therefore, even if you only suspect that your cat has been poisoned and they appear well, it’s important to seek veterinary advice right away. Don’t wait for symptoms to show up as it may be too late by then. 

If you think your cat has been poisoned:

  • Remove your cat from the toxic source and keep other pets away from it.
  • Contact your vet immediately. They may ask you to bring your cat in or give advice over the phone.
  • Do not try to make your cat vomit, unless instructed by your vet to do so.
  • Take a sample of the poison with you to the vet if possible.
  • Wash any contaminated fur with mild shampoo and water.

Keep your feline friend safe by making sure that all potentially dangerous substances in the house are stored in sealed containers and out of reach. Poisoning in cats can be prevented, and prevention is always better than an emergency vet visit. 

Got more questions about poisoning in cats? Chat with a vet professional today to know what to look out for and how to keep your precious feline safe!

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