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Household Poisons That Can Kill Your Cat

Curiosity killed the cat they say! A wise sage probably coined this cliché to describe the sensitivity of cats to poisons around the home.

Cats are much more susceptible to poisons than are dogs so this article contains some timely warnings about cats and poisons that affect them.


Pain killers- a feline's foe   Top
The common painkillers Paracetamol and Aspirin are wonderful drugs for your own pain and discomfort but, when it comes your cat, they are extremely dangerous.

These drugs are all too commonly given to cats by their owners. They are incorrectly used as a home remedy for many feline illnesses. This is an extremely dangerous practice and can result in the death of the pet.

Paracetamol causes extreme breathlessness by dangerously altering the red blood cells. It changes the red pigment of the blood (haemoglobin) into a compound known as methaemoglobin. This substance does not carry oxygen and results in the animal’s gums and lips turning blue. Fluid-like swelling occurs around the face and the cat is lethargic and gasping for breath.

Aspirin is also a danger. It causes intense irritation of the intestines and a loss of appetite, vomiting and depression. The cat is not able to balance or stand. Its head may be wobbling or swaying from side to side.

These drugs are dangerous and you should not give them to your cat (or dog) - unless your veterinarian advises that you do so.

Other human medications that you should keep away from your cat include any containing phenylbutazone, indomethacin, ibuprofen, naproxen, acetominophen and codeine.

Household horrors   Top
Many household substances can seriously affect cats too.

Any tar derivatives such as Creosote and some tar-based shampoos are dangerous. Creosote is extremely corrosive and is toxic to cats. By being absorbed through its skin, a cat easily takes creosote into its body. A cat may also try to lick creosote from its body, thus ingesting the tar through its mouth.

Tar derivatives cause a violent gastroenteritis in cats, with severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea. Tar is a therapeutic agent used in some dog shampoos. Ensure any shampoo used on your cat is ‘feline friendly’ - read the label!

Household chemicals such as turpentine, kerosine and petrol can make a cat very ill. These products are still sometimes incorrectly used as a bushie’s remedy for ticks and fleas. This is dangerous and you should keep these products away from your cat.

Even if you wash it off, your cat will still readily absorb turpentine through its skin. It causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea and nervous signs, such as restlessness and hyperexcitability.

Use insecticides with caution   Top
Be careful when washing cats in insecticide. Many insecticides on the market that are designed to kill fleas and ticks are quite safe when used on dogs but are deadly to cats. Insecticides containing organophosphate chemicals such as dichlorvos, diazinon and coumaphos are still available as dog washes but they are lethal for cats. Permethrin is also toxic to cats. The labels contain warnings against their use in cats, but many people forget to read the instructions!

The use of these types of insecticides is reducing in favour of the newer and kinder insecticides that are now commonly available through your veterinarian and pet shop.

Chlorinated hydrocarbons such as aldrin, DDT, dieldrin and lindane are especially dangerous in cats. These compounds are seldom used nowadays, but, while they are well controlled, some rural properties still have such preparations in storage.

Accidental poisoning with any of these insecticides can produce vomiting, diarrhoea, salivation, muscle tremors and convulsions.

Caution when renovating   Top
Poisoning from lead-based paint is still a problem. The main difficulty occurs when you sand the lead paint. The lead dust on the ground is picked up on your cat’s feet or fur and your cat could ingest enough to make it sick.

Lead causes extreme hyperexcitability. Your cat will hysterically rush around the house in an uncoordinated fashion. It will show paralysis or muscle weakness, and convulsions are common. You may also notice gastrointestinal signs such as loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea or constipation.

If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, your best remedy is an emergency visit to your veterinarian. Be careful because a cat that is in convulsions or that is fitting is very dangerous and difficult to handle. It will not recognize you as its owner and you are likely to get bitten or scratched severely. Place your cat in a cardboard box or cat carry cage, ring your veterinarian and proceed with cautious haste. If you know what substance poisoned your cat, take a sample of it to your veterinarian.
 

Dr Cam Day BVSc BSc MACVSc is a veterinary surgeon and animal behaviour consultant.


 
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