Common cat poisons

There are many ways that cats can get poisoned by ingesting things commonly found around the home. You can also find out about Human foods to avoid for cats and dogs and Toxic plants for cats.

What to do if you think your cat is poisoned

Try not to panic and arrange to take your cat to the vet immediately. Take the time to safely collect and have at hand any material involved. This may be of great help to your vet, as they determine what poison or poisons are involved. Also, collect in a sealable plastic bag any material your pet may have vomited or chewed.

If you witness your pet consuming material that you suspect might be toxic, do not hesitate to seek emergency assistance, even if you do not notice any adverse effects. Sometimes, even if poisoned, an animal may appear normal for several hours or days after the incident.

Do not try to make your cat vomit unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian.

Medications

It is advised not to give your cat any medications without first consulting your vet. Many medications can be toxic and even lethal to your pets. Below is a list of common over the counter drugs that cause toxicity to cats.

  • Aspirin: The signs of aspirin toxicity in cats are dose-dependent and can include anorexia, vomiting, gastric haemorrhage, anaemia and hyperthermia.
  • Paracetamol: Cats are extremely sensitive to paracetamol toxicity. The signs of toxicity are brown gums, difficulty breathing, blood in the urine, jaundice and swelling.
  • Ibuprofen: Cats are very sensitive to ibuprofen toxicity. The signs of ibuprofen toxicity in cats are vomiting, depression, anorexia and diarrhoea.
  • Human topical pain medication containing the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug NSAID (for example ibuprofen, Diclofenac and flurbiprofen). People using these medications should take care when applying them in a household with pets. Even very small amounts can be dangerous. Cats can come in contact with creams by rubbing up against their humans, or by licking the area the cream was applied to. They could also come in contact if humans pet their cats after applying the cream to themselves.

Many other medications can also be toxic to cats.

Household hazards

Common household chemicals that cause poisoning include:

  • Ant baits: These contain boric acid which is toxic to cats if eaten in a large amount. Ant baits have a sweet smell and taste to attract ants. They also appear to attract cats.
  • Antifreeze (ethylene glycol): Antifreeze is a common cause of poisoning in small animals. Cats will seek out antifreeze as they find its smell and taste appealing. The signs of antifreeze poisoning include a drunken appearance within 1 hour of ingestion, followed by vomiting, depression, hypothermia, coma and death within 12-24 hours of ingestion.
  • Fertilisers: Fertiliser products generally contain varying amounts of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) compounds. They may be in liquid, granular or solid form and contain additives such as herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. Since fertilisers are usually a combination of ingredients, the effects of ingestion may vary. In general, they cause mild to moderate gastrointestinal irritation which may present signs such as vomiting, diarrhoea, hypersalivation and abdominal pain. Symptoms can be more severe if a larger amount is ingested.
  • Lead: Lead poisoning is less common but it may occur from ingestion of lead-contaminating household items, such as paint and car batteries. The signs of lead poisoning include vomiting, abdominal pain, reduced appetite, diarrhoea, unbalanced walking, convulsions, blindness and tremors.
  • Rodenticides (rat or mouse bait): These are a common cause of cat poisoning and most people don't realise that eating a poisoned rodent can also poison your cat. These baits are designed to attract animals so consider the use of them very carefully and try to use alternatives where possible. There are different active ingredients in rodenticides, and each has a different mechanism of action of poisoning. It is important that you and your vet have correctly identified the active ingredient in the products ingested to make sure treatment is appropriate. Signs of rodenticide ingestion appear one to four days after ingestion, they include pale gums, depression, weakness, reduced respiratory effort, coughing and unbalanced walking.
  • Insecticides: Insecticides containing organophosphates and carbamates are highly toxic to cats. Signs of ingestion include vomiting, diarrhoea, drooling, muscle tremors and seizures. Insecticides that contain Pyrethrins and pyrethyoids can be toxic to cats too. They are used to treat fleas and lice in cats, dogs and birds, but if used improperly they will cause severe illness. Signs of toxicity include depression, drooling, muscle tremors, reduced respiratory effort and unbalanced walking.
  • Molluscicides (snail and slug bait): Molluscicides come in a variety of forms and may be mixed with other toxins. Ingestion can be fatal and there is no antidote. The effects of ingestion include anxiety, elevated heart rates, uncoordination, severe muscle tremors and death.

Many other household chemicals can also be toxic to cats.

The information on this page was gathered from the Department of Animal Science, Cornell University and MSD veterinary journal.

Page last updated: 07 Apr 2022