Poisoning in cats is often hard to detect until it’s too late. Cats are predators, and all predators hide disease incredibly well. It’s not in their favour. In evolutionary terms, if a predator looks sick, then other predators will turn on them. So cats tend to hide the symptoms of poisoning very well.
But if you think keeping the cat inside to protect it, think again. Many of the poisoning dangers faced by cats are found in the home. Identifying symptoms and getting fast treatment is very important. Time is of the essence. With all the scenarios I’m about to list, it gets worse and harder to treat the longer you leave it. If your cat is behaving a bit strangely, take them to the vet straight away. Because then we have the best chance of actually curing these.
Poisoning dangers around the home
There are a number of normal household items that are toxic for cats. One you wouldn’t expect is lilies.
You know those beautiful pink and white lilies, or the orange lilies? Everything about them is toxic for cats. Their pollen, their flowers, their leaves. Unfortunately, cats are quite attracted to them. From the cat’s point of view, here is this beautiful bunch of flowers that has appeared in its house. Naturally, they want to investigate this new thing that’s come into their environment.
Another danger is paracetamol—the active ingredient in pain relief medications for humans. It should only be used in humans. Dogs can tolerate it but for cats, it’s incredibly toxic. If you find the cat licking the medicine cup holding children’s Panadol, get in touch with your vet straight away.
Flea treatments that are used for dogs should never be used on cats. Some of them are cat safe, but many others—especially the ones that are put onto their skin—have much higher levels of the active ingredient, pyrethrin, than cats can bear.
In a worst case scenario, a well-meaning owner can put a dog flea treatment on a cat. The results will be terrible. But even if your cat is snuggling up to its doggy best friend or grooming its doggy best friend, and the dog has had a flea treatment applied, even that small amount can be toxic.
Poisoning dangers outside the home
Two common dangers to cats outside the home is secondary poisoning from rat poison, and direct poisoning from antifreeze.
Cats don’t often eat the rat poison itself, but they do hunt the mice and rats that might have eaten that rat poison. Some of the older types of rat poison only lasted 30 days. But if you live near an industrial area, the poisons used in such places last in the cat’s system for up to three months.
One of the problems a vet faces when treating a cat that has eaten a longer-lasting poison is working out how long to keep treating. If you only give treatment for a month, and the cat’s eaten something that lasts for three months, then it’s going to start bleeding internally again when you stop the treatment. And you won’t always see the problem at first. If they’re eating rats and mice, they only ingest a tiny amount of poison per rodent in their system. But if they do it regularly, it’s going to build up to a toxic level over time.
The last one problem is antifreeze. That isn’t so much of a problem in Australia but is still a possibility. It’s certainly a problem in colder climates. People drain their radiators or have antifreeze in sheds. The cats get locked into the shed when they’ve been in there looking for rats and mice. The cat ends up drinking some of the antifreeze. And that’s very toxic.
Treatment for poisoning in cats
The main treatment for poisoning is administering a vitamin K antagonist. Vitamin K will stop their blood clotting. So if we can see the cat’s blood is not clotting properly and we know they have ingested some poison, the vitamin K antagonist starts their blood clotting again, and they’re fine.
If you miss that early stage, and they’ve lost a lot of blood, we have to give them more blood and more clotting factors. After that we start them on vitamin K so they can live long enough for the vitamin K to start working.
But that’s tricky if your cat has taken itself off somewhere to hide because it feels unwell. So if you do notice some strange behaviour, think about the cat’s recent history. Have you treated your dog with a flea treatment? Has the cat been shut in the shed? Have you found a packet of tablets in a funny spot? Has someone bought you a bunch of flowers?
Don’t ignore the warning signs because all the scenarios I’ve mentioned are lethal. All of them get worse over time, particularly in the case of the antifreeze or the paracetamol. We have a very small window of chance of actually treating the problem at all. If you come two or three days down the line, we won’t even be able to treat the cat. There’s nothing the vet can do at that point.