Poisoning in cats

Find out more about the signs of poisoning in cats and what you can do to reduce the risk.

From dangerous plants to household cleaners, many everyday items can lead to poisoning. Learn more about how to keep your cat safe from toxic substances, how to spot signs of poisoning in cats and what to do next.

Why do specific substances affect cats?

While poisoning in cats is no more common than poisoning in other pets, cats are sometimes less likely to recover from poisoning than a dog might be. This is due to:

  • Their size. As they are generally smaller animals, even a small dose of something poisonous can be fatal

  • They process chemicals differently. Cats have different biological mechanisms present and in some situations are less able to safely eliminate a toxic substance from their body

  • Life outdoors. An adventurous lifestyle means that owners don’t always know where their cat has been poisoned, or what the substance might be

  • Keeping themselves clean. Cats don’t just consume poisonous items directly – they can also ingest it from their coat as they groom themselves

What are the signs of poisoning in cats?

What are the signs of poisoning in cats? There are many different poisons, and many different reactions to poisoning.

Cat poisoning symptoms include:

• Salivation
• Vomiting
• Diarrhoea
• twitching and fitting
• breathing difficulties
• shock or collapse
• inflammation or swelling of the skin
• depression or coma
• changes in drinking, urinating and appetite

poisoning in cats visual guide

What items are poisonous to cats?

You might be surprised to find that many household items, or at least those kept in your garden, shed or garage, are poisonous to cats. Cleaning products, decorating chemicals (for example, white spirit) and pest control agents can all be harmful if ingested.

These include:

• Slug bait – especially if it contains metaldehyde or methiocarb
• Rodent bait – especially anticoagulant types. Be aware that cats can also be harmed by eating poisoned rodents
• Weed killers
• Insect killers

REMEMBER: Avoid using these substances in an area that your cat uses. Place all cleaning products on a high shelf where they cannot be reached. Keep all lids and tops screwed tightly on toxic substances to reduce accidents.

Antifreeze poisoning in cats

Antifreeze is used often in the winter in car radiators or in screen wash and de-icers to prevent freezing.

Containing ethylene glycol, this substance is particularly harmful to cats and can prove fatal if ingested. It only takes a spillage on the driveway or a cat walking through a puddle and then grooming its fur for the poison to be ingested. This quickly affects a cat’s kidneys, with damage sometimes so severe that the cat may not survive.

To prevent your cat from the poison in antifreeze, try to use screen wash or de-icer sprays that do not contain ethylene glycol. If you have drained your car radiator and some of the product remains, wipe it up quickly. Keep products containing ethylene glycol out of reach, so your cat can’t get to it.

If you suspect that your cat has been poisoned by antifreeze, take them to the vet immediately.

Painkillers

Over the counter medication like paracetamol and ibuprofen might be effective for humans, but they should never be given to cats. Cats are very sensitive to these medications, and as little as one tablet could be fatal, causing severe liver damage.

Signs of poisoning in cats that have ingested painkillers include difficulty breathing, pale blue gums and swelling of the paws and face. Later there may also be vomiting and they may pass dark urine. If you suspect this has happened to your cat, take them to your vet straight away.

For more information about paracetamol poisoning, visit the International Cat Care site.

Flea or tick products

Whilst it is important to treat your cat regularly for parasites such as fleas and ticks, under the guidance of your vet, to help keep your feline friend safe, always follow the directions carefully. If you are concerned that you haven’t applied it correctly, get in touch with your vet. It is essential never to use flea or tick treatments intended for dogs, this is because some of these products contain Permethrin, which is very poisonous to cats, but well tolerated by dogs.

Lilies and other poisonous plants

While lilies might look pretty, they can sadly be deadly for felines, and are the most commonly reported poisoning in cats. Several types of lilies have found to be poisonous to cats, including:

• Day lily (these are the most common lillies that cause issues in cats)
• Easter lily
• Tiger lily
• Rubrum lily
• Japanese show lily

Take a look at our visual guide below for more information.

dangerous plants for cats visual guide

Which part of the lily is toxic to cats?

All parts of the lily plant are toxic and consuming even small amounts can cause poisoning in cats. Kittens are particularly prone to poisoning as they explore the environment around them, while older cats may brush against the flower’s pollen and then absent-mindedly lick it off their fur.

The toxicity of lilies affects a cat’s kidneys, causing a harmful reaction. Within minutes of ingesting any part of the plant, they might become lethargic or begin to vomit. As the substance begins to affect their body, these signs worsen.

If you spot any cat poisoning symptoms and suspect lilies, speak to your vet immediately – emergency care increases the likelihood of your pet making a full recovery.

You can find a full list of dangerous plants that are poisonous to cats here.

What food is poisonous to cats?

If you have a cat that is happy to eat everything they’re given, it might surprise you to learn that some foods are poisonous to cats. With cats content to investigate shopping bags and leftovers in the kitchen, food is often readily available in the home – and this can unfortunately make your cat unwell. Some of the most common foods to cause poisoning in cats include:

• Chocolate – theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate, is toxic to most animals and can cause illness in cats. Signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, drinking a lot and disorientation

• Alcohol – while it is obvious not to give your cat alcohol, accidents and spillages occur. Ethanol, the chemical found in alcohol, is also in surgical spirit and hand sanitiser so make sure you keep these items out of reach

• Grapes, sultanas, raisins and currants – dried fruit can cause renal failure in cats, it is thought that cats suffering from ongoing kidney disease are more at risk. Their consumption can also lead to gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhoea. Keep the fruit bowl away from your cat to stay safe

• Onions and garlic and other members of the allium family of vegetables. Symptoms of allium poisoning include vomiting, abdominal discomfort and lethargy. Avoid feeding them to your feline, and always consult your vet if you suspect poisoning

Are salt lamps safe for cats?

Worried that your salt lamp might make your cat unwell? While some cats choose to avoid items in the home that are considered toxic, there is always the possibility that curious cats may lick a salt lamp without knowing the dangers.

A little salt, such as that found in cat food, is neccesary for your cat's body to function properly. However, too much salt can be fatal to your cat. This is due to an overdose of sodium.

How can I tell if my cat has been poisoned by my salt lamp?

Signs of salt poisoning include the following 

• anorexia
• lethargy
• weakness
• vomiting
• diarrhoea
• disorientation
• seizures

For this reason it's best to avoid having Himalayan Salt Lamps in your home, or place them well out of your cat's reach. If you think your cat has been poisoned by salt, seek the advice of your vet immediately.

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

Cat poisoning symptoms tend to appear suddenly, so it is important to be aware. Even if you only suspect that your cat has swallowed or touched something poisonous, you must act quickly. Contact your vet immediately. Don't wait for signs of illness as by then your cat may be too sick to survive.

If you can see the poison, take your cat away from it immediately. If possible, take a sample of the poison with you to your vet appointment to help the vet choose a course of treatment.

Your vet may ask you to bring your cat in immediately, or may give advice over the phone. Forcing or encouraging your cat to vomit may not be helpful and you should not try to treat your cat’s symptoms yourself.

 

Can cats recover from poisoning?

Recovery from poisoning in cats depends on timing. The sooner your cat has medical attention, the sooner treatment can begin and the less time the poison has to make its way through your cat’s system. For many cats, those who receive early treatment will return to their normal selves within a short time. Speak to your vet for more information on your cat’s rate of recovery.