By: Wendy Simpson DVM
The good news is that cats are more finicky than dogs about ingesting foreign materials. However due to their unique metabolism, they are more susceptible to toxin exposures than other species. Cats lack an enzyme in their liver which helps break down certain substances that can be deadly in cats. Here is a list of some common toxic substances that are often found in our homes:
1. Acetaminophen or Tylenol
Tylenol in cats is often deadly. It causes liver and blood toxicity. Clinical signs are vomiting, anorexia, salivation, increased heart and respiration rate, swelling in the face and legs, depression and death. Just a very small dose can be lethal in cats so if you suspect that your cat may have ingested any pills or liquid Tylenol, call us or an emergency clinic immediately.
2. Lily Ingestion
True lilies are highly toxic to the kidneys causing acute death of kidney cells and ultimately kidney failure. Easter lilies, tiger lilies, Asiatic hybrid lilies and daylilies are all true lilies and therefore, deadly to cats. Calla lilies and peace lilies are not true lilies and ingestion of these causes mild gastrointestinal upset. Lily of the valley plants affect the heart.
Treatment for true lily ingestion must be started within six hours of ingestion even if the cat is not showing clinical signs. After six hours, the cat’s kidneys are already experiencing kidney failure and the prognosis is very poor. We recommend keeping all lilies out of the home just to be on the safe side. You never know when a cat will decide that it wants to try a nibble and it just isn’t worth it.
3. Phosphate Enemas or Fleet enemas
It may be tempting to try and administer an enema to your cat when he/she is constipated. Fleet enemas that are often used for children contain sodium phosphate and biphosphate that causes a rapid shift in the body’s electrolytes that leads to dehydration in the brain within an hour of administration. These cats can develop neurological signs such as a wobbly gait, seizures, and lethargy and muscle tremors and heart arrhythmias. Leave the enemas to us!
4. Kaopectate Toxicosis
In 2002, a substance called bismuth subsalicylate was added to Kaopectate. Prior to this, Kaopectate was used in cats. However bismuth subsalicylate is toxic to cats and ingestion of this product can be lethal. Clinical signs of toxicity include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool or vomit and abdominal pain.
Most antifreeze formulations in use today contain ethylene glycol as the principal ingredient. The sweet smell of ethylene glycol attracts animals, but it is deadly if ingested even in small amounts. As little as half a teaspoon of spilled antifreeze can kill an average-sized cat. Unless you catch it early, it can cause irreversible damage the kidneys. Clinical signs of toxicity include a drunken appearance within one hour of exposure, difficulty breathing and lethargy and then within 12 – 24 hours after ingestion, their kidneys will stop working and they stop eating, start vomiting, stop urinating, become depressed and eventually die.
If you think that your cat may have ingested a potentially dangerous substance, please call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. You can also visit their website atwww.aspca.org to view a list of toxic and non-toxic plants and other human medications that can be toxic to pets.
From the Morrisville Cat Hospital Newsletter, April 2012