22 Household Items That Can Poison Your Cat

March 18, 2021
cat health
cat safety

One of the most enjoyable traits of cats is their curiosity. They love to explore and investigate, poking their cute little noses into things at every turn. And while the old saying “curiosity killed the cat” is usually used to warn people to mind their own business, a cat’s curiosity can be life-threatening.

Naturally nosy kitties are exposed to many things that are toxic at home. Contact with poisons is commonly by mouth, but some things are absorbed through their skin or, once on their fur, ingested through grooming. Cats are especially at risk, because they lack some of the built-in protections other species have, such as glucuronyl transferase, an important liver enzyme. 

Pet poisoning is almost always preventable. Cat proofing your home is just as important as baby proofing – they’re exploring and they don’t know any better. It’s our job to help keep them safe.

Common Poisoning Risks for Cats

1 – Houseplants

Like baking bread and the rush on puzzles, houseplants became a hot new trend during the 2020 quarantine. If you’re one of the huge number of people who embraced plant parenthood, or if you’ve always had a green thumb, it’s important to know which plants are poisonous. This list from the ASPCA can help you ensure the plants you’ve chosen are safe for your kitties. Ingesting even a small amount of some plants may be fatal.

With some plants, your cat doesn’t necessarily have to chew or lick the plant itself. Plants like Easter (and other) lilies have pollen that is easily transferred to your cat’s fur, which they then lick off. 

2 – Cleaning Products 

Never allow a cat access to cleaning agents. This includes storing them where your kitty cannot access them, never leaving your cat unattended while you are using the products, and being sure to clean up any spills or residue. Some have ingredients that can irritate the gastrointestinal tract, while others are corrosive and can cause chemical burns in your cat’s mouth, esophagus and stomach. Always follow the label of any product you use and properly dispose of dirty washing liquid or excess product. 

3 – Medication 

Never give any medication unless you have been directed to do so by your veterinarian. Many that are used safely in humans can be deadly to your cat. Even a tiny amount of acetaminophen can kill a cat. Don’t let your cat lick or contact any of your skin that you treat with medicated creams and ointments. Makeup and cosmetics can make your cat sick as well. 

4 – Flea Treatments

Before using flea products on your cat or in your household, talk to your veterinarian about what types they recommend. Always follow label instructions. Anything labelled “for use in dogs only” should NEVER be given or applied to cats. 

5 – Chocolate

We know it can be hard to resist that adorable face when they’re trying to figure out if the snack you have is yummy, but never share chocolate treats with your cat and never leave chocolate unattended. One half ounce (14g) of baking chocolate per pound body weight or less can be toxic. 

6 – Grapes and Raisins

While most cats aren’t interested in eating grapes or raisins, some find the stems interesting or like to chase them on the floor, which can lead to ingestion. Grapes and raisins can cause acute kidney failure in cats (and dogs) and should be kept out of reach.

7 – Pest Control Products

Most people only want to live with the pets they’ve chosen – and we don’t blame you. However, if you need to use rat or mouse baits, ant or roach traps, or snail and slug baits, place them in areas that are inaccessible to your cat. 

8 – Cannabis 

Similar to cigarette smoke, cats should not be exposed to smoke from cannabis use. Any cannabis products (dried or in edible forms) can cause toxicity in cats, and should be safely stored to prevent your cat from eating them.

9 – Nicotine

Ingesting nicotine is toxic to cats, especially in the highly-concentrated liquid form used in e-cigarettes and vape pens. Also, cats inhaling smoke have a 3.2 times greater risk for developing malignant lymphoma. Ask your friends to smoke or vape outside, and keep your supplies out of reach of your kitty.

Other Common Items

Many other common household items can be lethal. These include:

  • Antifreeze (ethylene glycol)
  • Pennies (zinc)
  • Mothballs (naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene)
  • Potpourri 
  • Essential oils
  • Fabric softener sheets
  • Dishwasher and laundry detergents
  • Batteries (acids or alkali)
  • Home-made playdough (salt)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Alcoholic drinks 

Signs of Poisoning in Cats

While you may catch your cat in the act of licking or eating the items above, or find evidence that they have (for example, high-risk items that have been spilled or knocked over or staining on your cat’s paws, coat, or face), you might not always know that your cat has been poisoned. Indoor cats may not always make a mess or leave a trail, and cats who venture outdoors can come into a variety of substances in your neighbourhood. It’s important to understand the signs of poisoning in your cat so you can get them help. 

Changes in how kitty is acting (energy, appetite, drinking, urinating, defecating, etc.) are non-specific signs of illness that may be a result of poisoning or other problems. However, there are some signs that should alert you to a serious problem. They include:

  • Sudden, intense vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy or collapse
  • Drooling
  • Ulcers on the tongue, skin, or paw pads
  • Pale inner cheeks or gums
  • Difficulty breathing

Whether you witness your cat actually ingesting poisonous substances, or your cat begins to display signs of possible poisoning, it’s important to take your cat to an emergency clinic or your veterinarian’s office right away. Before you leave, rinse off anything on their fur with body temperature water. Do not try to make them throw up unless the veterinarian tells you to. Ensure they are secured in a pet carrier, and drive safely. 

Keeping our curious companions safe and healthy can be challenging, especially if you have very determined kitties in your life. But of course, the extra effort is more than worth it. Every cat owner wants as many years of cute cuddles and pounce-filled playtimes as possible! 

This article was written by feline specialist Dr. Margie Scherk DVM, DABVP.

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