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Poisoning in Cats
If you suspect a cat has been poisoned, seek help immediately. Call your veterinarian, the nearest animal hospital, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. The sooner a cat is diagnosed, the more effective her treatment will be.
Alley Cat Allies is committed to keeping cats safe—and we know you are, too. That’s why it is important to be aware of dangers to cats, including poisoning.
By understanding the common causes and symptoms of poisoning in cats—and the actions to take to prevent it—we can act fast to save their lives.
Symptoms of poisoning can vary greatly depending on the type of poison, but there are common signs you can watch out for in a cat.
These include but are not limited to:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive thirst or urination
- Nervousness or hyperactivity,
- Muscle tremors
- Lethargy and weakness
- Pale or yellowish gums
- Racing heart rate
- Loss of consciousness or coma
- Coughing or vomiting blood
Remember: While some poisons affect a cat instantly, others may take days to show symptoms.
What to Do if You Suspect a Cat Has Been Poisoned
If you believe a cat has ingested, breathed, or touched poison, remain calm but act fast. You can save her life by following this protocol:
- Seek help right away. Immediately call your veterinarian, an animal hospital, or the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-213-6680.
- Identify the poison. If possible, identify the substance that caused the poisoning and give that information to the veterinarian over the phone.
- Bring the poison to the veterinarian. Get a sample of the suspected poison and put it in a container. Or, take the container or label of the poisonous product. Bring these to your veterinarian along with the poisoned cat. Be sure to wear gloves to protect yourself and to preserve possible evidence.
- Don’t try to treat a cat without instruction. For example, DO NOT induce vomiting in a cat you suspect is poisoned unless you are specifically instructed to do so by a veterinarian.
- Get the cat to the veterinarian as quickly as possible. A poisoned cat has the best chance of recovery if she is treated right away. The sooner, the better.
- Account for community cats. If the poisoned cat is a community cat who is not socialized to people, try to trap her and bring her to the veterinarian immediately. She may be difficult to trap, so refer to Alley Cat Allies’ Tips for Hard-to-Trap Cats.
What to expect at the veterinary clinic or hospital
A veterinary professional will probably first run tests to confirm or rule out poisoning. They may also run blood and urine tests to assess the cat’s overall health. If they believe the cat has been poisoned, they will use an antidote (for example, ethanol is used as an antidote for antifreeze poisoning) if it is available.
Most of the treatment will involve alleviating symptoms and keeping the cat in stable condition until the toxins have been processed out of her system. Your veterinarian might induce vomiting, give the cat activated charcoal to absorb toxins in the gut, give the cat intravenous fluids, or provide other medications.
Veterinarians may run tests again to monitor the cat and make sure the toxic substance has left her system.
Poison Prevention and Action
Whether poisoning is accidental or intentional, there are steps you can take to prevent it and actions you can take in response.
Living in close proximity to people may expose cats to substances that are toxic to them. Prevention is the key to keeping your cats safe, whether they live indoors or outdoors.
Common Items that are Poisonous to Cats
You may be surprised at how many things you use, eat, or decorate with pose a risk to your feline friends. In general, if it will harm you, it will most likely harm a cat. Keep all cleaning products, chemicals, and medications in places your cats cannot access. Store them in child-proof containers out of reach.
- Medications. Assume all of your medications are poisonous to cats. Assume the same even for medication prescribed to your cat if they accidentally take a higher-than-recommended dose. If you drop a pill on the floor, pick it up immediately.
- Anti-freeze. This is a common cause of poisoning in the wintertime. If you spill antifreeze, even out on a driveway or street, clean it up immediately.
- Houseplants and flowers. Many common plants found in bouquets are poisonous for cats. Lilies, chrysanthemum, azaleas and rhododendrons, tulips and daffodils, and sago palms are all poisonous. The poinsettias common during the holiday season are also toxic for cats. Do careful research and opt for plants that won’t cause problems if your cat happens to nibble on them. Keep any toxic plants in your home well out of a cat’s reach.
- Insecticides. These chemicals can cause a problem if your cat grooms herself after walking or laying in a recently treated area. Avoid using these products and instead consider humane and natural methods to address issues with insects.
- Rat and mouse poison. Rodenticides could be ingested directly by a cat, or indirectly if a cat eats a rodent that has ingested the poison. Avoid using them and consider humane and natural methods to address issues with rodents. If you decide to buy these poisons, store them in metal cabinets out of reach and alert your neighbors when the poison is in use.
- Cleaning products. Store all bleach, laundry detergent, surface cleaners, carpet cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and other such products in pet-inaccessible areas of your home.
- Flea and tick medication. Be careful that your animals don’t overdose on these common medications. Always use the correct dosage for your pet’s weight and follow the guidelines for administering the medication. Do not give dog flea and tick medication to cats or vice versa.
- Our food and drink. Many of us enjoy chocolate, alcohol, coffee, tea, energy drinks, onions, garlic, gum, or candy. However, all these things can be toxic for cats. To be safe, it’s best to never give your cats any people food.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone capable of harming or killing animals. Unfortunately, intentional poisoning of cats can and does happen.
Intentionally poisoning a cat is animal cruelty and is a crime in the United States. It is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If you are aware of cats who are being poisoned or threatened with poison, understand that you have power to save their lives through the law.
Find out how you can learn the laws that affect cats in your community by visiting alleycat.org/CatsAndTheLaw.
If you suspect someone has poisoned or is threatening to poison a cat:
- Remember to bring any poisoned cat to the veterinarian or animal hospital right away.
- Notify the local authorities as soon as possible. File a police report and explain the situation in careful detail. Police will then have a record that a violent crime has occurred or is being threatened. Have a clear written statement on hand that describes the incident and all relevant dates and times.
- Document the evidence. If it doesn’t require entering another person’s property without their permission, take photographs, hard as it may be, of any evidence that a cat has been harmed, killed, or threatened by poison. Be sure to document the contact information of anyone with firsthand information on the incident, as well as any emails, written notes, voicemails, or other communications that contain poisoning threats or admissions. Include them when you file your police report.
- Post flyers in your community. These flyers should list local and state laws about animal cruelty, poisoning, and the potential sentence for these crimes. These flyers let the neighborhood, and the poisoner, know that the cats are being monitored and that poisoning is illegal. If a cat has been harmed or killed by poison, the flyer can let your community know the situation and warn for vigilance.
- If a cat has been killed, get a necropsy. A necropsy is an autopsy for animals, performed to find the exact cause of death. It may determine the poison used or help find who did it. See more about what to do if a cat you care for has been harmed or killed.
- If Cats You Care for Have Been Harmed or Killed.
- Work with Law Enforcement to Protect Cats.
- Addressing Violent Threats Against Cats.
- How to Find Laws that Relate to Cats.
Poison Flyer Example
POISONING CATS IS AGAINST THE LAW
Intentionally harming, maiming, or killing an animal is cruelty. Violation of anti-cruelty laws—including poisoning—is punished with prison time and/or a hefty fine.
Local Humane Enforcement
Local Spay/Neuter or Trap-Neuter-Return Assistance
Provided by: Alley Cat Allies www.alleycat.org