Top Five Cat Toxins of 2010

CatsIt is no surprise that dogs and cats are, by far, the most common pets in U.S. households today. The cat population in the U.S. outnumbers dogs by more than 10 million, making them the most populous pet species. This is due, in large part, to apartment dwellers in urban environments, the ease of cat maintenance, and the potentially lower financial cost of ownership.

Dogs tend to be prone to mischief and account for a large percentage of calls to Pet Poison Helpline®, a 24/7 animal poison control based out of Minneapolis. That said, almost nine percent of calls to the helpline during 2010 were for potentially poisoned cats. The top five cat toxins of 2010 include:

  1. Human or veterinary drugs
  2. Poisonous plants
  3. Insecticides
  4. Household cleaners
  5. Other toxins, such as glow sticks and liquid potpourri

The veterinarians at Pet Poison Helpline® would like to help keep our feline companions safer in 2011 by educating pet owners about the most common cat toxins.

Human and Veterinary Medications

During 2010, about 40 percent of feline cases at Pet Poison Helpline® involved cats that improperly ingested human or veterinary drugs. Cats have difficulty metabolizing certain drugs, especially as compared to dogs and humans. Common drugs such as non-steroidal anti- inflammatories (NSAIDS) are some of the most deadly to cats. When ingested, NSAIDS can result in severe kidney failure and stomach ulcers. Likewise, one acetaminophen tablet can be fatal to a cat, as it results in damage to red blood cells. Untreated, it can cause severe anemia (low red blood cell count), difficulty breathing, a swollen face, liver failure and death. Cats also seem to like the taste of certain antidepressants (e.g., Effexor), which seem to contain an attractive smell or flavor in the coating. With any accidental medication ingestion, immediate veterinary care is imperative.


Poisonous plants were the second most common cat toxin in 2010, representing about 14 percent of feline-related calls. True lilies (Lilium and Hemerocallis spp.), including the Tiger, Day, Asiatic, Easter and Japanese Show lilies, are among the most deadly and cause kidney failure in cats. Because these flowers are fragrant, inexpensive and long-lasting, florists often include them in arrangements. Small ingestions of two or three petals or leaves – even the pollen – can result in severe, potentially irreversible kidney failure. Immediate veterinary care is imperative. Despite their name, other plants such as the Peace, Peruvian and Calla lily are not true lilies and do not cause kidney failure. Instead, these plants contain insoluble oxalate crystals that can cause minor symptoms, such as irritation in the mouth, tongue, pharynx and esophagus.


Nine percent of feline-related calls in 2010 were for cats exposed to household insecticides or inappropriately treated with a topical flea and tick medication meant for dogs. Exposure to household insecticides such as lawn and garden products, sprays, powders, or granules often occurs when a cat walks through a treated area; however, serious poisoning is rare. More concerning is exposure to concentrated topical flea and tick medications meant for dogs. Dog- specific insecticides containing pyrethrins or pyrethroids are highly toxic to cats. Poisoning occurs when pet owners apply such products directly to cats or cats lick these medications off dogs that live with them. Severe drooling, tremors and life-threatening seizures can occur. Always read labels carefully before using any kind of insecticide and ask your veterinarian about appropriate topical flea and tick medications for your cat.

Household Cleaners

Exposure to household cleaners accounted for approximately six percent of feline-related calls to Pet Poison Helpline® in 2010. Many cat owners don’t realize that some common household cleaners like kitchen and bath surface cleaners, carpet cleaners and toilet bowl cleaners can be toxic to cats. Symptoms can include profuse drooling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and even organ damage. After cleaning your home, make sure all excess liquid or residue is wiped up or eliminated, and stow the products out of your cat’s reach as soon as possible. Only allow your cat back into the cleaned areas after the products have completely dried.

Other Toxins

The remainder of feline-related calls during 2010 involved less obvious toxins, such as glow sticks and liquid potpourri. Glow sticks and jewelry contain a very bitter tasting liquid called dibutyl phthalate. While rarely deadly, just one bite into these items can cause your cat to drool profusely. Most of these exposures can be managed at home. Offer (but do not force) your cat chicken broth or canned tuna (in water, not oil) to help to remove the bitter taste from the mouth. Remove the glow sticks and clean up any remaining liquid to prevent re-exposure to cats, who may continue to groom it off their fur. A bath may be in order to remove any “glowing” liquid from his or her skin. If you see signs of redness to the eyes, squinting, continued drooling, or not eating, a trip to the veterinarian may be necessary.

Keep your feline friends safe by protecting them from these toxins in 2011. If, however, you think a pet may have ingested something harmful, take action immediately. Contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline® at 1-800-213-6680.