Top 10 Cat Toxins of 2014

By Jo Marshall, CVT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist

A few weeks ago I wrote about the top ten exposures that we have with our dog friends and now it is equal time for our feline friends. As I explained in my previous blog, we do these stats for a couple of reasons. First and foremost would be the educational aspect of gathering this information. We educate our staff and have monthly continuing education and a good deal of that time is dedicated to the newer toxins that come to light along with evolving and more successful treatments for those more common or ever changing toxins that we deal with daily. The second part of this education is for the pet owning public and the veterinary staff that we work with every day. If we can educate you, the pet owning public and your veterinarian, we can help limit these exposures. Sometimes it is impossible to eliminate the exposure, but with providing the education that we do, many more pet owners know where the risks lie and are able to get treatment in a timely manner and we can greatly improve the prognosis for the poisoned patient.

So now it is all about the cats!

Number 1 exposure for cats is Household Cleaners.  Household cleaner covers a broad range of product concerns for cats. Cats are a curious lot and they like to taste a lot of things, they like to climb shelves and knock containers over and spill them out. I have had my own cat jump up on the kitchen sink after I had sprayed it with a cleaning product and she licked it. She immediately started to drool and fortunately for her, it was only something that resulted in minor irritation and a bad taste. But there are so many other things that we get calls about everyday that are much more concerning. We can see burns to the cat’s tongue and mouth and serious toxicity with some of the cleaning products, laundry detergents, and household disinfectants that we all use daily in our homes. The best course of action is to keep containers of cleaning products covered so they cannot be lapped out of and even better yet, keep the cat out of the area you are cleaning until you are done and the products you have used have had ample time to dry completely to prevent exposure.  Keep products in closed cabinets to prevent the cat from knocking them down and spilling them over, keep caps in place just like you would for your human kids.

Number 2 exposure for cats is the class of Pyrethroid-based Insecticides.  These are tough calls for all of our staff! Why you ask, because this is one of the most preventable exposures that we get calls about. High dose pyrethroids and permethrins are just not tolerated by cats – at all! These are the most common ingredient in dog flea and tick preventative products. When applied to cats, it affects their central nervous system with clinical signs of dilated pupils, facial twitching, full-body muscle tremors and seizures. How do we prevent theses exposures, very simply put, read the label! If it is labeled for dogs only, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT apply it to your cat. And when you apply it to your dog, keep your dog and cat separated until it has completely dried. We have seen secondary exposures with pyrethroids from the family dog when the cat grooms, sleeps with or has close contact with the family dog immediately following application.

Number 3 for cats are the same as number 2 for dogs – Rodenticides! It always surprises me when I see the number of cats that will actually eat mouse and rat poison. The most concerning rodenticide these days is Bromethalin. Bromethalin cause brain swelling with even small doses and there is no antidote for it. Don’t take a chance that your cat will leave it alone. Make sure to use bait boxes to keep pets and kids out of all rodenticides.

The two other main types of bait commonly seen today are anticoagulant rodenticides (cause severe bleeding and death) and the cholecaliferol/vitamin D type rodenticides (cause elevated calcium and phosphorous levels in the blood and kidney failure).

Asiatic Lily - Lynn 3
Asiatic Lily

Number 4 is the dreaded Lilies! In a nutshell – lilies kill cats! True lilies, daylilies, stargazer lilies, and Easter lilies, are a few of the common lilies where we see exposures to cats. Lily exposure results in acute renal failure in cats. We can see cats suffer renal failure from chewing on the flowers and leaves, drinking the water from the vase of a lily bouquet or even rubbing up against them and getting pollen on their fur that is then later ingested during grooming.  If you have a cat, do not have lilies.

Number 5 is the Antidepressant class of drugs, but especially Effexor. I cannot really explain why cats eat Effexor more often than any other antidepressant, but according to the 2014 statistics, that would be the case. We see cats develop agitation, hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), ataxia (walking like they are drunk), tremors, crying, mydriasis (dilated pupils), vomiting and diarrhea, cardiac arrhythmias, panting, weakness, and possibly seizures. These can be really bad and it takes less than one pill to result in serious concerns.

Number 6 would be the dewormers. Again these include the ivermectins (just like dogs) and pyrantel dewormers that are not labeled for cats. Again, I say to the cat owning public, if it does not give you a cat dose on the label and it is not specifically labeled for cats, do not use it in or on your cat!  Reading the labeling and dosing as prescribed is the best way to keep your cat happy and healthy.

Number 7 is again a human medication, the ADD and ADHD medications that include Adderall, Vyvanse, Methamphetamine HCL and amphetamine combination drugs. We will many times see parents crush and mix these medications in a spoon of ice cream or yogurt to give to a small child and the cats lap it up like a tasty treat.  Even partial pills or small amounts of these medications can have serious signs such as agitation, head-bobbing, panting, hyperactivity, increases in heart rate and blood pressure, tremors, seizures.

Pothos - Lynn

Number 8 is the Insoluble Oxalate Plants.  Philodendron, Dumbcane, Pothos, Elephant Ears and Peace Lilies are a few of the frequent offenders in this class of plants. Again, cats eat plants! Before you introduce a plant to your cat’s environment, find a good reliable website to do some research to keep your kitty safe. OK, so here is my shameless plug for our website. It is FREE and it is GOOD! It is written by our staff veterinarians and technicians and is constantly being updated with new and/or improved materials and information. The web address is  and it is just a click away.

Number 9 would be Essential Oils. Cats are so, so very sensitive to essential oils. Many oils, including liquid potpourri (very common exposure around the holidays), Tea Tree Oil or Melaleuca,  Oil of Wintergreen, Citrus Oils, Pine Oils, Peppermint Oils and Cinnamon Oils are a few, but the list is a long, long one when it comes to the oils  that we have seen concerns with in cats. We can see clinical signs of corrosive burns to the tongue and gastro intestinal tract along with drooling, vomiting, ataxia (walking like they are drunk), coma, respiratory distress, and acute liver failure. Bad stuff for cats! And again, cats will take a lick out of that liquid potpourri even when it is on a shelf over your head. Cats are that one species that the harder you work to keep it out of their reach, the harder they work to get at it!

Number 10 for cats – drumroll please, Glow Sticks! These are not terribly toxic but they really do seem to be a cat magnet. Cats chew them and the liquid leaks out causing some very dramatic foaming and drooling.  They are best kept out of reach of the kitties, especially around Halloween!

So there you have it – the Top 10 Toxicants for cats for 2014!  If you have a cat, hopefully this will serve as a great educational opportunity to avoid these common exposures or if you have an exposure, please call. We are the experts and would be happy to help you determine if your pet needs care at home or if they need to see their veterinarian. We have your back 24/7!