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Is my cat Poisoned?

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2007 8:32 pm    Post subject: Is my cat Poisoned? Reply with quote


The best time to read this section is before an emergency arises. The first step to take when a cat is involved in a life-threatening situation is to dial the veterinarian's office, home, answering service, or an emergency clinic. Get help calmly and quickly.


Japanese yew, mountain laurel, lily of the valley, philodendron, dieffenbachia what do all of these ornamental plants have in common? Though all are beautiful, they all are potentially toxic when ingested, and cats are particularly susceptible. Fortunately, poisoning of cats by plants is relatively uncommon. Most outdoor cats have enough activity to keep them occupied, but bored house cats are somewhat more likely to chew on available plants.

When plant poisoning does occur, it may be a life-threatening emergency, requiring quick action if the cat is to survive.
The list of plants potentially dangerous to cats is long. Some of the more common plants, the signs of poisoning, and suggested treatment are summarized in Plants Poisionous To Cats. In addition to the specific treatments given, a few general principles should be remembered. First and foremost, get the poisonous material out of the cat. Take the plant away if the cat is caught in the act. in most cases, try to induce vomiting to get the offending plant material out of the stomach. Some easy ways to induce vomiting are the following:

1. Give I to 2 teaspoons of syrup of ipecac (may be repeated once in twenty minutes if needed)

2. Give 1 to 2 teaspoons of a 1:1 mix of hydrogen peroxide and water (repeat a few times at twentyminute intervals if needed).
if the source of poison is unknown, take the cat and a sample of the vomitus to the veterinarian immediately.

Do not induce vomiting in the following cases:

Plants that cause throat irritation, such as Dumb Cane (dieffenbachia) or philodendron, will burn just as much coming back up as they did going down, so it is safer to leave them in the stomach.

Two hours after eating, most of the poison has probably entered the intestines or passed into the bloodstream, so making the animal vomit at that point does not help. If the cat is unconscious or semiconscious, chances are very good that it will inhale the vomit and suffocate.

Once the cat has vomited, try to inactivate any poison that may be left in its system. A crushed activated charcoal tablet fed to the cat will adsorb (bind) to the toxins, so they can pass out of the body before being absorbed in the intestinal tract. This can be repeated several times at thirty-minute intervals. A less convenient but more effective way to orally administer activated charcoal is as a slurry. This can be quite messy, so make sure to administer in a bathtub or other easily cleaned area. Mix one gram of activated charcoal (either powdered form or crushed tablets) in each teaspoon of water. Then slowly give about one teaspoon of this mixture per pound body weight. Do not confuse activated charcoal tablets (purchased from the drugstore) with charcoal dog biscuits marketed for mouth odor or charcoal briquets for a barbecue. Do not give activated charcoal in addition to syrup of ipecac, even if the cat has vomited; the two bind together and inactivate each other. Induce the conscious cat to drink as much lukewarm milk or water as possible. This will help dilute the toxins in the gastrointestinal tract. Milk has a soothing, coating effect on the intestines. If necessary, feed liquids carefully with an eyedropper.

Evaluate the cat's general appearance. is it slipping into shock? Is it having trouble breathing? Keep the animal comfortable and warm. Give artificial respiration if necessary. (See SECTION: FIRST AID.)

In all cases, an immediate visit to the veterinarian is necessary to determine the severity of the poisoning, or the presence of secondary complications, or to administer specific antidotes.

Prevention. Undoubtedly the best treatment for plant poisoning is prevention. Keep poisonous plants hanging out of a cat's reach, or in a separate room that is off-limits to animals. In the warm months, outdoor plants can carry chemical poisons. Highly toxic herbicides and organophosphate pesticides on grass clippings can be deadly. (See "Chemical Poisoning".)


Fortunately, chemical poisoning is not a common occurrence among cats, possibly because of their finicky eating habits, which often prevent them from ingesting substances that are harmful. However, two other qualities get them into trouble with poisonous agents. Cats are curious and fastidious animals. Curiosity can lead them into situations that are better left alone, such as walking across a wet, freshly disinfected or waxed floor to look out the window, or scampering across a lawn that has recently been sprayed with weed killer to chase a leaf. Fastidiousness can cause them to lick off the disinfectant, wax, or weed killer, no matter how unpleasant the taste. This indirect ingestion can be responsible for chemical poisoning.

Cats also can be indirectly affected either by catching and eating rats or mice that have eaten poisoned bait or by walking through tracking powders that then are ingested during grooming. Most of the rodenticides marketed today use anticoagulant chemicals rather than the more hazardous compounds of strychnine or fluoracetate. Earlier-generation anticoagulant rodenticides required ingestion of sufficient amounts over an extended period of time before poisoning would occur. This is not the case with newer products; a single ingestion is sufficient to cause hemorrhage and death. Usually it takes two to five days before signs become apparent, but in very young, very old, or ill animals, it may take no more than twenty-four hours. If ingestion of a rodenticide is suspected, it is critical that a veterinarian be contacted, even if signs of poisoning are not yet obvious.

Tracking powders are more commonly used by professional exterminators. The tracking powders are more of a direct threat to cats, especially if the powders are placed in an area that is frequented by cats. The powders adhere to the feet and fur of both rodents and cats, and the poisons are then involuntarily ingested when the animal grooms itself if you observe your cat ingesting rodenticide tracking powders, follow the instructions for inducing vomiting outlined later in this chapter. Then the cat should be bathed to remove any residual poison on its body. Your veterinarian should be contacted as soon as possible.

Sadly, cats may be inadvertently poisoned by owners who administer medications without first checking with their veterinarians. Severe reactions can be caused by giving an over-the-counter drug to a cat

Inhalation accounts for another method of chemical poisoning. This usually occurs when a cat is unable to escape and has no choice but to breathe automobile exhaust fumes, sprayed pesticides, smoke, gas escaping from a heater or stove, or other toxic fumes.

Signs of Poisoning

Reactions to chemical poisoning are varied, depending on the kind of substance, the amount ingested or inhaled, and the previous condition of the cat. At one extreme, a cat may show intense excitement or convulsions; at the other extreme, there may be lethargy, even coma. Danger signs include excessive drooling, difficulty in breathing or swallowing, muscle spasms, trembling, vomiting, and diarrhea. A cat with carbon monoxide poisoning may have telltale bright red lips and tongue, and it will appear weak and dizzy. Obviously, any strange odor on the breath or body bears investigation, and a spilled container of chemicals or medicine may point to a toxic encounter.

A given amount of a toxic substance will generally have the strongest effect on kittens, old cats, and weak or sick cats. Every poison does not have a specific antidote, but certain emergency procedures can be successful if administered quickly.

The signs associated with anticoagulant poisoning include weakness, easy bruising of the skin, pale mucous membranes, difficulty in breathing, nosebleeds, and blood in vomitus and stools. However, it can take as long as five days before these signs are apparent. If you observe any of the aforementioned signs, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian. If possible, take samples of any bloody stools or vomit for analysis. The veterinarian may perform certain blood tests to determine the extent of the poisoning.

First Aid for Ingested Poisons

If a cat has been poisoned, someone must call immediately to alert the veterinarian that an emergency case is coming, while first-aid procedures are begun. Tell the veterinarian what type of poison is involved (if you know it), the cat's signs, what first-aid measures are being performed, and when the cat will arrive. Note: If the cat is convulsing or is unconscious, first aid is inadequate. Wrap the animal in a blanket and rush to the veterinarian without delay for expert attention. In most cases, if the cat is conscious and is not convulsing, induce vomiting. Note: Do not induce vomiting if the cat has swallowed an acid, an alkali, or kerosene. See the special section on these agents that follows.

The goal when inducing vomiting is to remove poison from the stomach before it can pass to the intestines and be absorbed into the bloodstream. Open the cat's mouth without tipping its head way back and slowly pour in one of the following:

1. Give 1 to 2 teaspoons of syrup of ipecac (may be repeated once in twenty minutes if needed).

2. Give 1 to 2 teaspoons of a 1:1 mix of hydrogen peroxide and water (repeat a few times at twentyminute intervals if

Repeat or alternate these measures every five or ten minutes until the cat vomits. Save the vomit and especially the chemical container, if available. Bring these to the veterinarian to help identify the poison and choose specific treatment. To save time, one person may drive while another attempts to induce vomiting. If there is no way to see a veterinarian, try to determine if there is a specific antidote to the poison -something that will neutralize or detoxify the poison that has already entered the bloodstream. Check the label on the container, if available, or call the nearest Poison Control Center, if the poison is known. The National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by calling 1-900-680-0000 or 1-800-548-2423. There is a charge for these services.

If no specific antidote is available, give water or milk, force-feeding if necessary, to dilute the poison already in the cat's system. If activated charcoal (the kind purchased in a pharmacy, not charcoal briquets) is available, mix several teaspoons into the liquid. The charcoal will adsorb (bind to) poison in the intestine, so that it is passed out of the body without entering the bloodstream. Do not use the charcoal if the cat has been given syrup of ipecac, for they will bind together and inactivate each other. Try coating the intestines to slow absorption. Feed the cat one to three tablespoons of egg whites. One to two teaspoons of mineral oil may help to prevent some poisons from passing from the intestine into the cat's system, but this must be given slowly and carefully to prevent aspiration.

If the cat is severely depressed, it may become necessary to give artificial respiration. (See SECTION: FIRST AID.) While traveling to the veterinary hospital, keep the cat warm and lower its head to allow liquids to drain out of the mouth.

Signs of anticoagulant rodent poison develop over a period of four to five days. These include depression, skin discoloration, labored breathing, and prostration. The treatment consists of a blood transfusion and doses of vitamin K. Do not attempt to diagnose this condition and initiate vitamin therapy on your own. Chances of the cat's full recovery are very good if the condition is treated early.

Acids, Alkalis, and Kerosene

Acids, drain cleaners (alkalis), and kerosene will burn the mouth and throat both going down and coming up. Do not compound damage to the body by inducing vomiting. Instead, give the following general antidotes:

For acids: give antacids, e.g., baking soda solution or a single dose of one teaspoon milk of magnesia per five pounds of body weight.

For alkalis: give one to five teaspoons of a mixture of vinegar (or lemon Juice) diluted with an equal part of water.

Acids, alkalis, and kerosene can be diluted in the system, and the intestines can be coated, by giving oral doses of milk, mineral oil (caution-administer slowly), or egg whites.

First Aid for Inhaled Poisons

The first remedy for a cat that has inhaled deadly fumes is fresh air. Put the cat outside in the open air, regardless of the weather. Artificial respiration may be required. (See SECTION: FIRST AID.) A veterinarian will be able to administer oxygen and respiratory stimulants, if needed. Recovery generally occurs within a few hours; however, temporary blindness or deafness has been known to occur and then disappear spontaneously within a matter of days or weeks.


Keep toxic substances out of a pet's reach. (See Table). If the label says "Keep out of the reach of children," then keep it out of the reach of cats, too. Never give your cat medication that has not been approved by a veterinarian. if the cat is on a prescription drug, ask the veterinarian about possible toxic reactions before administering any additional medicines.

Keep the cat in the house until lawns that are freshly sprayed with insecticide or fertilizer have dried. However, rain will dilute the poison sufficiently to remove danger, allowing the animal to go out afterward. Some pesticides are toxic to humans and animals. No one should remain in the vicinity where they are being sprayed.

Open the garage door when warming a car engine. Animals could be napping or even trapped inside. Noxious fumes can be deadly for both animals and humans. Maintain good ventilation in any area when working with chemicals that give off fumes, and be certain stoves and furnaces have no gas leaks. Common sense goes a long way toward keeping a cat sound and healthy.
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