Having a cat is a huge responsibility. The independent, curious little creatures always seem to want to get into anything that catches their eye, which can result in major headaches if they start eating something they’re not supposed to. It’s harmless most of the time, but it can sometimes be life-threatening.
In this article we’re going to take a look at the large variety of things that your cats should never ingest, as well as the symptoms that might arise should the worst occur.
Some of it is common sense, but there are a few lesser known toxins that you should keep an eye out for in order to keep your furry friend in tip-top shape.
Note that while most toxins occur inside the home, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t worry when your cat is freely roaming around the neighborhood. It’s almost impossible to track what they eat while walking through the streets, and most people aren’t aware of any potentially dangerous substances that they give away as treats!
Due to this, it’s better to be safe and keep them indoors, but at the very least give them a close inspection when they get home to make sure that nothing is amiss.
Just because you have a cat doesn’t mean you have to get rid of your garden, but you do have to choose the plants that you grow more carefully. The list is surprisingly extensive, but here we’re going to focus primarily on the ones that you’re most likely to come into contact with.
Azaleas, lilies, and tulips should be avoided at all costs. These beautiful flowers can be among the deadliest since they affect the nervous system of your beloved pet. That means they’ll have less control over their muscular functions, resulting in an extremely rapid death if not properly diagnosed.
Likewise, every portion of the rhubarb plant should be avoided, alongside marijuana. It can cause extremely negative reactions even in people, and while death is rare in cats, the side-effects aren’t worth experiencing.
On the other side of things, there are a large variety of plants that only have a few dangerous edible sections. For example, the berries of holly, mistletoe, and English ivy fall under this category, as do the bulbs of daffodils, and the seed pods of birds of paradise. Fewer toxic sections mean there is a lessened chance of ingestion, but they should still fall under the “avoid” category.
If you absolutely must decorate for the holidays, keep the holly and mistletoe out of reach, and make sure to clean promptly after the party so you don’t leave anything out to catch the eye of your favorite feline.
Common Human Foods
In general, it’s a good idea to simply avoid giving human food to your cats. They may love eating the fat trimmings from your steak or sharing in a chicken dinner with you, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them.
Case in point, there are quite a few culinary staples sitting in your pantry and fridge that are extremely toxic to cats. Chief among this list are garlic cloves and onions.
They might add flavor to your meals, but in cats, it could cause long-term health issues like anemia. Likewise, chocolate poses huge concerns for cats (and dogs!). The caffeine embedded within can act as a stimulant that increases the heart rate of your cats, and could even result in consequences as severe as seizures.
As for liquids, the “no caffeine” trend continues here too. Many cats will avoid coffee and tea due to their powerful aroma, but it is possible for curiosity to get the best of them.
One lap at your mugs shouldn’t require you to run off towards the vet, but too much can cause heart palpitations that pose large risks, especially in older cats and kittens. Alcohol, while not caffeinated, is also off limits. It’s essentially toxic to humans too, so what do you think it does to your cats?
Finally, major ingredients to watch out for are artificial sweeteners. These are found in things like yogurt, or in drinks and foods that proclaim to have “no sugar added.” Worse, these are often labeled by the name of the specific sweetener in question, which can make them tricky to spot.
The most prominent of these is xylitol, which has caused deaths in dogs in the past. Its history with cats is less well-known, but since it doesn’t have a good track record I’d recommend you avoid it altogether.
Vets exist for a reason. They can help diagnose and medicate your cats even in extreme emergencies, so you should take advantage of their medical expertise whenever it’s needed.
Unfortunately, many owners take it upon themselves to cure their ailing feline friend, with disastrous results. Even if you are aware of the risks, sometimes pills are left out and quickly gobbled up when mistaken for a treat. It’s a good idea to lock up any and all medication safely out of reach, but if you like to have your pills at bedside be sure to avoid common offenders like ibuprofen or aspirins (Advil being the chief culprit to watch for in terms of brand names).
Prescription medication follows these same guidelines, even if the symptoms or ailments are exactly the same! That means antidepressants or anti-anxiety pills (as they’re often prescribed interchangeably), cholesterol medications, pain creams, and thyroid pills are for your use only. Likewise, laxatives might seem harmless enough, but even a tiny dose can prove lethal.
Just like people, cats get sick from time to time, often with the same symptoms. It might seem counter-intuitive to restrict medication to your ailing cat, but it ends up doing more harm than good. In people, medication administered orally ends up in the stomach, where it is broken down by the various enzymes and acids that line the walls of your digestive system.
Once broken down, it is processed by the liver where it finally enters the bloodstream. Unfortunately, cats lack the enzymes necessary to break these pills down, which means they don’t metabolize properly causing horrific side-effects like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Things Around the House
On top of everything we already covered, there are a few other household objects you’ll want to keep a tight lid on. Aggressive cleaning products like Clorox and laundry detergents are the most common offender in kitchens and bathrooms. Make sure to keep the bottles for these products out of reach, and keep Whiskers in another room when rubbing down the counter until you’re sure it no longer poses a threat.
While most of the danger to your pets comes from the kitchen, there are other rooms that can still house some dangerous chemicals. From the garage, keep an eye out for things like motor oil, anti-freeze, or bug sprays since they’re all easy to spill and inherently toxic.
Likewise, paints (of all kinds, but especially metal based oil hues like Cadmium Yellow or Cobalt Blue) and varnish should never be left unattended. It’s probably a good idea to keep pets out of these rooms anyway since even if they’re not eating anything, the scents and fumes could be overwhelming.
There’s a lot of potentially dangerous products lying around, but you don’t need to remember them all. The key to safety with everyday objects is to just use common sense. If you wouldn’t eat it, then cats shouldn’t be either.
So far, we’ve covered the most common offenders that plague domestic cat owners, but if you let your cat loose, you’re still not off the hook. Not only are they more likely to eat some of the poisonous plants we just covered in someone else’s garden, but they can also get tangled up with some nasty creatures depending on where you live.
In many cities and countries around the world, poisonous lizards, snakes, toads, and insects live in close proximities to people, which poses unique dangers to the cats that live in these environments.
Snakebites are the easiest to recognize but require close inspection of your cat to look for puncture wounds. While not all snakes are venomous, many are. If you notice a snake-bite on your cat, assume the worst so that appropriate action can be taken before lethal side-effects start to materialize.
Look for swollen and tender areas and be sure to carry your cat in a carrier, since physical activity encourages blood flow which circulates the poison more quickly.
Lizards and toads are much harder to identify as a culprit since rather than being venomous, they are poisonous. This means that the toxins that are so harmful to your pets are secreted through their skin, and then ingested.
These symptoms are often much more severe and include increased heart rates, seizures, and frothing at the mouth. These toxins can be as potent as to kill your pet within 15 minutes, so it’s imperative that you act quickly.
In general, insects tend to be relatively harmless. However, wasps and bees pose unique threats due to their stingers, which can cause allergic reactions or anaphylactic shock. This results in difficulty breathing and lethargy, and still needs to be properly treated to avoid risks of suffocation.
Finally, spiders are potentially the most dangerous, since in many cases they’re small enough to be appealing prey to cats. While toxicity varies according to species, never let your cat eat them at all, since even small ones can result in major digestive disturbances.
Signs and Symptoms of Poisoning
Thankfully, most symptoms are shared across the different toxins we covered in this article (with the notable exception of wildlife toxins, which we covered separately) which makes things easier to spot and increases the odds you can get your furry friend the medical help he or she needs.
Mainly, you want to be looking for both physical and behavioral symptoms. Physically, poisoned cats tend to exhibit vomiting, diarrhea, gum discoloration, and reduced food intake. The first three of these are dead giveaways. While gum discoloration can occur due to other factors such as heat-stroke, the resulting hue is often a pale or bright red, while poisoning results in a sickly yellow.
Behavioral symptoms are slightly harder to spot since they can vary according to the personalities of different cats, but if you know your feline well, you should be able to recognize when these signs are becoming worrisome.
Look for activity level changes (so either lethargy or hyperactivity), excessive drinking (to dilute the poison), or emotional disturbances (such as depression or anxiety). These symptoms often occur in tandem with the physical symptoms we just looked at, so if you see both, be ready to run right to the emergency room of your local animal hospital.
Cats are difficult to monitor and impossible to control, so the proper weapon in your arsenal to keep them safe is knowledge. By knowing common sources of poisoning in cats, you can safely isolate the offenders and keep your friend happy and healthy.
Sometimes accidents happen, but if you keep an eye out for the symptoms I listed and take my advice on preventative measures you should be able to rest easy at night knowing that your cat is only eating what he’s supposed to.