Critter Culture
How Are Cats Accidentally Poisoned?

How Are Cats Accidentally Poisoned?

Critter Culture Staff



Cats are very curious animals that love exploring their environment. They climb or jump to reach high places, and even fully grown cats are flexible enough to squeeze through tight spaces. Although these feline behaviors are charming, they also increase the risk of accidental poisoning. Kitties have very high metabolisms, and a cat's kidneys and liver produce different combinations of enzymes than most other animals. This means cats are sensitive to a wide range of potentially harmful substances, and they may have unique reactions to certain toxins.


Inappropriate medications

Pet owner giving his cat a pill/tablet bradleyhebdon / Getty Images

Pet owners love their kitties, and the desire to help a sick or injured cat can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, many cats are accidentally poisoned with human medications. Some common medications, such as over-the-counter pain relievers or laxatives, are incredibly toxic and dangerous for cats. Even safe drugs are harmful in doses meant for humans. Cats also metabolize certain drugs differently than people do, so it's not safe to estimate dosages based on weight.


Accidental ingestion

cat looking at pills on the ground

Cats frequently consume medications that weren't intended for pets, which can happen if medicine is left out in the open. Sometimes people get their medications ready and simply forget to take them. Unfortunately, cats are very good at finding pills left in random places. Up to 20% of reported feline toxicity incidents involve antidepressant medications for humans. Capsules and tablets tend to roll across flat surfaces, so cats may swallow the pills by accident while chasing them.


Cleaning products

Pet Owner Cleaning Floor While Cat Watches. CasarsaGuru / Getty Images

A wide range of household cleaning products, such as laundry detergent, toilet bowl cleaners, degreasing agents, or drain cleaners, are toxic. House cats can get chemicals and residue on their paws or fur while cleaning products are used. Even small amounts of certain cleaning products can be dangrous, so cats may be accidentally poisoned by licking spills or drips in cupboards and other storage spaces. Possible symptoms of toxicity related to cleaning products include drooling, ulcers in the mouth and esophagus, difficulty breathing, and vomiting.


Permethrin toxicity

man using an aerosol spray nito100 / Getty Images

Some flea and tick control products contain an insecticide called permethrin that's safe for dogs, and deadly for your kitty. Permethrin toxicity causes tremors and seizures, and high doses can be fatal. Accidental permethrin poisoning may occur if pet owners misunderstand product instructions or warnings. Households with cats and dogs should clearly label every pet product and store medications separately to prevent mistakes.


Rat and mouse poison

Gloved hand holding blue rodent poison.

Poisons used to kill rats are very dangerous for cats and other pets. The ASPCA states that over 33,000 felines throughout the United States die after consuming poison intended for mice and rats. Many of these poisonings are anticoagulants, which cause uncontrolled internal bleeding. Symptoms usually don't appear for 3 to 7 days after exposure to the toxin. Delayed symptoms offer an opportunity for treatment, but the chance of recovery drops significantly if treatment doesn't start before internal bleeding occurs.


Craft and hobby supplies

Close-up of a person's hand applying white glue on paper

Glue, solvents, varnish, mothballs, preservatives, paint remover, and other hobby supplies can cause accidental poisoning in house cats. Harsh chemicals in many of these products can damage a kitty's kidneys, liver, and nervous system. Glues and paints may stick to fur and cause skin irritation or hair loss. Cats can also develop ulcers in the mouth and esophagus while cleaning their fur. Pet owners can reduce the risk of complications by cleaning the cat's fur immediately after exposure.


Liquid potpourri

Bottles of essential oil, aromatherapy burner and candle with potpourri

Liquid potpourris simmer in a shallow bowl over a candle or light bulb to release pleasant fragrances. However, potpourris frequently contain essential oils, such as cinnamon, citrus, or peppermint, that are toxic for cats. These products may also contain corrosive substances called cationic detergents. Accidental poisoning occurs when cats lick potpourri from the bowl or knock the burner over and spill the liquid. Cationic detergents may cause skin irritation, corneal ulcers, or burns and lesions in the mouth, throat, and stomach. Essential oil poisoning may lead to kidney or liver damage, loss of balance, and difficulty breathing.


Poisonous plants

Ragdoll cat breed and a vase of narcissus Elena_Danileiko / Getty Images

Cats tend to munch on grass and other plants occasionally. This is perfectly normal behavior, but some plants are poisonous. Your cat can't recognize unfamiliar poisonous plants as threats, so it's up to owners to keep unsafe plants out of the house. Pet owners can't control every plant a cat encounters outdoors, but they can reduce the risk of accidental poisoning by removing toxic plants from the backyard, gardens, and flower beds.


Food poisoning

Adult Woman Feeding Her Siberian Cat With Can Food CasarsaGuru / Getty Images

It's important to remember that animals are susceptible to food poisoning. Canned cat food and spoiled table scraps are potential causes of accidental poisoning in cats. Table scraps may cause illnesses associated with fairly common bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli, and canned cat food can be much more dangerous. Although it's very rare, Clostridium botulinum bacteria can grow and produce botulism toxin inside damaged cat food cans. Botulism causes severe illness and can be fatal for cats and people.


Glow sticks and bracelets

gray cat with big green eyes lies in women's jewelry and bites beads with its teeth

Glow sticks and jewelry are a surprisingly common cause of accidental poisoning for cats. A liquid chemical inside the plastic provides the glow-in-the-dark effect. Unfortunately, discarded jewelry and wands may be dropped on the ground or end up hanging from trees or bushes. Cats are attracted by the glowing color and movement in the wind.


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