A Guide to What is Toxic to Cats

What is Toxic to Cats?
Leo in the Garden

Lots of everyday substances, food and plants in our lives can be toxic to cats. Cats will eat toxic and harmful things as well as absorbing them on contact and through their skin and through inhalation. A cat will show intoxication in a number of different ways including muscle spasm, vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of co-ordination, shaking and foaming at the mouth. Other signs that your cat may have been poisoned include foreign material on your cat’s fur or feet, strange material in vomit or a strange smell to their fur, breath, faeces or vomit. If you suspect that your cat has been poisoned, you must seek immediate medical attention from your vet. Please spread the word to other cat owners and share this article to increase awareness.


1)         Human Foods that are Toxic to Cats

a)         Dairy

Most cats are lactose-intolerant and dairy products can cause vomiting and diarrhoea so although your kitty may love milk, cream or cheese, it may not be good for him.

b)         Chocolate

Chocolate is extremely toxic to cats because it contains theobromine which is a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant and cannot be digested by cats. Both milk and dark chocolate, including cooking chocolate, is toxic and can cause seizures, heart problems and muscle spasms so don’t feed your cat chocolate or chocolate products like ice cream or chocolate milk.

c)         Caffeine

Caffeine that is found in tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and energy drinks are not good for your kitty and will cause heart palpitations, the shakes and rapid breathing.

d)         Alcohol

Alcohol can cause severe brain damage and liver damage. The tiniest amount can put your cat in danger so keep alcohol away from your kitty and watch your alcoholic drinks around kitties.

e)         Fruits and Vegetables

A variety of fruits and vegetables can be toxic to your cat including mushrooms, green tomatoes, many root vegetables, onions, garlic, grapes and raisins and will cause stomach upsets. Ingesting certain types of onion regularly also causes anaemia.

f)          Excessive fat, raw meats, raw eggs, raw fish, chicken

Excessive fat can cause painful pancreatitis and there is a danger with raw meats, raw eggs and raw fish with Salmonella or E. Coli so avoid giving these to your cats in a raw state.

Most kitties love fish and chicken. However the bones in chicken and fish can also be extremely dangerous to cats. If small bones are ingested, they can lacerate or obstruct the stomach so make sure all of the bones are removed from fish and chicken before you feed it to your cat.

g)         Tuna

Oily fish and tuna that are high in unsaturated fatty acids and deficient in Vitamin E can cause an upset digestive system and a painful condition called steatitis in cats, or Yellow Fat Disease, which results in inflammation of the body’s fat, when fed to cats on a regular basis. Tuna can be addictive to cats so feed tuna only as a special treat to your cat if at all.

h)         Xylitol

A sweetener used in many sugar-free foods can be toxic to cats. In dogs it causes a severe drop in blood sugar which results in seizures and convulsions and can cause liver failure and death. Therefore it is better to be safe and not let your cat eat foods that contain this ingredient.


2)         Flowers and plants that are toxic to cats

Surprisingly there are many plants and flowers that are toxic to cats – many that we have in our gardens or flowers and plants in the house. The ASPCA website provides a comprehensive list of all the plants and flowers that are toxic so have a good look through here. Plants include hellebore, lilies, iris, tulips, ivy, chamomile and carnations and hosta. You can also take a look at the plants and flowers that are NOT toxic to cats here. We have also written a guide to lilies being poisonous to cats here.


3)         Slug and snail pellets containing Metaldehyde

Cats will become very ill and could die if they ingest slug or snail pellets that contain metaldehyde which is a toxic compound. If your cat has ingested any pellets then take it to your vet for urgent treatment immediately. Within an hour of ingestion, cats will have muscle spasms, the shakes, twitching and seizures. They will also lose their co-ordination.

To be absolutely safe, choose a slug and snail repellent that does not contain metaldehyde and does not harm pets. Products that are safe to animals should state that their product is not harmful to pets on the container.


4)         Weed killers, wood preservatives and garden cleaners

Cats will spend a lot of time outdoors in your garden in warmer weather so make sure that everything you use in the garden such as weed killer, wood preservatives, fence paint and creosote, path, decking and drive cleaners are pet-friendly and not toxic to pets. If you are not sure do not buy the product but check the ingredients first with your vet.

If you are painting a fence or using wood preservatives on fences, decking or garden furniture, then make sure you keep your cat well away until the wood preservative is dry. Some preservatives even when dry may still be toxic to your kitty so check this out with your supplier before you buy products.


5)         Household Cleaning products and insecticides

Similarly indoors there will be everyday household products and insecticides that we use around the home that are toxic to cats and can cause contact dermatitis or poisoning through inhalation. Bleach, deodorisers, polishes, air fresheners, floor cleaners, fly sprays and cleaning sprays will all be toxic to your cat. Be mindful of when you are cleaning and shut your kitty out of the area you are cleaning or put him outside until you have finished. Even better is to use natural cleaning products without harmful chemicals or natural products such as white vinegar, lemon, bicarbonate of soda and some mild washing up liquid.


6)         Permethrin used for dog flea treatments

Permethrin is an insecticide that is found in spot-on flea treatment products for dogs. Many of these treatments are available readily over the counter. It is extremely toxic to cats and cats can be poisoned either through having contact with a recently treated dog or by being treated with a dog flea treatment product instead of a cat flea treatment. Many cases are reported and symptoms of insecticide poisoning include shaking, twitching, seizures and drooling. The product should be removed immediately either by clipping it out or with cool water and not warm or hot water which will increase the absorption rate.  If you are applying a dog flea treatment, keep your cat well away from the treatment and the dog for a good while and make sure that the treatment is dried on your dog and wash away any drips or spills so that your cat doesn’t come into contact with the substance.

Unfortunately there is a possibility of death if cats do not receive immediate and effective treatment, so if you suspect your cat has had any contact with a dog flea treatment, wash it or clip it off and take your cat to your vet immediately. Cats can survive with no long term problems if treated quickly and effectively.


7)         Anti-histamines

Anti-histamines taken in a large quantity can result in a number of symptoms including vomiting, lack of co-ordination, shaking, lethargy and unsteadiness. Other symptoms are hyperactivity and over excitement.


8)         Ethylene Glycol used in anti-freeze

This is a common form of poisoning for cats. Because it smells and tastes sweet, cats will lick it from ground spills or off of their paws if they come into contact with it on the ground. Ethylene Glycol is deadly and will cause kidney damage and death. Symptoms are mild at first and you could miss them after the first few, vital hours after ingestion. Look out for signs of drooling, lack of co-ordination, signs of drunkenness and/or vomiting. After the first 24-48 hours, serious kidney failure will occur. Symptoms of kidney failure will include loss of appetite, vomiting, excessive or no urination at all. If you suspect your cat has ingested ethylene glycol you will need to take your cat immediately to the vet as the quicker he/she is treated the more chance you cat will have to survive.


9)         Luminous jewellery

Luminous necklaces, bracelets and hoops are novelty jewellery that resemble pet toys and contains a chemical mixture – a luminescer and an activator inside of the plastic tubing. The chemicals are low toxicity however they are an irritant and will cause pain. If bitten into and the chemical released, it will cause salivation, frothing and foaming at the mouth, vomiting and stomach pain. There also may be possibility of hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour. Luckily, the chemicals are not fatal to your cat but you should seek immediate attention from your vet, and most of all keep luminous jewellery away from your pets as these will be attractive to your pets.


10)      Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is inflammation of the skin that occurs when cats come into contact with a particular substance that causes irritation to them. Contact dermatitis is most commonly caused by insecticides, household chemicals and products and petroleum products.  If your cat licks or swallows these toxins, the mouth and digestive tract is liable to be affected as well.  If your cat has come into contact with a substance, be aware and take a look at your cat’s body and feet. Look out for unusual smells, especially a chemical smell, also look for swelling, a rash, redness, hair loss, blisters, itchiness or ulcers anywhere on the feet or skin where the substance is located. Also look out for coughing, mouth sores, drooling, diarrhoea or vomiting.

Contact dermatitis is most commonly caused but household chemicals, insecticides, and petroleum products so be careful when using products like these or avoid them altogether.


11)       Inhaling toxins

Cats, like humans, can inhale a variety of substances that will irritate and poison them. Substances such as smoke, fumes, carbon monoxide, bleach and household cleaning products, insecticides and petroleum products can all cause illness if inhaled. If your cat has inhaled a toxin move him to a well-ventilated area in the open and consult your vet immediately.


12)       Human and animal medications

As you would with children, make sure that you prevent any accidents by keeping all your human and animal medications out of reach from your pets. Animal medications may be sweetened or made more palatable for a pet and the cat may well want to ingest medications readily.

Disclaimer: Provided for information purposes only, if in doubt, please seek advice from your vet.

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