Poisoning in Cats - Symptoms and First Aid
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It is a well-known fact that cats are very careful animals, but like most other living things, they are curious and likely to make mistakes or be attacked. Because of these oversights and external attacks, our whiskered friends can be accidentally poisoned.
If you're thinking about adopting a cat, or if you already have one, you should do as much research as possible on poisoning in cats, including its symptoms and first aid treatment. After all, accidental poisoning can be fatal for your pet. Here at AnimalWised we'll run you through the basics.
Common causes of poisoning in cats
Whenever there is poisoning or intoxication, it is often too late to do anything except identify the symptoms in time and go to the vet as soon as possible. However, there are some first aid measures we can learn and try while the vet is on their way, as long as we ask them first.
As we said before, cats are careful but curious animals. This leads them to explore and try new things, and their adventure can end badly. Cats can end up intoxicated, poisoned or somehow hurt. However, if you know the potential dangers of some substances and products you will be able to prevent accidents from happening.
Some of the most common causes of poisoning in cats are the result of household products such as:
- Medicines for humans: Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), paracetamol.
- Food for humans: Chocolate.
- Insecticides: Arsenic, some anti-parasite strays we can accidentally spray on our pets and their objects.
- Cleaning products: Bleach, chloride.
- Poisonous insects: Spanish flies.
- Poisonous plants: Cyanide.
These products, animals and plants have chemicals and toxic enzymes that cats can't metabolize. We will further explain these products, their effects in cats and treatment as we go on.
Common symptoms of poisoning in cats
The possible symptoms of poisoning are sadly very varied, since they depend on the cause and degree of the intoxication. Therefore, they can't be hard to identify.
However, there are some common signs and symptoms that you should be familiar with:
- Vomiting and diarrhea, ocassionally with blood
- Excessive salivation
- Coughs and sneezes
- Gastric irritation
- Irritation on the skin area that's been in contact with the toxic product
- Difficult breathing
- Convulsions, shaking and involuntary muscular spasms
- Dilated pupils
- Ataxia, that is, difficulty coordinating the limbs due to neurological problems
- Loss of consciousness
- Frequent urination
What to do if your cat gets poisoned: First aid measures
If you notice any of the symptoms we've described, you must act according to the situation. The first and foremost thing to do in case of cat poisoning is to call the vet. Then, stabilize the animal, gather as much information as possible and take a sample of the poisoning product while you wait. The easier you make their job, the faster they'll be able to act.
It's always better to have someone else help you as you treat your cat; therefore, you can stabilize the cat while they call the vet - time is of key importance in these situations. The most common steps to follow include:
- If your pet is very weak, fainting or unconscious you must bring it to an open, ventilated and well-lit area. This way it'll be easier to notice other symptoms, besides giving it fresh air. Carry them with care, holding all its body firmly. If you don't have such a space, the bathroom or kitchen will do, since they are usually well-lit and have water sources at hand.
- If you have identified the cause of the poisoning, remove it with care to prevent other pets or household members from getting poisoned. Keep a sample, as well as the labels and containers.
- Call the vet; they will help you calm down, focus and tell you how to proceed. The sooner you call them, the better the odds for your cat. The first thing they will ask is the source of the poisoning, so you should do your best to identify it. Tell them the product's name, active principle, potency and quantity that your cat might have ingested, as well as the time that has passed since then. With that information they'll know whether to make the cat vomit or not.
- Do not make your cat vomit yourself; if the poison was ingested more than two hours ago, you will only weaken it. Do not incite vomit while the cat is unconscious, and never make your cat vomit if they have ingested acid or alkaline products (rust removers, bleach, etc) or petroleum-derived products (gasoline, kerosene, lighter liquid, etc), since they can cause caustic burns and cause further damage to the cat's esophagus, throat and mouth.
- If the poisoning can be treated by making your cat vomit, only do so by following expert guidelines to avoid unnecessary damage.
- Even if you get your cat to vomit, part of the poison will already have been absorbed. Try to stop this absorption from happening with activated carbon - we'll explain how to administer it later.
- Do not give your cat any water, food, milk, oil or any other home remedies as long as you don't know the cause and treatment of the poisoning. Wait for your vet's indications. If you don't know what you're facing, the effect of the remedy might be contrary.
- If you want to give your cat something to drink while waiting for the vet, check with them first. If they okay it, give your cat water or salt water with a syringe.
- If the poisoning happened with a dusty, powdered or oily substance that has adhered to the cat's coat, shake it loose with intense brushing or a hand-washing soap. If the toxic product hasn't been removed even like that, you might have to cut or shave that part of the fur off.
- In the case that your cat is awake and not very stunned - and as long as the vet okays it - it will be good to give it fresh water to drink. Most of the toxic products that cats are likely to ingest by accident hit the kidneys and liver quite strongly. Fresh water will reduce that impact. If they can't drink by themselves, use a syringe slowly.
How to treat particular cases of poisoning in cats
Now we will go over the different treatments for the most common causes of poisoning in domestic cats. However, only apply them with your veterinary's approval or if you really have no other option. It's always better to have these measures applied by a professional.
- Arsenic: Arsenic is present in insecticides, pesticides and rodent poison. The symptoms of this kind of poisoning are acute diarrhea - sometimes with blood -, depression, weak pulse, overall weakness and cardiovascular collapse. This is due to the acute inflammation in internal organs such as the liver and kidneys. If the arsenic has been consumed less than two hours ago, provoke vomiting. Then, administer activated carbon orally. After one or two hours, give your cat gastric protectors like pectin or kaolin.
- Shampoo, soap or detergent: The symptoms (dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea) are lighter and easier to treat. Some of these products might contain caustic soda or other corrosive substances, so you should never cause vomiting. If the ingested quantity is small, and your vet permits it, you can help your cat by giving it milk or water.
- Medicines for humans: You might think that they're out of reach, or that your pet would not eat or lick a pill, but they are actually a great danger. Some people even give their cats medicines for humans in order to lower a fever or treat other symptoms; this is a big mistake, since they're not designed for the metabolizing capacities of animals. Even if you give them the dose for children, you will be poisoning your pet. Medicines are eliminated through the liver, but cats can't metabolize many medicines or vitamins as humans would. Here are some popular medicines for humans that can heavily damage our cats:
- Aspirin: This common analgesic and antipyretic has a very negative effect on cats, causing vomiting (sometimes with blood), hypertermia, fast breathing, depression and even death.
- Paracetamol: This anti-inflammatory and antipyretic is toxic for cats, damaging their liver, darkening their gums, causing salivation, fast breathing, depression, dark urine and even death.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin complexes are popular to prevent colds and other common illnesses, and vitamin A in particular is also found in alimentary complements and foods like raw liver that you might be giving to your pet. An excess of this vitamin in cats causes somnolence, anorexia, stiffness of neck and joins, constipation, weight loss and strange postures like sitting on the hind legs while raising the front ones or laying down with all the weight on the limbs, without actually relaxing.
- Vitamin D: This is also found in vitamin complexes, but also in rat poison and other foods. Hypervitaminosis D can cause anorexia, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, polidipsia (extreme thirst) and poliuria (very frequent and abundant urination). This is because of kidney damage and hemorrhaging in the digestive and respiratory systems.
- Coal tar: Coal tar is found in products like cresols, creosote, and phenol, and it's included in household disinfectants. In the case of cats, poisoning happens by absorption through the skin, although ingestion does happen sometimes. This kind of poisoning causes the stimulation of the nervous system, weakening of the heart and liver damage. The most visible symptoms include weakness, ictericia (yellowing of the skin and mucus), loss of coordination, excessive resting periods and even coma states or death. There is no specific treatment for poisoning by coal tar, but you can administer saline and carbon solutions followed by egg whites to soften the corrosive effects of the poison.
- Cyanide: Found in plants, rodent poison and fertilizers, among others. Cats tend to ingest cyanide by eating plants that contain cyanide composts, such as reeds, apple tree leaves, corn, flax, sorghum or eucalyptus. The symptoms usually appear after 10 or 15 minutes, and you'll notice growing excitation, breathing difficulties and even asphyxia. The veterinary will immediately administer sodium nitrite.
- Ethylene glycol: Used as an anti-freezer in the refrigeration circuits of internal combustion motors, very commonly in cars. This liquid tastes sweet, which attracts animals. Cats don't actually distinguish sweet flavors that much, so poisoning by ethylene glycol in cats does not happen often. The symptoms appear quickly, and they make the cat look like it's drunk. They include vomiting, stupor, loss of balance and ataxia, that is, difficulty of coordination due to neurological problems. In those cases, vomiting must be induced. Administer activated carbon and sodium sulfate between an hour or two after ingestion.
- Fluorine: Found in rat poison, mouthwash and toothpaste for humans and environmental acaricides. Since fluorine is toxic for both cats and dogs, you should never use your toothpaste to brush their teeth. You can find special pastes for pets in stores. The symptoms of fluorine poisoning in cats are gastroenteritis, nervous signs, increase of heart rate and even death. If the poisoning is severe, immediate intravenous administration of calcium gluconate or oral administration of magnesium hydroxide or milk will be necessary; these substances will link themselves with the ions of fluorine.
- Chocolate: Contains theobromine, which humans can metabolize but dogs or cats cannot. Just a small quantity of chocolate is enough to intoxicate a cat; we might love it and give it as a treat to a pet, but this is a huge mistake. The symptoms of poisoning by chocolate in cats can be noticed after six to twelve hours, and they include extreme thirst, vomits, salivation, diarrhea, restlessness and a swollen belly. After some time, the symptoms get worse and include hyperactivity, trembling, frequent urination, tachycardia, bradicardia, difficulty breathing, and cardiac and respiratory arrest. If you notice your cat has just eaten chocolate, administer activated carbon. If it's been more than two hours, bring it directly to the vet for professional treatment.
- Raisins and grapes: This kind of poisoning is more common in dogs than in cats. If 32 grams raisins for kg body weight and 11-30 mg grams for kg body weight are toxic for dogs, the proportions for cats to become poisoned are even smaller. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, extreme thirst, dehydration, inability to urinate, kidney failure and even death. Cause your cat to vomit and bring it to the vet, where they will induce urination through intravenous fluid therapy.
- Alcohol: Animals tend to be poisoned by ethanol (alcoholic drinks, disinfecting alcohol, fermenting dough and elixirs), methanol (cleaning products like windshield wipers) and isopropyl alcohol (disinfecting alcohol, anti-flea sprays with alcohol). Isopropyl alcohol is twice as toxic as ethanol, and a poisonous dose is 4 to 8 ml per kg. Absorption is more common in cats than ingestion; they are especially sensitive, so they should never be sprayed with anti-flea products unless specifically designed for cats. Symptoms are noticeable between 30 minutes and an hour, and include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, disorientation, trembling, difficulty breathing, and even death. To provide first aid, move the cat to the open air but out of direct sunlight. If the ingestion is recent, provoke vomiting but do not give activated carbon. Then, go to the vet.
- Chlorine and bleach: House and pool cleaning products include bleach and chlorine. Sometimes cats enjoy biting their containers or drinking water from just-treated swimming pools or cleaning buckets. Symptoms include vomiting, dizziness, salivation, anorexia, diarrhea and depression. As first aid, give your cat milk or milk and water to drink with a syringe, slowly and letting it swallow by itself. The milk will become linked to the chlorine and prevent further damage. Don't provoke vomiting, since it will only weaken and attack the digestive tract. Don't administer activated carbon. If intoxication has happened through the skin, wash your cat immediately with a soft shampoo and rinse with abundant water to remove all traces. Go to the vet to ensure everything's alright.
- Insecticides: They include carbamates, chlorinated hydrocarbons, permethrin and organophosphorus compounds - all of them toxic for our pets. Signs of poisoning by insecticide include frequent urination, excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, cramps, ataxia and convulsions. Administer activated carbon, and induce vomiting with 3% hydrogen peroxide. In any case, it's always better to go to the vet.
Tips about doses and oral administration
- Inducing vomit: You'll need a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide and a syringe for children to administer it orally. Never use higher concentrations of peroxide - as could be products for hair care - since you will be damaging your pet further. Use 5 ml (a teaspoon) for every 2,25 kg of your cat's body weight. For a 4,5 kg cat, for instance, you'll need 10 ml (2 teaspoons). Repeat the procedure every 10 minutes but not more than 3 times. If you're able to administer the solution right after the poisoning, use 2-4 ml per kg body weight.
- How to get your cat to swallow the oral solution: Place the syringe between its fingers and cheeks so that swallowing the liquid is easier than expelling it. Never administer it all at once; give it 1 ml slowly, wait for it to swallow, and give it the next dose.
- Activated carbon: A normal dose is 1 g dry powder for 0,5 kg of the cat's body weight. An average cat, then, requires around 10 grams. Dissolve the powder in as little water as possible to get a thick paste and administer it orally with the syringe. Repeat the dose every 2 to 3 hours a maximum of 4 times. In case of severe poisoning, use a 2-8 g per kg dose once every 6 to 8 hours during 3 to 5 days. This dose can be mixed with water and administered with either a syringe or a nasogastric tube. Activated carbon is sold in powder, already dissolved in water or in pills that you can dissolve yourself at home.
- Pectin or kaolin: Must be administered by a vet. The proper dose is 1-2 grams per kg body weight every 6 hours for 5 to 7 days.
- Milk or mixture of milk and water: You can give your cat milk alone or a 50-50 dilution with water when you want the treatment to link itself to certain poisons like fluoride, making its passage through the body less damaging. A proper dose is 10-15 ml per kg body weight, or as much as the cat can consume.
- Sodium nitrite: Must be administered by the vet. A dose is 10 g dissolved in 100 ml distilled water, or a saline isotonic solution with a 20 mg per kg body weight dose in case of cyanide poisoning.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to Poisoning in Cats - Symptoms and First Aid, we recommend you visit our First aid category.