Household Toxins and Cats and Dogs

black cats with medication bottles
They boys investigate empty medication bottles.

TOXINS FOR PETS are part of everyday life in our homes, and even if we remove the obvious cleaning products and other chemicals and plants, medications and food we use every day actually top the list. March 16 to 24 is Poison Prevention Week for 2014 and March is considered Pet Poison Prevention Month to help spread the news.

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“Toxic” doesn’t simply mean a substance is lethal, it can also refer to substances that can sicken or cause permanent physical or neurological damage. Cats are so sensitive to their environment that it’s safest to presume that anything other than their food has a potential to be toxic, and it’s not just from what they might actually accidentally eat.

Cats bathe themselves and so anything that might land on their fur or skin will end up in their bodies, and they are also small enough that substances that could be absorbed through the skin can provide a dangerous or lethal dose of toxin. Young kittens, older cats or those who are ill or with a compromised immune system will have a greater reaction to environmental toxins than healthy adults.

According to the ASPCA the top ten household toxins for pets are things we handle every day:

  1. Human Medications
  2. Insecticides – this includes flea and tick products
  3. Over-the-Counter Human Medications
  4. Veterinary Products and Medications
  5. Household Products
  6. People Food
  7. Chocolate
  8. Plants
  9. Rodenticides
  10. Lawn and Garden Products

Always be careful with cleaning products and other household chemicals such as paint and varnishes, plant and lawn fertilizers and pesticides and even art materials and keep them safely locked away. Don’t assume because they smell funny or seem to be unappetizing that your curious cat won’t try to taste them or that there is no residue on the container or in the storage area where you keep them. And because of antifreeze and the residues of fluids and lubricants that drip out of your car, the garage should be totally off limits.

black cats with medications
A further inspection.

Medications

Medications are mentioned in three categories in this list, spanning ones we take and our pets should not to ones intended for our pets that are used incorrectly or inappropriately. If we also count flea and tick products that’s a fourth category outside of insecticides used for other reasons. All are at the top of the list.

When it comes to strictly human medications always handle your pills carefully. A pill of any sort dropped to the floor looks like a fun toy to a cat or a treat to a dog and can be caught and swallowed before you can reach down to pick it up. If you take a number of medications, a concern with the elderly or people with chronic or disabling conditions who take medications over a long period of time, it’s handy to line up your pills for the day so they’re easier to take, but again they look like toys to cats and dogs can get themselves on a countertop when something looks enticing. If there’s any chance they can get where your pets can get to them, take them behind a closed door.

While pets and people may sometimes take the same medications, they are obviously very different dosages, and often there is a veterinary formulation specifically for pets that is different from the human medication. And always read the label and be certain you understand the measure of the dose you give, and how often, and follow instructions literally to the letter.

Cleaning products

Keep them locked safely away and take care with their use. Cleaning products generally contain bleach or ammonia, both of which are toxic to cats if they ingest it somehow, including absorbing it through their paws by walking on a surface which has been cleaned with it, even after it’s dried. They may also suffer irritation, lesions or burns if they come in contact with it at full strength, and even the fumes in an enclosed space can cause respiratory distress or actual damage to the respiratory system as well as neurological damage. They also contain other chemicals and perfumes which can be toxic to varying degrees.

And unlike humans who are simply taller, your cat is right down there with the products when they’ve been applied, on the floor, on the furniture, even in their food and water bowls. In an area where your cat eats, walks, sleeps, plays or in any way interacts with its environment, it’s best to stick with a non-toxic cleaner and make sure all surfaces are dry before your cat walks on them.

Essential oils, potpourri and such

Oily substances are readily absorbed by the skin and most cats will quickly attempt to clean anything from their fur. Even naturally-derived oils you may use around the house as air fresheners or aromatherapy, those in scented soaps and lotions, shampoo and styling products, cosmetics and other health and beauty products can cause a range of reactions from physical irritation and vomiting to respiratory, cardiac and neurological damage to your cat if she comes in contact with it in a way she can ingest it or absorb it into her skin.

The oil in dried potpourri can be toxic because the oil remains active and does not evaporate. The ingredients of the potpourri can also be toxic and dangerous because it is often aromatic bark chips, dried plant leaves, flower parts and petals and can cause a toxic reaction from both the oils and perfumes and from the sharp edges of the materials.

black cat looking at plant
Giuseppe considers tasting a juicy-looking leaf.

Poisonous plants

You can’t really punish them for following what seems to be a natural impulse and a physical need. We don’t really know why cats, obligate carnivores, chew on grasses and green things, but it may be to help cleanse their mouth and digestive system, and to add fiber to their primarily protein diet to aid in elimination.

An indoor kitty will take what she can get to simulate the natural outdoor environment she craves, digging in the soil of a potted plant or making a bed of a lush, healthy pot of foliage. Cats aren’t necessarily particular in what they’ll nibble on; generally they’ll try anything green, and some cats will completely chew down a plant that can’t have tasted very good and wasn’t very easy to chew.

While it may be amusing if you’re not too attached to your plants, it can be EXTREMELY DANGEROUS to your cat. Several common houseplants, or plants we bring in for some holidays or for winter, are deadly, and another longer list can cause a range of symptoms from temporary discomfort to permanent health problems.

For instance, all species of lilies, and all parts of the lily, can cause kidney failure in cats. Within only a few hours of chewing and/or swallowing a portion of the plant, the cat may become lethargic or develop a lack of appetite, symptoms which are difficult to determine right away, and she may vomit, all the while the irreversible kidney damage progresses. Without prompt and proper treatment by a veterinarian, the cat will slip into kidney failure in as little as 36 hours.

While most plants are not that immediately toxic, other plants, such as azalea, lily of the valley, yew and bulbs we might force to bloom, including tulip, daffodil and crocus, can be deadly to cats in impaired health or kittens, since they’re small enough to get a big dose with an enthusiastic bite. Though not deadly for adult cats in good health, they’ll often cause extreme abdominal pain, nausea, salivation and vomiting. Repeated exposure can be cumulative with some plants.

That was not intended to frighten, but to illustrate the seriousness of the cat and plant issue. The problem is that, while you may get some cats to stay away from your plants, most cats will return again and again, even if they suffer discomfort from their snack. The best way to keep your cats safe from plants is to put the plants completely out of reach—bearing in mind that cats can jump five to seven times the height of their tail and can be ingenious about launching from strategic furniture to get into a hanging basket. Sometimes it is necessary to completely remove the plant from the house, no matter how much you like it.

Don’t forget that these plants are often included in cut flower arrangements, so inspect any bouquets that come into the house.

Signs of plant poisoning may include vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling or pain inside the cat’s mouth. If you know or suspect which plant your cat has eaten, identify the plant by name when you call your veterinarian. Bring samples of the plant’s leaves or flowers when you take your cat to the veterinarian for treatment.

Keep toxic plant and flower information handy. Your local veterinarians and shelters often have lists of toxic flora as handouts, and plenty of resources exist on the internet.

I have several articles about plants and cut flowers toxic to cats and dogs and will be following up with those later this month, as well as a downloadable list with photos that you can reference when ordering a bouquet or purchasing a plant for yourself or for a gift.

For more information on plants, toxins, references and hotlines

17 Common Poisonous Plants: www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/17-common-poisonous-plants.aspx

ASPCA Searchable Database of Plants, with photos and descriptions, updated regularly:

www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/plants

ASPCA Online Poison Control Center including plants, medications, cleaning products and most other toxins your pet could come in contact with: www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

Both of the hotlines below are available 24/7/365 providing live consultation for animal poison emergencies. The credit card charge covers the initial phone consultation and any follow-up consultation you or your veterinarian may need for your case. For instance, if you call and find out that the toxin your cat has come in contact with needs to be treated by a veterinarian, you can give your case number to your veterinarian and they can also call the hotline for recommendations on treatment. There is no further charge.

ASPCA ANIMAL POISON CONTROL CENTER 888-426-4435, www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/

$65 credit card charge covers the initial phone consultation and any follow-up consultation.

pet poison helpline 800-213-6680, www.petpoisonhelpline.com

Affiliated with the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center, $35 credit card charge.

. . . . . . .

The medication bottles in the photos in this article are all empty and long out of use. But they have my cats’ names on them, so I keep them. It’s just one of those things.


Read more articles in the category Health and Welfare

This information was first published in Great Rescues Day Book
day book with cat portraits
Great Rescues Day Book

In addition to featuring the portraits and stories of rescued cats and their families in Great Rescues Day Book, I also wanted to provide basic care and welfare information that was easy to find and reference. The “Resources” section includes basic wellness covering food, water, litterboxes and toys, plus specific information on kittens and seniors including spay and neuter and eldercare, household toxins, life stages and human equivalents, strays and ferals and pet loss.

Great Rescues Day Book an undated monthly journal to record the dates of birthdays, anniversaries and events featuring sixteen of my commissioned portraits of rescued cats along with their rescue stories. Click here or on the image of the book at left, or either of the links above to read more.

Also, read about Great Rescues families, those who appear in each of the two volumes so far. I’ll be featuring one story each month corresponding with the portrait that appears in the book for that month. That means there are four extra, and I’ll slip those in when the story itself feels appropriate.


Browse some rescued cats and kittens!

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.


© 2014 | www.TheCreativeCat.net | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!

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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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