Human Medications and Foods to Garden Products, Top 10 Pet Toxins

Medication Bottles.
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. In 1962 the third week in March was designated National Poison Prevention Week and because accidental pet poisonings are not uncommon we include cautions for our pets.

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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 to them at some stage in their lives, and it’s not just from what they might actually accidentally eat.

Animals explore their world with their nose and tongue, smelling and tasting, and like human babies end up with anything in their mouth they can get in there.

We explore our world by looking at things and touching them. Animals explore their world with their nose and tongue, smelling and tasting, and like human babies end up with anything in their mouth they can get in there.

Cats also 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 or paws 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.

Each year the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) compiles a top 10 list of pet toxins based on calls to the center for animal poison-related emergencies. According to the ASPCA The Top 10 Animal Toxins of 2018 for pets are things we handle every day:

  1. OTC Medications: 19.6%
  2. Human Prescriptions: 17.5%
  3. Food: 11.4%
  4. Chocolate: 10.1%
  5. Veterinary Products: 9.3%
  6. Household Items: 7.3%
  7. Rodenticides: 6.3%
  8. Insecticides: 6.2%
  9. Plants: 5.5%
  10. Garden Products: 2.3%

It’s interesting to see that the same items appear on this list year after year, though they shift around. It might be wise to post this list around the home and even outside as a reminder.

And I’m not a big fan of infographics because I think they simplify an issue too much and leave out important details, but this infographic from the ASPCA is helpful for where in the house you’ll find the above toxins. Please download and share, and you can find the original here.

Be careful around the house

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 or even in your sink from rinsing tools. My Sophie chewed on clear tape and when I used expanding foam around my pipes in my bathroom, though it was crackling as it expanded and smelled strongly of acetone, she sniffed and licked it before I could stop her—because I thought she would never go near something that smelled that bad.

The youngest and oldest and immunocompromised are at greatest risk

Reactions are different in healthy adults and in immature, elderly or immunocompromised animals. Even walking across a floor with residue of a potentially toxic floor cleaner can affect a puppy or kitten because their young bodies absorb a dose that might not affect an adult, and they aren’t mature enough to adequately metabolize many toxins. Elderly pets with a body that doesn’t respond as quickly or organs that aren’t functioning at their best healthy level can succumb where at a younger age they would not. And because of antifreeze and the residues of fluids and lubricants that drip out of your car, the garage should be totally off limits.

What is this?
What is this?

Medications

Medications are mentioned in three categories in this list, spanning over the counter and prescription medications we take and our pets should not, to ones intended for our pets that are used incorrectly or inappropriately. Ironically, one of the culprits are medications compounded into treats to make them more palatable for them—but a treat is a treat.  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 can look 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. Sometimes they roll into places you can’t find but are right on your pet’s eye level. Take your medications behind a closed door or over a sink so that if they fall, they are contained where you can retrieve them immediately.

A pill of any sort dropped to the floor can look 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, organize them inside a container or in a cabinet. Don’t leave medications out as a reminder for yourself to take them.

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. Don’t give any medications to your pet that aren’t intended for that pet.

Cleaning the bathroom floor with vinegar while Higgins watches.
Cleaning the bathroom floor with vinegar while Higgins watches.

Cleaning products

Cleaning products generally contain bleach, ammonia, or pine oil, all of which are toxic to cats and dogs if they ingest it somehow, including breathing fumes or absorbing it through their paws by walking on a surface which has been cleaned with it, even after it’s dried.

Keep them locked safely away and take care with their use. Cleaning products generally contain bleach, ammonia, or pine oil, all of which are toxic to cats and dogs if they ingest it somehow, including breathing fumes or 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—if they get locked in the cabinet under the sink where they are stored, for instance. Products also contain other chemicals and perfumes not related to cleaning 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.

Better yet, go with non-toxic alternatives like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and reduce the toxic load in your home for all residents. Read Living Green With Pets: Spring Cleaning and download your printable guide to the cleaning tips in the article.

Essential oils, potpourri and such

Cats may not adequately metabolize elements of essential oils applied to their skin or inhaled from diffusers.

Oily substances are readily absorbed by the skin and most cats will quickly attempt to clean anything from their fur. Cats can not adequately metabolize the phenols and turpenoids in essential oils applied to their skin or inhaled from diffusers. 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.

Poisonous plants

All species of lilies, and all parts of the lily, can cause kidney failure in cats.

You can’t really punish them for following what seems to be a natural impulse and a physical need. Dogs chew on lots of things but 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.

What is that bright stuff?
What is that bright stuff?

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 pet. 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, many 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 their height including 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.

And also read these tips on plants and pets:

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.

And articles here on The Creative Cat

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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.


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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals 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.


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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.

2 thoughts on “Human Medications and Foods to Garden Products, Top 10 Pet Toxins

  • March 25, 2019 at 12:24 pm
    Permalink

    Higgins was a wee babe in that photo…the fur sticking out all over…LOL!
    Da Boyz will investigate EVERYTHING, so we are very careful!

    Reply
    • March 25, 2019 at 9:38 pm
      Permalink

      Yes, just about five weeks, and he had four siblings and a mom in that tiny bathroom so I had to be extra careful. Between my art materials, complete with plastic wrapping and small parts, and general household things I regularly check multiple times to see if I closed things or put things away that they’d get into.

      Reply

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