Despite their reputation for fastidiousness, cats are more frequent victims of poisoning events in the home and surroundings than one might expect. Approximately 16 per cent of the enquiries received each year by the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (UK) involve feline exposures to a bewildering variety of agents. Many cases occur through accident but some involve misguided or misappropriate use of medications, pesticides and other household chemicals.
Pesticide incidences commonly involve rodenticides and slug pellets. A common type of rodenticide used today is the anticoagulant variety. Some preparations have effects that are delayed for 24 hours or more and this often makes diagnosis difficult. Characteristic clinical effects are spontaneous bleeding from the gums, nose and gastrointestinal tract. In more sever cases the animal may become lame, bruise easily and may develop breathing difficulties. Effective antidote is available.
Slug pellets usually contain metaldehyde and ingestion can result in marked twitching or fitting within two hours. All suspected cases must be referred to a veterinary surgery as prompt anti-convulsant therapy is vital. Cats also find some of the gel ant killer preparations attractive and palatable, but fortunately these products are of low toxicity.
A common enquiry involves over-enthusiastic application of flea killers to the coats of cats or use of concentrated preparations meant for dogs or other animals. Cats groom themselves energetically and may manage to ingest significant amounts of the pesticide if preventative measures, such as collaring, are not taken. Preparations containing pyrethrins or pyrethoids such as pyrethrum permethrin, cypermethrin are often implicated. Common clinical signs are excessive salivation, dilated pupils, muscle twitching and hypersensitivity to touch. In these instances, the animal may need washing and sedation for a short period. Atropine may sometimes be required. Most animals recover with treatment. It is important that instructions are followed and appropriate preparations used.
Misappropriate use of drugs meant for human use cause many poisonings. Sadly, many domestic pets are given Paracetamol by their owners in a misguided attempt to relieve some perceived ailment. In cats, use of Paracetamol is potentially very dangerous – as little as one tablet may cause death. Cats metabolise Paracetamol in a different way from most other animals and are very susceptible to anaemia, liver damage and methaemoglobineamia. There are antidotal therapies available that are effective provided the animal is presented to a surgery in time.
Other household products:
Careless use of spillage of household chemicals, such as paints, brush cleaners, disinfectants or creosote can result in poisoning if cats gain access and either ingest them or get them on skin or foot pads and groom them off. Some of these chemicals are very irritant to skin and mucous membranes. Ingestion may result in severe mouth irritation, salivation and lack of appetite. Skin exposures may result in rashes and blistering. Some can cause more severe effects. Washing exposed skin and fur is important, and referral to a veterinarian is advisable.
As can be seen, many poisonings in cats occur as a result of careless or inappropriate use of domestic products or medications. Following instructions carefully and limiting access to products after use or spillage would prevent many of these cases and the distress to the animals and their owners that they cause.
What to do if you suspect poisoning:
- Take the affected animal to a veterinary surgery as soon as possible.
- Take any appropriate information (product packaging, manufacturer, details etc) along as well.
(by Alexander Campbell – Manager of the Veterinary Poisons Information Service in London)