Do you know what items are toxic to cats? If your cat’s exposed, what should you do? Even though cats are super curious, they are less likely to get into things they shouldn’t than dogs, but there are still toxins that exist in our everyday lives that can cause fatality.
From plants to medications to foods and everything in between, small veterinarian Dr. Leslie Brooks covers it all during this My Lovely Feline Zoom call. Feline behavior consultant Liz Italia co-hosted the call.
Note: We host these interactive calls exclusively with some of our customers—every single week 🙌
Who to Call If Your Cat Is Exposed to a Toxin
Did your cat eat something and you aren’t sure if it’s toxic? The wait and see approach is NOT recommended because it could mean life or death. It’s always best to be proactive and call Pet Poison Helpline at 855.764.7661 or ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888.426.4435 to find out how to handle the situation. Even if you choose to go right to the vet, the vet may ask you to call one of those hotlines and provide the necessary information. Because there are so many toxic items and information is added and updated constantly, it’s very hard to remember every single thing that is a problem along with the treatments for each.
Most Common Toxic Plants
Always remember, lilies are the most toxic plant for cats. Every single species isn’t toxic to cats, but it’s recommended to just avoid all lilies to be on the safe side. The worst ones are Asian lily, Easter lily, day lily and tiger lily. If cats eat or chew them, they can go into irreversible kidney failure and lose their lives.
Although it’s becoming a more popular houseplant, Sago palm is toxic to cats. If they eat or chew on it, it can cause liver failure.
Azaleas can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as heart problems.
As far as seasonal plants, hollies or poinsettia plants are pretty caustic to cats’ stomachs, so it might cause a cat to vomit and lose their appetite. Since it irritates the lining, it can cause blood in feces as well.
A Few Others
Narcissus plants, including daffodils, as well as philodendrons are also toxic to cats, most likely leading to vomiting, stomach ulcers, irritation in the mouth, and diarrhea. To learn more about toxic plants – and safe ones – take a look at the My Lovely Feline blog post Liz wrote on Poisonous and Non-Poisonous Plants for Cats.
One important thing to note is even if a houseplant is safe for a cat, they aren’t designed like cows and have a hard time digesting plants. They may still vomit the plant or have diarrhea after consuming non-toxic plants.
Medications That Are Toxic to Cats
The main thing we worry about with medicine is that if you spill a pill bottle and your cat is curious and runs over and eats, nibbles, or licks the pills because they think it’s a treat or something. Be sure to keep your medicines in closed childproof bottles that are put away and secure, either in a drawer or medicine cabinet.
Human meds that are toxic to cats include:
Any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication: Aleve, Advil, Motrin, and anything with ibuprofen. These can cause kidney failure and severe stomach ulcers and potentially liver failure. Scientists just don’t have a good understanding of how cats digest non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds.
Onsior is the only approved cat anti-inflammatory medication. NEVER give an anti-inflammatory med approved for use in dogs to cats (Rimadyl, Carprofen, Deramaxx) because they are toxic to cats.
Tylenol or anything with acetaminophen in it, because it causes methemoglobinemia where red blood cells change and don’t carry oxygen as well. The cat’s blood turns brown and has a sludgy consistency. This leads to organ failure and possibly death.
Antidepressants, ADD & ADHD meds
Blood pressure and other cardiac meds
- Human supplements
Some human meds are prescribed by your vet for your cat, but they are often in much lower doses.
Flea & Tick Meds with Permethrin
Topical dog flea meds can contain more concentrated doses of permethrin.
It’s super toxic to cats, so if you accidentally put a dog’s fleas meds on a cat, it can cause them to have tremors, muscle spasms, and seizures, potentially leading to death if left untreated. If dog flea meds are accidentally put on a cat, your goal is to get the meds off as quickly as possible so give them a good bath immediately.
If you rush your cat to the vet, they will also bathe them right away. A vet might also give them fluids and send them home on muscle relaxants. Make sure any topical flea and tick meds you use on your cats say they are designed for cats. Also, if you put topical flea meds on your dog, keep your cat away from them or prevent them from grooming the dog for at least 12 hours.
Again, toxic foods are more of an issue with dogs, but cats can still eat foods they shouldn’t. Many human foods can cause stomach upset and diarrhea because cats aren’t used to eating them. The best thing to do is avoid giving cats any human food.
Even if they eat a small amount of any of the toxic foods listed below, call your vet or the ASPCA’s hotline to find out what to do next.
- Chocolate and caffeine - Can cause fast heart rate, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias and seizures.
- Grapes and raisins - Just like in dogs, these can cause kidney failure in cats.
Garlic and onion (even powder forms) - Can cause problems with their red blood cells and can lead to anemia.
Antifreeze tastes sweet, so it’s a huge poisoning issue for cats, dogs, and babies. It can cause kidney and liver failure, seizures, and death. Try to avoid antifreeze as best you can.
Some rat poisons can cause internal bleeding and others can cause brain swelling, and there is no treatment for that, making it a death sentence. Even if your cat eats a rodent that died from rat poison, that can also be toxic to your cat.
Marijuana is toxic to cats and dogs. You can get hemp oil or CBD oil formulated for cats, but recreational marijuana or marijuana added to brownies or cookies or something is toxic to cats.
A cat’s liver doesn’t have the right enzyme to metabolize essential oils, making them toxic. If you go to certain holistic vets, they might recommend some essential oils that aren’t toxic.
Otherwise, it’s best to avoid them entirely. The biggest thing vets see are the potpourris that have essential oils in them. Even if your cat isn’t licking it, it goes into the air and accumulates on their fur and body.
When they groom their fur, they’re licking those essential oils and it gets into their system. It’s also getting absorbed through their skin.
Liz mentioned that she’s had problems with cats licking plastic, like the stuff bulk water bottles are wrapped in. She said she’s seen cats vomit after licking the plastic, and recommends keeping it tucked away in a closet where cats can’t get to it.
Always Be Honest with Your Vet
There is sometimes shame and guilt that comes with cats getting into something toxic. Remember to always be honest with your vet so they can help you and your pet. Vets completely understand it happens, so make sure you tell your vet what you think it could be or what truly happened because that’s the best to provide the right treatment. Your vet isn’t going to judge and just wants to help you and your cat get through it.
Q & A
Q: Why do cats chew on plants?
Dr. Brooks: We don’t really know, but curiosity and boredom are likely reasons.
Liz: Texture is another reason. And cats like grass and can eat grass. I think sometimes it’s a habit and they don’t have a way of knowing when a plant is poisonous.
Q: Any household bugs that are poisonous?
Dr. Brooks: I know there are certain centipedes and millipedes that are toxic, but I’d have to research that and compare images. I think it’s more of a concern if they eat the centipede whole.
Liz: I don’t know of any but my cats have killed a lot of bugs in their time. They don’t always eat them. I’ve never seen them have a problem. The only issue I’ve had is my young male went after a bee outside and was stung on both of his front paws. They were swollen for a bit, but he was fine.
Dr. Brooks: If they get a bee or wasp sting and start to have a reaction, you can give them Benadryl. The dose for a 10 lb. cat is a 12.5 mg tablet. If you choose a liquid medicine, avoid any liquid medicine with xylitol in it because that’s toxic for cats. Also, do not give any allergy medicine with D (no Benadryl-D or Zyrtec-D).
Why is catnip on the toxic list for the ASPCA?
Dr. Brooks: I think they’re just being super thorough.
Liz: I think if cats eat too much of it, it can cause issues, but anything is toxic in too large of a dose. From everything I’ve read, if they eat too much of it, they throw up and are okay after.
Are fish oils safe?
Dr. Brooks: Generally fish oils are safe, but too high of a dose could cause diarrhea. The dosages for people are different than for cats. Ask your vet what dose your cat should be on or ask your vet about fish oils approved specifically for use in cats.
Are the cat grasses sold at pet supply stores safe?
Dr. Brooks: I’m not sure what’s different about it, but cat grass is safe. Also, people tend to associate the cat’s stomach is upset because they immediately wanted to go outside and eat the grass, and then they vomited. From my perspective, they vomited because they ate the grass.
Liz: I’ve had cat grass before and the cats have eaten it with no issues. One of my cats used to go out and eat grass, and I always assumed if he got sick it was just because he wasn’t used to it. I would time it and only let my cat eat grass for 20-30 seconds.
My cat insists on going outside and eating the grass. Is that okay?
Liz: I wouldn’t be overly concerned, because outdoor cats eat grass a lot. Now if you’re having lawn people come and treat your lawn all the time or are spraying pesticides, that’s a different story. I would review it with your vet and get their opinion, but I don’t see a problem with your cat eating grass every now and then.
Dr. Brooks: Funny story. One time, my cat had been eating grass, and she started sneezing for a few days. I was about to take her in for antibiotics, but then on the 3rd day, a blade of grass started coming out of her nostril.
She could have eaten grass and vomited and the blade of grass stuck back there! Thankfully I was able to pull it out and her sneezing stopped.
I’ve always been told not to have rubber bands and hair ties lying on the floor because cats can eat them and they get wrapped up in their intestines. Is that true?
Liz: Yes, and hair ties and ribbons from when you wrap presents. I haven’t had my cats eat them, but they play with them and I’d rather just not risk it, so I don’t put ribbons on gifts under the tree.
Linda (Call Participant): I’d also add to that list button battery. I’m a registered nurse For children it’s an immediate emergency situation, and I would assume that’s the same for cats and dogs.
Dr. Brooks: That’s good to know. Thank you.
Off topic, but how do you know if your cat will tolerate other cats?
Liz: Obviously, there is no way to tell 100%, but there are things to look for. One of the main things is the age of the cat. If the cat’s younger, it’s more likely they’ll be accepting. If the cat seems to be lonely, like they’re vocalizing a lot, especially when you come home from being gone, those cats tend to be open to some type of companionship.
Kittens love companionship, so if you want to get a kitten, just get two at the same time. A few other things to look for, if your current cat has a strong personality, go for another cat that’s more submissive so there’s less competition.
Sometimes super old cats don’t really care and sleep a lot, making them great with other cats. It’s hard to add a cat to a household once the resident cat is past 5-7 years old but before they’re super old. It’s not impossible, but more difficult because they’re set in their ways but they still care about their position in the house.
Those are just some quick suggestions that I have.
Check These Sites Regularly
Both Pet Poison Helpline and ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center have the most up to date resources on toxins, and it’s a good idea to check these links regularly, especially if you have a green thumb or keep a lot of plants or flowers indoors. Don’t forget: Wait and see is not the approach to take. Always be proactive if you think your cat has been exposed to a toxin.