By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
Poisoning symptoms vary depending on the type of poison ingested. Symptoms may include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, staggering, trembling, excitation, convulsing, bleeding from the nose, laboured breathing, and unconsciousness. Common causes of poisoning are:
- Lead in commercial paints and insecticides
- Organophosphates, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and carbamates used to kill fleas
- Acids and alkali in corrosive household cleaners, solvents, and drain decloggers
- Petroleum products
- Rotting meat or manure in garbage cans
- Poisonous toads or salamanders
- Medicines meant for people
- Certain plants such as lilies
What to Do if Your Cat Has Ingested a Toxic Substance
If the cat is severely ill, take him immediately to the nearest veterinarian or animal emergency clinic. Ideally, you should also bring a sample of the ingested toxin (preferably in its original container) or a sample of the vomit so that the veterinarian will know what she is dealing with. Even if the cat is not very ill, a visit to the veterinarian or local animal emergency clinic is recommended, as follow-up care or medication may be required.
If the cat is conscious and not convulsing, and you are considering inducing vomiting, get advice from a qualified veterinarian to ensure that inducing vomiting is both safe and necessary; with some types of poisoning, inducing vomiting can actually make the situation worse. Call a veterinarian, local animal emergency clinic, or pet poison control hotline. These hotlines, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, include:
- Pet Poison Control Helpline: 1-800-213-6680, $35 consultation fee
- ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: 1-888-426-4435, $65 consultation fee
The following is considered the most effective method to induce vomiting at home (though veterinarians have better emetics for this purpose if you can bring your cat in for treatment):
- 3% hydrogen peroxide solution (must be 3% only) – 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight; if vomiting does not occur within 15 minutes, this may be repeated one more time.
Although veterinarians traditionally recommended giving a very small amount of salt (typically 1/4 teaspoon placed at the back of the tongue or mixed with water) to induce vomiting, new guidelines provided by veterinarians Catherine Kasai and Robert King of Iowa State University recommend against using salt due to the risk of salt poisoning.
Vomiting should NOT be induced if:
- It has been more than two hours since the cat was poisoned.
- The cat has already vomited.
- The cat is having difficulty breathing.
- The cat is unconscious, nearly unconscious, or convulsing.
- The cat may have ingested tranquilizers, acids or alkali (cleaning products, solvents, or decloggers), or a petroleum product – in this case, provide lots of fresh water for the cat to drink, and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Toxic Substance on the Skin or in the Eyes
Toxic substances on a cat’s fur should be removed immediately, as the cat may lick them off. When dealing with external toxic substances:
- Put on plastic gloves to prevent the substance from getting on your skin.
- Use large quantities of clean, lukewarm water to flush the cat’s eyes or skin thoroughly for at least 5 minutes.
- Give the cat a bath in lukewarm water using a mild soap formulated for pets.
- Use vegetable oil to help remove substances such as oil or gasoline from a cat’s fur (never use paint thinner or turpentine).
The cat should then be taken to a veterinarian or animal emergency clinic to treat any damage to eyes or skin that may have occurred.
The most important thing you can do to prevent poisoning is to keep cats indoors. Outdoor cats are far more likely to ingest poisons put out for rodents, snails, and other animals deemed pests, as well as succumb to other dangers. Additional ways to prevent poisoning include:
- Keeping cleaning products, pest control products, medications, and other toxins stored out of the cat’s reach or locked away in tightly sealed containers
- Using natural flea control rather than toxic chemicals
- Not keeping extremely toxic plants such as lilies anywhere that a cat may reach them.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- Eldredge, D.M., DVM; Carlson, D.G., DVM; Carlson, L.D., DVM; & Giffin, J.M., MD (2008). Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, Third Edition. Wiley Publishing, Inc.
- Ruben, D., Dr. “How to Induce Vomiting (Emesis) in Cats.” PetPlace.com.