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Poisoning – The hidden dangers

kitten with daffodil daisy street vets blackburn

Since we don't always know what our feline companions get up to when we aren't around, it is wise to make sure their homes are free from any hidden dangers. Ingestion of toxic substances is usually a consequence of cats fastidious grooming habits.

Common household causes of poisoning in cats include:

Flowers and plants

Indoor living cats are thought to be more prone to ingesting potentially harmful house plants and flowers. This is largely due to their inability to obtain the natural grasses outside which they would instinctivly eat.

Lilies are highly toxic to cats. All parts of the lily are dangerous, the pollen can cause severe illness while the leaves and petals can prove fatal if ingested.

Others include:

  • Amaryllis
  • Aphelandra
  • Castor Oil Plant (also see Ricinus)
  • Christmas Cherry (also see Solanum)
  • Chrysanthemum (also see
  • Dendranthema)
  • Codiaeum
  • Croton (also see odiaeum)
  • Cyclamen
  • Devil’s Ivy (also see Epipremnum aureum)
  • Dieffenbachia*
  • Dumb Cane (also see Dieffenbachia)
  • Elephant’s Ear (also see Alocasia,Caladium)
  • Epipremnum aureum
  • Ferns
  • Holly (also see Ilex)
  • Hypoestes phyllostachya
  • Hyacinthus
  • Ivy (also see Hedera)
  • Kalanchoe
  • Mistletoe (also see Viscum)
  • Nerium oleander
  • Oleander (also see Nerium oleander)
  • Ornithogalum
  • Poinsettia
  • Senecio
  • Star of Bethlehem (also see Ornithogalum)
  • Umbellatum
  • Umbrella Plant (also see Schefflera)
  • Zebra Plant (also see Aphelandra)

Other bouquet flowers and foliage that can cause irritation or illness in cats are Bird of Paradise, Chrysanthemum, Columbine (Aquilegia), Cyclamen, Delphinium (Larkspur), Ferns, Foxgloves, Hyacinths, Ivy, Iris, Jasmine, Lily of the Valley, Oleander, Peonies, Poppies, Sweet Peas, and Tulips.

This is not an exhaustive list and not all of these prove fatal but may still cause intestinal upset or skin irritation, therefore they are best avoided.

Ideally avoid these coming in to your home, but if not, place them as far out of reach as possible, although this can be tricky if your cat is an acrobat! You also need to consider leaves, petals and berries falling within your cats reach.

While we have only discussed house plants and flowers here, dangerous plants will inevitably lerk in the garden too. This is more difficult to control, you may have cat friendly plants in your garden but you can't regulate what is in your neighbours.

As mentioned previously indoor only cats have a tendency to eat the plants they come in to contact with and it is hoped that free roaming cats seek out and consume non-toxic grasses instead. If the later was indeed a problem we would expect to see cats being admitted in to practice for emergency treatment on a daily basis, which we don't.


It is common veterinary practice to use paracetamol in dogs if a mild to moderate non-steroidal pain relief is required. Unfortunately some cat owners have given paracetamol to their cat in an effort to relieve their discomfort unaware of the serious toxicity it may cause.

Cats are highly sensitive to paracetamol, their bodies are unable to break it down in to it's non-toxic form. As little as one paracetamol tablet is enough to cause severe toxicity and liver failure. For this reason Paracetamol should NEVER be given to cats.

Permethrin and Imidacloprid

Pyrethrins, pyrethroids and imidocloprid are insectacides. They are usually found in petshop flea and tick preparations intended for use in dogs only or flea, mite and flystrike treatment in small mammals such as rabbits and guinea pigs.

Cats are exposed by either direct application of the product or by coming into direct contact with another treated animal. They are absorbed through the skin as well as being groomed off and ingested.

Only ever use a product intended for cats on your cat.

Ethylene glycol - 'Antifreeze'

Many antifreeze products contain ethylene glycol, it can be found in car radiators, windscreen washes and occasionally brake and transmission fluids. The sweet-tasting liquid can be tempting to cats but ingestion of even a small amount can result in fatalities.

Any of the above liquids should be stored in leak-proof containers, kept out of reach and the cat kept away from any spillages until the area is cleaned and dried.

Benzalkonium chloride

This chemical is found in many household products from antibacterial soaps, sanitizers, wipes and various other germ-killing disinfectants. Although not considered highly toxic they can cause symtoms such as hyper salivation (drooling), hyperthermia (high temperature), inappetance and ulceration of the mouth.

It is advised that all products are stored securely and diluted according to the manufactures instructions. When using on surfaces where the cat walks, it is best to wait until the product has dried before allowing your cat access again. Cat friendlier cleaning methods could be considered like steam mops or using dilute bleach to clean surfaces where cats are likely to walk.

If you suspect your cat has ingested a toxic substance please contact the practice immediately on 01254 53622. Generally speaking the quicker the cat is treated the more succesful the outcome.

During times out of normal working hours, still contact Daisy Street Veterinary Centre on  01254 53622 for our Out-Of-Hours Emergency procedure. Click on this link for details What to do with a poorly animal when we are closed

Caroline Ashworth RVN Cert VNES Daisy Street Veterinary Centre, Daisy Street, Blackburn February 2016

Page updated 17th Jul 2017, 10:26
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