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First Aid - poisons

Symptoms of poisoning

The symptoms of poisoning will vary depending on the substance ingested and can be similar to those of other medical conditions. However, there are a number of symptoms to watch out for, namely: heavy panting, sudden and frequent vomiting and/or diarrhoea, drooling or foaming at the mouth, intense abdominal pain, crying, showing signs of shock, signs of allergic reaction, swelling, trembling, lack of coordination, convulsion and coma. Of course, only some of these symptoms will appear for any given poison. If possible find out what the cat ingested as it will help with the treatment

The most important first step in treating a poisoned cat is to get the poison out of its stomach by making the cat vomit (see below on how to induce vomiting in a cat). In certain cases, however, making the cat vomit is not a good idea, as the poison can cause even more damage as it comes up. (See poisoning by corrosive substances). After making the cat vomit, the next step is to slow down the absorption of the poison still in its system. Activated charcoal is used to coat the bowel and delay or prevent absorption, but this is difficult to administer without a stomach tube in place. Getting such a tube in place is not something most cats will accept placidly, and the insertion is not without risk to the cat, so this is best done by a vet, to whom the cat should be taken at once.

In less severe cases of poisoning, give the cat milk, egg whites or vegetable oil. If you use oil, administer approximately two teaspoons for an average-sized cat. The best way to feed the cat with oil is to add it to food, if the cat is still capable of eating anything.

If your cat shows signs that the poison has affected its nervous system, it is in deep trouble. At this point, get to a vet as quickly as possible. Try to bring a sample of vomit, or the actual poison in the original container if you are sure what the poison is. Start first aid immediately and if the cat is convulsing, unconscious or not breathing start Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (for details on CPR see "First Aid - accidents and emergency, fractures, drowning").

How to induce vomiting

To induce vomiting use one of the following:

A. a heaped teaspoon of salt in a little warm water


B. one tablespoon of mustard powder in a cup of warm water

Repeat every 10 min until the cat vomits. If your cat has vomited, collect the vomit and take it to the vet.

Common poisons

Poison plants

There is a long list of plants and vegetation which is poisonous to cats when ingested. It is beyond the scope of this article to list all of them. However, they can be roughly divided into three groups with specific symptoms for each group. We have included examples of poisonous plants commonly found in British households and gardens.

  1. Plants which cause a rash after contact with the skin and mouth. Some of these plants may contain oxalic acid that causes mouth swelling. Occasionally they may cause more generalised toxicity and affect the nervous system. This is manifested by staggering and collapse. Such plants include: chrysanthemum, poinsettia, fig trees, mother-in-law's tongue (snake plant) and some lilies.
  2. Toxic plants that produce vomiting abdominal pain and in some cases diarrhoea: Daffodils, Foxglove, Wisteria, English holly, Azalea, Rhododendron
  3. Plants which contain a wide variety of poisons. Most cause vomiting, abdominal pain and cramps, but some will cause tremors, heart and respiratory or kidney problems, which may be difficult to interpret: Asligus fern, Ivy, Rhubarb, Spinach, Jasmine.

Chemical poisons

Again a large number of potential poisons can be found around the house and garage. Below we have listed those ones which, statistically, are the most commonly involved.

Corrosives(strong acid, alkali or petroleum-based substances) are found in household cleaners, drain unblocker and commercial solvents. When ingested, they cause burns of the mouth, oesophagus and stomach. Severe cases are associated with acute perforation (or late stricture) of the oesophagus and stomach. Rinse out your cat's mouth. Administer water or soda pop by mouth (one ounce per six pounds body weight), then give two teaspoons of vegetable oil once - do not induce vomiting!

Strychnine is used as a rat, mouse and mole poison. It is also a common coyote bait. It is available commercially as coated pellets dyed purple, red or green. Signs of poisoning are so typical that the diagnosis can be made almost at once. Onset is sudden (less than two hours). The first signs are agitation, excitability and apprehension. They are followed rather quickly by intensely painful seizures, similar to seizures in tetanus, that last about 60 seconds. During these the cat throws its head back, can't breathe and turns blue. The slightest stimulation such as tapping the cat or clapping the hands starts a seizure. This characteristic response is used to make the diagnosis. Other signs associated with nervous system involvement are tremors, champing, drooling, uncoordinated muscle spasms, collapse and paddling of the legs. Get the cat to vomit and to the vet, in that order, and fast.

Sodium fluoroacetate - another rat poison - cats can get poisoned by ingesting the rat poison directly or by eating poisoned rat. You should induce vomiting.

Anticoagulats - Accidental ingestion of anticoagulant rodenticides (another poison for rodents) is a common cause of bleeding in cats. These poisons exert their effect by blocking the synthesis of Vitamin K, which is required for normal blood clotting. There are no observable signs of poisoning until the cat begins to pass blood in the stool or urine, bleeds from the nose, or develops haemorrhages beneath the gums and skin. It needs the the vet asap for an essential injection of Vitamin K.

Lead poisoning - mainly affects kittens and young cats and is the result of cats eating or licking paints, many of which contain lead.

Arsenic - may be part of weed killers and insecticides - Death can occur quickly, before there is time to observe the symptoms. In more protracted cases the signs are thirst, drooling, vomiting, staggering, intense abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhoea, paralysis and death. The breath of the cat has a strong odor of garlic. Induce vomiting, and get to the vet for a specific antidote.

Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) - Poisoning with antifreeze solution is most common in cats because ethylene glycol has a sweet taste that appeals to them. One teaspoon of antifreeze can kill an average-sized cat. Signs of toxicity, which appear suddenly, are vomiting, uncoordinated gait (seems "drunk"), weakness, stupor and coma. Convulsions are unusual. Death can occur in 12 to 36 hours unless the cat is treated quickly. Cats that recover from acute poisoning may have damaged their kidneys which may fail later. Intravenous alcohol is a specific antidote which you need the vet to administer. Also induce vomiting as soon as possible. Intensive care in an animal hospital may prevent kidney complications.

Drugs and medicines - Cats are very sensitive to drugs and medicines. Medicines meant for humans but eaten by cats can make the cats very sick or dead. Never give cats any human medicines, particularly not asprin, and control carefully the dose of medicine even if it is supposed to be administered to cats. Some cat pills are made to taste good, and cats left by themselves can overdose if given a chance to tuck in. Always keep medicines in safe place. If the cat has ingested any human medicine or overdosed on her own medication induce vomiting and take to the vet.

Note: This information is for guidance only. It is not intended to replace consultation with a licensed practitioner.


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