It’s ironic that indoor cats are so strongly favoured on safety grounds, whilst the dangers lurking within the home are often overlooked. It’s true there are no motor vehicles or venomous snakes inside, but this doesn’t mean living indoors is risk free.
To raise awareness of household hazards and ensure your home is as feline friendly as possible, here are 10 common household poisons dangerous to your cat.
Valentine’s Day, Easter, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas…no matter what the occasion, be vigilant for the deadly presence of lilies in a flower bouquet.
No cat owner should allow lilies in the house or garden as they cause irreversible kidney damage in cats. The classic scenario is the cat that knocks against a bloom and is dusted with pollen. Then she grooms herself, ingests the pollen, and this causes kidney failure.
Explain this to your loved ones, and then remove the lilies from the bouquet to dispose of them safely in a bin.
2. Household Cleaners
Most regular household cleaners, including worktop sprays and floor disinfectants, contain a chemical called benzalkonium chloride. Unfortunately this is toxic to cats and causes nasty ulcers in the mouth and gut.
Whilst cats are too smart to drink such substances straight out, a cat may walk across a wet surface and contaminate their paws with benzalkonium chloride. Then the cat washes her paws and accidentally ingests the chemical, causing nasty caustic ulcers on her tongue.
Benzalkonium chloride is so widespread (it’s even in hand wash and eye drops!) that it’s difficult to avoid. But the rule is to prevent exposure by limiting access until all surfaces are fully dry – so shut the cat out of the room.
Alternatively, consider using environmentally friendly and chemical free cleaners for your home such as vinegar and baking soda – that’s what we do!
3. Slug Pellets
Slugs and snails are unwelcome visitors to our gardens, but take extreme care when getting rid of these uninvited guests. Slug pellets contain metaldehyde which affects the cat’s nervous system resulting in tremors, seizures, and death. Unfortunately, there is no ‘cure’ and vet treatment relies on supportive intravenous fluids and drugs to suppress the fits. With this in mind, prevention is by far the best policy so don’t use slug pellets in your garden and encourage your neighbours to do the same.
Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol and as little as one teaspoon can cause fatal kidney failure in cats. Antifreeze is also a cat’s (potentially) fatal weakness because it is strangely attractive and they’ll readily lap from roadside puddles of it.
Whilst an antidote does exist, it must be given within three hours of the cat drinking the anti-freeze, and since we rarely catch the cat in the act this means the treatment is often ineffective. Instead, scrupulous vigilance over the disposal of antifreeze is the best option.
5. Human Medications
Cats are more sensible than dogs, and less likely to chew their way into packets of medication. None-the-less, medications should be kept safely locked away in case of ‘mistaken identity’ and human meds being accidentally given to cats. Because of their unique physiology, cats are especially sensitive to pharmaceuticals and most cause serious harm.
6. Over-the-Counter Flea Products
Cats are sensitive souls, and this is doubly true of chemicals such as permethrin, which is found in over-the-counter flea products. This toxicity is dose-dependent, which means the larger the dose the worse the symptoms, so applying a dog-sized product to a cat is liable to be fatal (or at the very least land you with a large vet bill.)
And whilst you might scoff at the thought of deliberately applying a dog product to a cat, people have made this mistake. You also need to be aware that if the cat rubs against a recently treated dog this can transfer the active ingredient. So you guessed it, keep the pair apart until the flea treatment is totally dry.
7. Grapes and Raisins
If you have an odd-ball cat who loves to eat fruit cake or a health-conscious kitty who loves grapes – Stop! Vine fruits are toxic to both dogs and cats, although the risk is lower in cats because they are fastidious eaters and less likely to snack on fruit. As yet the mechanism by which vine fruits damage the kidney is unknown but it takes only a small amount for a cat to be at risk.
Chocolate contains theobromine, a stimulant which makes the heart race, muscles contract, and causes seizures and even death. Again, the cat’s best friend is their character which means they’re less likely to scavenge chocolate, but the risk is still very much present so keep chocolate well away from kitty in case she develops a sweet tooth.
This sounds an awful lot like being a kill-joy, but tuna really isn’t good for your cat. Firstly, a tuna fish tends to concentrate lead and mercury as they swim along, so feeding a lot of tuna can top your cat up with heavy metals.
Secondly, raw tuna in particular is high in thiaminase, an enzyme which breaks down thiamine. The latter is a B-vitamin essential for the health of the nervous system, and low levels can lead to seizures and even coma. Perhaps this is being over cautious, but ask yourself when was the last time you saw a cat catch a tuna in the wild – and you’ll realize this fish really isn’t part of a cat’s natural diet.
10. Spring Bulbs
Everyone loves to see a cheerful display of bright spring flowers, but did you know the bulbs are toxic to cats? If kitty chews on a tulip bulb, her mouth and gut is exposed to irritant chemicals which will make her hyper salivate and vomit.
And finally…with all kinds of toxins in our homes, sometimes it’s their fastidious nature that prevents cats becoming sick more often. A good rule of thumb is to assume a substance is harmful until proven otherwise and check everything out before allowing your cat in contact or giving them something new.
What precautions do you take to keep your cat safe and away from household items that are potentially dangerous?