Chemical Poisoning

There are many chemicals in and around our homes, garages, gardens and yards that can be deadly to our cats. Some of these things we take for granted and do not anticipate that our furry friends would ever get into them. There are so many in fact, I could write a book on it! But for the purpose of this article I will concentrate on some of the most common chemicals that can cause severe illness and perhaps death.

In the Home

Household Cleaners

Bleach and anything containing bleach

I am starting with this one, as I had NO IDEA that a cat would be attracted to BLEACH! I mean my cats act like this is catnip! I totally freaked when I caught my cat rubbing and rolling and licking this up from the floor! Bleach is a caustic alkali. It can be quite serious if consumed. Some household products that contain bleach are drain decloggers, mildew removers, liquid and dry laundry detergents.

Symptoms: Burns in the mouth and esophagus (also in the stomach but this not seen). Upon reaching the stomach with its acidity can set up a pretty bad scenario (remember basic chemistry, never mix acids and bases/alkalis). When acids and bases get together it can cause heat burns in conjunction with caustic burns.

Treatment: DO NOT induce vomiting as more severe esophageal and mouth burning may occur, as well as rupturing the stomach or esophagus.
DO wash the mouth out thoroughly and inspect for burns.
DO offer TUMS to counteract the stomach acid. ½ tab for kittens and 1-2 tabs for adults depending upon size (though a little more is better than a little less).
DO get to a vet asap.


While most body and hand soaps are not toxic, they can cause diarrhea, gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and frothing from the mouth. It is important to pay attention to the ingredients in the soaps to know whether toxicity is a problem. (See Metals Zinc)


Human toothpaste is NOT good for cats. They are however attracted to it. Usually it’s the minty or wintergreen odors that attract the cats. The danger is Sodium Fluoride. When ingested the fluoride combines with the stomach acids making a highly corrosive form of hydrochloric acid, that can literally eat through the stomach lining. Repeated overdoses can cause calcification of ligaments and thus causing brittle bones.

Treatment: Wash out mouth to remove any remaining toothpaste, DO NOT vomit. Do offer milk or water and seek veterinarian assistance.

Detergents (laundry soaps, dry dishwasher soaps)

Contain sodium carbonate, bleach and other chemicals that are caustic.

Treatment: If in eyes, flush the eyes thoroughly with clean water. If ingested, DO NOT VOMIT. Rinse out mouth and offer water or milk and seek veterinarian attention. Be sure to bring the container along so proper treatment can be diagnosed.


Cats are highly sensitive to medications. Most human medicines (even the most seemingly benign) can be quite toxic to cats. The liver and kidneys are most often effected by medicines.

Symptoms: Depending upon the medicine ingested and amount (remember even small amounts can be toxic) the symptoms will vary.

Treatment: Vomiting is recommended by either syrup of ipecac or hydrogen peroxide. Be sure to collect the medicine(s) consumed, with the bottle they came in, attempt to determine how much the cat ingested (this should be done at the vets). Taking the medicine with you will allow the vet to determine dose and toxicity, they may have to call the Poison Control Center as well and having this info right on hand will assist in speedy proper care.

Veterinarian Treatment: Your vet is apt to administer apomorphine by injection to further vomit the cat and offer charcoal to absorb any remaining toxins in the stomach. Other treatment will depend upon the type of medicine and blood work to determine if liver or kidneys have been compromised. Supportive Care such as Oxygen, IV fluids and other medicines to assist in counteracting the toxin.

House Plants

Many Plants are toxic to cats. Some plants are all toxic, some only leaves, roots stems or fruit/flowers. There are too many to list in this article so please refer to these links.

Methlyzanthines: (coffee, chocolate and stimulants)

A lethal dose varies from 100-300 mg/kg.

Symptoms: Usually appear with in one to fours hours after ingestion and includes vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, hyperexcitability, tremors, seizures, and coma. Secondary pancreatitis may develop in some animals. Death results from seizures or cardiac arrhythmia.

Treatment: Vomiting followed with activated charcoal. Narcotics may be used to control seizures. Steroids should be avoided because they reduce urinary excretion of methylxanthines.

Food Poisoning

Cats have a lower tolerance for food poisoning than dogs. While they generally more picky, they might still want to sample some of that odiferous food from the trash can.

Symptoms: Vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea (often bloody) and shock.

Treatment: If you witness the cat eating known spoiled food, induce vomiting by either syrup of ipecac or hydrogen peroxide. Once the stomach has calmed, you can offer something that coats the stomach such as Maalox and seek veterinarian advice. Mild cases usually resolve in a few days. More severe cases will need veterinarian intervention and support (IV fluids and antibiotics).

Potpourri/Dried flowers

Many of the oils, chemicals and desiccants used in making Potpourri and Dried Flowers are toxic to cats. Seek veterinarian attention if your cat has gotten into potpourri oils, chewed on dried flowers or dried Potpourri.

Metals (lead, zinc batteries and pennies)


Usually kittens and young cats or cats with Pica from ingesting or chewing on items painted with old paint (lead based paints were phased out in the 70’s), plumbing, solder, insecticides, batteries and linoleum

Symptoms: Vomiting, abdominal pain, anorexia, diarrhea, and megaesophagus. Acute poisoning result in Central Nervous System signs, such as convulsions, hysteria, ataxia, tremors, and blindness.

Treatment: Removing the lead source, and limiting further gastrointestinal absorption.
Magnesium or sodium sulfate can be used to precipitate lead in the intestine and pass through, or chelation therapy may be used with calcium disodium . Oral D-penicillamine is also a chelating agent often used after calcium disodium. Both to be used only for 1-2 weeks.


Rresult from the ingestion of zinc nuts(transportation crates), or from ingesting pennies minted after 1983, diaper rash products, rubber products, cosmetics, batteries, soaps, and printing inks

Symptoms: hemolysis, regenerative anemia, or renal failure. Acute zinc oxide toxicity results in
severe vomiting, central nervous system depression, and lethargy.

Treatment: Removing the source through surgery, supportive therapy, and chelation
therapy with calcium disodium.

Button Batteries

When lodged in the throat, causes esophageal erosions with the release of sodium and/or potassium hydroxides. Generally within 12 hours of ingestion. Also, the batteries may contain mercuric oxide, lithium, cadmium, and zinc. Some danger remains if the battery is swallowed and not quickly passed through the stomach and GI tract or becomes a butterfly valve in the intestines.

Symptoms: Central nervous system stimulation, weight loss, anorexia, and ataxia.

Treatment: Batteries lodged in the esophagus should be removed endoscopically, and should be followed by chelation therapy. Batteries in the stomach or intestinal area should be monitored by the veterinarian or removed surgically.

In the Garage

Gas/kerosene/other solvents

If inhaled or aspirated can cause breathing difficulties and pneumonia. If ingested, which is unlikely unless they try to groom it from their fur, result in vomiting which can cause esophageal burning, tremors, convulsions, coma and death by respiratory failure. IF in the eyes can cause intense burning and might damage the cornea.

Treatment: DO NOT induce vomiting, instead offer water, fruit juice or soda pop at the rate of one ounce per 6 pounds of body weight. IF inhaled or aspirated be prepared to administer artificial breathing, if in eyes flush with copious amounts of water. If on fur, was off immediately or prevent cat from grooming itself. Seek veterinarian attention. Knowing the type of petroleum product is very helpful for treatment.

Oils and Lubricants

The cat is not likely at all to ingest this freely, however, if the cat has these adhered to the fur they will attempt to groom themselves to be free of this sticky stuff and consequently ingest it or splash in eyes.

Symptoms and Treatment: I could find no data on symptoms or treatment. I would treat as in Gas/Kerosene/Solvents above.

Antifreeze (ethylene glycol)

There are new animal friendly antifreeze substitutes on the market now. While a little more spendy than the ethylene glycol, it is safe for pets. Ethylene Glycol is sweet in odor and taste thus luring pets to sample it. One teaspoon of ethylene glycol can kill a cat.

Symptoms: Appear suddenly. Vomiting, drunken gait, stupor, weakness and coma. Death can occur in 12-36 hours. Kidney damage and kidney failure are high risks even if the cat recovers from the toxin.

Treatment: If you have witnessed or suspect ingestion, vomit the cat immediately and proceed to a veterinarian at once.

Veterinarian Treatment: IV alcohol is the antidote. (this is special medical grain alcohol and supportive intensive care to reduce the injury to the kidneys.

In the Yard and Garden



Usually found in conjunction with metaldehyde (see below) in slug and snail baits. It may also appear in ant poison, weed killers and other insecticides. It is also an impurity found in many other chemicals.

Symptoms: Often death occurs before signs and symptoms present. Symptoms if present are, thirst, drooling, vomiting, staggering, intense abdominal pain, diarrhea and paralysis followed by death. You might note the cats breath smells like garlic.

Treatment: Induce vomiting, seek veterinarian care asap, a antidote is available.


As noted above, it is often found in conjunction with arsenic. It is used in rat, snail and slug baits.

Symptoms: Excitetablity, drooling and/or slobbering, uncoordinated gait, muscle tremors and the inability to stand after a few hours (weakness) after ingestion.

Treatment: Immediately vomit the cat and seek veterinarian care. There is no antidote. Treatment is the same as for strychnine poisoning.

Organophosphates and carbamates

Products used for flea and other parasitic control as well as in some de-wormers and garden sprays. Improper application and usage of these products can result in a toxic dose.

Symptoms: Mouth twitching, foaming, collapse, convulsions, and coma. Other signs are diarrhea, asthmatic breathing, staggering gait, muscle twitching and jerking.

Treatment: If you suspect the cat is reacting after treatment with organphosphates, bath the cat with soap and water to remove as much of the residue as possible, keep the cat calm and seek veterinarian treatment.

Caution on Combining Insecticides

Some wormers contain similar chemicals as in topical external parasite treatments and control. If the cat has just been wormed DO NOT treat for other insect infestations for a least one-week. The same is true if you have recently used insecticides for external parasites, DO NOT worm the cat for at least one week after topical treatment of insecticides.



A chemical used in rat mouse and mole and coyote bait. Typically in pellet form dyed purple, green or red.

Symptoms: Can occur within couple hours of ingestion. Agitation, excitability and apprehension. Which are followed by, intense painful tetanic seizures. These seizures are notable different from epileptic type seizures. The cat will seize with head thrown back towards the spine, so much so that often they cannot breath. The back will also seize and appear concave. The fore and hind limbs will be rigid. They will appear abnormally stretched forward and back. The seizures generally last approximately one minute. Even the slightest sensory stimulation will cause the cat to seize. This is VERY diagnostic. Other symptoms may include, champing (grinding or clicking jaws/teeth together rapidly), drooling, uncoordinated muscle spasms, and leg paddling (like dogs do when they dream).

Treatment: If you are aware the cat has ingested strychnine induce vomiting immediately. If tetanic seizures have begin DO NOT induce vomiting. Wrap the cat up in a thick blanket or coat and proceed immediately to a veterinarian. Avoid as much sensory stimulation as possible while in transient.

Veterinarian treatment: There is no antidote. Treatment consists of relieving the tetanic seizures with anesthesia or other narcotics, and supportive care.

Sodium Fluoroacetate (1080)

Another rat poison usually mixed with cereals and grains. This poison is so toxic cats can become poisoned from eating a dead rat that has dined on 1080.

Symptoms: Onset of symptoms is quite sudden, beginning with vomiting, followed by agitation, straining to urinate and/or defecate, staggering gait and typical convulsions/seizures and collapse. The seizures are not triggered by sensory stimuli.

Treatment: Same as for Strychnine poisoning, however there is an antidote.


Also used in rat and roach poison. Can also be found in fireworks, flares, matches and matchboxes.

Symptoms: Cat may have garlic odor on its breath. Vomiting and diarrhea followed by an interval of no symptoms, and then rebout of vomiting and diarrhea with abdominal pain, convulsions and coma.

Treatment: Treat as for strychnine. There is no antidote.

Zinc Phosphate

Another ingredient in rat poison.

Symptoms: Central nervous system depression, labored breathing, vomiting (with blood), general weakness, convulsions and death.

Treatment: Treat as with strychnine. There is no antidote.


These rodenticides cause the blood not to clot and can cause hemorrhaging and bleeding both internally, under the skin and from the orifices (urinary, bowel, mouth, nose and gums). It blocks the synthesis of vitamin K, which is necessary for clotting the blood.

Warfarin and Pindone

Requires repeat exposures (biological magnification) for lethal effect.

D-Con, Mouse Prufe II, Havoc and Talan

Require a single dose to achieve toxic effect. Even eating rodents whom have died of this poison can cause lethal effect. This product may also stay in the cats system for up to one month after exposure and may need medical treatment throughout this period.

Symptoms: There are rarely any symptoms to be observed until the cat begins to bleed, as ascribed above.

Treatment: You need to determine which type of anticoagulant has been ingested. Induce vomiting if you have suspected ingestion and seek veterinarian care.

Veterinarian Treatment: Consists of Vitamin K shot and then oral tablets for up to one month.

Cholecalciferol (Rampage)

Another popular cereal bait for rodents containing Vitamin D3.

Symptoms: A sudden rise in blood calcium levels, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, heart and kidney failure.

Treatment: Lowering the serum calcium with veterinarian management.

Bromethalin (Assault, Vengeance and Velsicol)

Just one or two tablespoons is toxic to cats.

Symptoms: Agitation, staggering, muscle tremors, high fever, stupor and seizures. Death is very common once symptoms appear.

Treatment: Induce vomiting and seek immediate veterinarian care.


Organic fertilizers such as fish meal and liquid fish fertilizers generally are not toxic but can cause gastrointestinal distress, vomiting and diarrhea.

Other Types of Fertilizers

Uric acid, urea, ammonium sulfate and nitrate.

Symptoms: These are very caustic causing burns in the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines. As well as contact burns to the skin and eyes.

Treatment: Do Not induce vomiting, wash affected skin, eye or mouth area and immediately seek veterinarian attention. You might wish to offer milk to dilute and coat stomach.

Outdoor Plants

Many Plants are toxic to cats. Some plants are all toxic, some only leaves, roots stems or fruit/flowers. There are too many to list in this article so please refer to these links.

Food Poisoning

Open compost pits/bins or improperly covered trash cans. See “In the Home under Food Poisoning for symptoms and treatment.

Accidents can and will happen, BUT the best prevention in all cases, is to assure your cat cannot come in contact with these chemicals or poisons. Secure all chemicals in a storage area that is not accessible to your cat. Use lockable boxes, cupboards or use baby latches on cupboards and drawers. When using chemicals be sure your cat is not in the same room. Secure trash in a container with a tight fitting lid. PROMPTLY clean up any chemical spills that may occur. Do not use pesticides, herbicides or rodentcides if your cat is allowed outdoors and do not use these products indoors if your cat can access them. Do not keep toxic plants in the home or around the yard if you cannot keep your cat from them. Keep medicines in a locked drawer or cubbard –do not assume its safe in its bottle-- your cat can chew it open. Another hazard is to you if the medicine is time critical and you can’t find it cause kitty has batted it about and under something.s


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