Cat Toxins Part 1

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Kitty cats can be sneaker than dogs when it comes to getting into something they are not supposed to eat. Their bodies have unique enzymes that may not be able to process common medications with which people and dogs have no problem. Certain plants, like lilies, are beautiful, but dangers to have in homes with cats. Dr. Christine Klippen discusses ways to keep your cat healthy by avoiding these common household toxins for cats in the first of this two part series.

Welcome Dr. Christine Klippen

[00:01:05]Dr. Lancellotti: Welcome, everyone, to today’s episode of Your Vet Wants You To Know. I’m back with Dr. Christine Klippen, who is going to be talking to you today about common household toxins that you should be aware of if you have a cat in your home. Dr. Christine Klippen has joined me on several other episodes, including FLUTD and urinary obstruction, as well as talking about common household toxins for dogs. She is an emergency veterinarian with over 12 years of experience and she works at a very large referral and emergency center in Washington DC. We had such a great discussion about all the different household toxins commonly seen that could potentially harm your cat, that we decided to break this episode up into a 2-part series, so that you could really get a good grasp on all of the things that you should be aware of if there is a cat in your household. She has a wealth of knowledge to share with us and I am very excited to have her back. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the 1st of our 2-part series on household toxins for cats. 

[00:02:07]Welcome, Dr. Klippen. 

[00:02:08] Dr. Klippen: Thank you again.

[00:02:10] Dr. Lancellotti: So tell me a little bit about why household toxins for cats is so important to you. What is something that speaks to you and why is this so valuable for pet owners to be aware of?

[00:02:25]Dr. Klippen: First of all, I think that we all know that dogs will get into things and get themselves into trouble, but a lot of people don’t realize that cats can get into things and eat things they’re not supposed to as well. As an emergency doctor, I would say that toxin exposure is one of the most common things that comes into my emergency room. Looking at both the ASPCA Poison Control and Pet Poison hotline over the years, they see about 15% of the cases that are calling in are actually cats who have ingested things. Unfortunately, I feel like cats are sometimes sneakier than dogs and we may not necessarily be aware. So utmost vigilance is key, as well as potentially preventing the problem. I think it’s important for cat owners to know.

[00:03:13] Dr. Lancellotti: Absolutely. Do you have any particular cases that come to mind? Any cats that have stuck with you over the years?

[00:03:21] Dr. Klippen: Yeah. A couple of years ago, I had a cat that came in on an emergency and the cat was acting very bizarre. It had a very high body temperature and it almost was looking like it had drank like 10 cups of coffee. It was very hard to get the information out of the owner, but it turns out that the cat had gotten into the owner’s Adderall. He did not keep his Adderall up where he was supposed to, the cat ate a humongous amount, and was extraordinarily symptomatic. Thankfully, once he realized that I wasn’t going to call the authorities on him or anything, we were able to treat the cat appropriately and it did make a full recovery.

[00:04:05] Dr. Lancellotti: Oh, wow. That cat’s really lucky.

[00:04:07] Dr. Klippen: Yes.

Dr. Klippen pets a relaxed dog

[00:04:08]Dr. Lancellotti: Before we get into the very specific toxins, tell me a little bit about what you want pet owners to know, overall, about toxins in cats? How can they be prepared? What don’t you want them to do? 

[00:04:22] Dr. Klippen: I think that with any sort of pet, whether it’s a dog or a cat, having either ASPCA Poison Control or Pet Poison Hotline phone numbers already pre-programmed into your cell phone, in addition to your local emergency veterinarian, is really helpful. A lot of owners don’t know that these services exist. There is a fee associated with it, but that information is not only helpful to a pet owner, but the emergency doctor that has to treat the case. The other real big difference between dogs and cats is that we don’t typically recommend that owners try to induce vomiting with cats at home. Some people may realize that with dogs, you can use hydrogen peroxide to try to get them to vomit, and may be recommended by either an emergency facility or one of the pet poison hotlines, but this is not recommended in cats and if used can cause pretty significant concerns. So with any of these toxins that we’re about to talk about, I think that up with a veterinary professional, if there’s any sort of ingestion, is super important. 

[00:05:34] Dr. Lancellotti: We’ll have the numbers for ASPCA Poison Control and the Pet Poison Hotline in the show notes so that you can automatically save those into your phone. That way, if you ever have a situation where your pet comes in contact with one of the toxins we’re going to be talking about today, you have a resource right at your fingertips.

Toxin #1 - Lilies

Dr. Lancellotti: Let’s just dive right into our 1st toxin- lilies. Why are lilies so toxic for cats, and what do you want pet owners to know about this plant? 

[00:06:04] Dr. Klippen: Lilies, of all plants, are some of the most deadly to kitty cats. Not all lilies are considered true lilies, believe it or not. The ones that we are a little bit more concerned about are our tiger lilies, our day lilies, our Asiatic, our Eastern or Japanese show. A lot of times, florists will put these into these arrangements because they’re inexpensive, they smell wonderful, they’re beautiful and they’re long lasting. But if a pet owner is unaware that some of these plants are in their arrangements, it could potentially have devastating consequences. All parts of the plant, including the pollen, are actually considered toxic. 

[00:06:49]Dr. Lancellotti: So if the cat eats the plant, the leaf or the blossom, any of that part can cause problems for them. 

[00:06:59] Dr. Klippen: Yeah. I’ve had cats come in who have brushed up against one of the plants and gotten some of the yellow pollen on themselves and cats do what cats do. They begin to groom themselves afterwards, so that’s another way that they can inadvertently ingest the plant. 

[00:07:16] Dr. Lancellotti: So what happens if the cat does ingest part of this plant? What are you going to see with them? 

[00:07:22]Dr. Klippen: Ingestion of lilies has been implicated with irreversible kidney failure, and what can happen in these particular situations is that we may start to see signs within 24-48 hours post ingestion (vomiting, not eating, lethargy, increased water consumption or urination). 

[00:07:45]Dr. Lancellotti: So if the owner thinks, “Something’s up with my cat. I’m not quite sure what’s going on. Maybe they ate the plant that my friend brought over for the holiday,” what can they do? 

[00:07:58]Dr. Klippen: Follow-up with an emergency room is key in this situation. When they’ve gone back and looked at retrospective studies with cats who had ingested lilies, even within a 6-8 hour timeframe, getting them to the hospital, potentially getting them decontaminated (either by making them vomit or bathing them) with some supportive therapy, the success rate is much better, rather than the “wait and see” situation. Because in those particular patients, if they do start to develop signs of kidney failure, they can progress very quickly, to the point where we may have to even talk about things as serious as haemodialysis.


[00:08:43] Dr. Lancellotti: Wow. Is there a certain time of year that you see an increase in this exposure and increase in cats getting exposed to lilies?

[00:08:52] Dr. Klippen: There are two major holidays that we see each year that we’ll see an uptick in familes getting lilies and bringing them into the household. The 1st is Easter, because the white Easter lily is such a commonplace flower. The 2nd is Mother’s Day, because a lot of the bouquets are full of spring flowers and the lilies are starting to bloom at this point.

[00:09:17]Dr. Lancellotti: What’s the best way that you would recommend for pet owners to protect their cat from lily toxicity?

[00:09:24] Dr. Klippen: The first thing is to familiarize yourself with different types of lilies that are out there, looking on Google, and looking at some of the pictures that are out on the internet. The other really important thing I would suggest is to talk to the florist. Talk to whoever made the arrangement. And if you know that you are buying flowers for a family that has cats, mention that to the florist so that maybe they could sub out the lilies for another type of flower instead.

[00:09:54]Dr. Lancellotti: Those lilies are absolutely beautiful, and as you mentioned, that’s one of the reasons why they are put in there. Are there other lilies that are not ‘true lilies’ that maybe the florist could sub out instead?

[00:10:05] Dr. Klippen: Yeah. There are a lot of types of lilies that are not considered true lilies (false lilies), and some of these may be peace lilies, Peruvian lilies, and even Calla lilies are not actually true lilies.

[00:10:20] Dr. Lancellotti: Perfect. Those are absolutely gorgeous and I would love to get them in a flower arrangement, so those are really good substitutes. I’ll make sure that we have some pictures of the different types of lilies on the website, so that you can go and take a look and see which ones you should be worried about and which ones would be okay to ask the florist to put into an arrangement.

Toxin #2: Household Cleaners

cat in a bathroom

Dr. Lancellotti: Let’s move on to our 2nd toxin and that is household cleaners. What kind of household cleaners do we worry about when a family has cats as pets? 

[00:10:52] Dr. Klippen: The majority of general purpose cleaners (things like Windex) usually pretty safe and don’t cause a lot of concern, but the ones that can cause more problems are things like our toilet bowl cleaners, rust removers, or drain cleaners. All of these can be pretty toxic to cats. 

[00:11:11]Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah. I know when I was growing up and I had cats in my household, the cats would jump into the tub after I was finished showering. Do you see that quite a bit with cats that may get into this product? 

[00:11:22] Dr. Klippen: Yeah. It seems like cats like to drink running water, so they’ll jump into tubs and either lick the drain or the faucet after owners are done showering. You’ve just gotten done cleaning a bathtub, you’ve run the bathtub, and some of those cats will jump in and want to lick things up. Usually, that’s how they’re exposed. 

[00:11:45] Dr. Lancellotti: What are you going to see with these cats when they’re exposed to the cleaners? 

[00:11:50]Dr. Klippen: We may see things like profuse drooling. In some severe cases, we may see things like difficulty breathing, maybe vomiting, and then delayed chemical burns to the mouth and the esophagus. Sometimes, the burns may take a couple of days to manifest themselves, so that might not be something you see right away. 

[00:12:09]Dr. Lancellotti: I know a lot of people will we’ll use these because they work really well. They get the job done as far as cleaning and removing rust. Are there ways that pet owners can use these products, but also help protect their cats?

[00:12:23] Dr. Klippen: Yeah. After using these products, the best thing to do is just to make sure that any excess liquid or residue is wiped up and dried, prior to allowing your cat back into the cleaned area. So if you’ve had to treat a drain or you’ve cleaned the bathroom, close the door for a period of time so that the area can dry prior to letting them back into that part of the house.

[00:12:49]Dr. Lancellotti: Say my cat’s super sneaky and they get into the tub and lick the drain before I get a chance to wipe everything down. Is there something that I can do right away? 

[00:12:57] Dr. Klippen: Yeah. If the ingestion is noted immediately, one of the things that you can do is give your cat something to drink, such as either a little bit of watered-down milk, chicken broth, or watered-down cat food. What that’s doing is it’s helping dilute the product as it goes through their mouth and into their esophagus, so that they’re less likely to have those concerns. 

[00:13:20] Dr. Lancellotti: Perfect. And then they can follow that up with a call to ASPCA Poison Control or the Pet Poison Hotline for further instructions.

Toxin #3 - Flea Prevention for Dogs

Let’s move on to our 3rd toxin. This is something that I talk about as a dermatologist, very commonly, with the pet owners that I see, because I recommend a lot of flea and tick preventatives for the patients that I treat. Let’s talk about this, because not all flea and tick preventatives are the same. There are certain ones that we need to be careful of for cats. Tell me a little bit about why cat owners need to be careful when they’re using flea and tick products for dogs in a household with cats. 

[00:13:59]Dr. Klippen: A lot of the topical flea and tick medicines that we use for dogs will contain either pyrethrins or pyrethroids, which are very toxic to cats. When we see poisoning in cats, this usually occurs when a pet owner has applied a dog product to their cats or when a cat licks the medication off of the dog. 

[00:14:25]Dr. Lancellotti: What’s going to happen to those cats if they get exposed to those particular medications? 

[00:14:31] Dr. Klippen: Sometimes, we can see cats present with significant drooling, but the ones that I see more commonly on the emergency side are tremors. These cats will have full body tremors that can potentially even progress to life-threatening seizures, so it is a pretty serious exposure. 

[00:14:52] Dr. Lancellotti: If a pet owner has accidentally put this medication on their cat, and they notice that something’s wrong, what can they do to help that animal right away?

[00:15:04]Dr. Klippen: The best thing to do is to try to get the product off the cat, and believe it or not, the best way to remove that kind of oily substance is to bathe the cat with good old-fashioned blue Dawn. This helps strip the product from both the skin and the fur, but again, it is still best practice to talk with a veterinary professional afterwards, because in some of these cases, there can be a delay  to always read labels carefully before using any sort of flea and tick product on pets, and make sure that it’s intended for this species that you are treating. in the onset of those clinical signs.

[00:15:42]Dr. Lancellotti: Do you have any tips for pet owners as far as preventing this particular toxicity? How can they keep their cats safe? 

[00:15:49] Dr. Klippen: 2 things. The 1st thing is some of the products that you can purchase will have a picture of a cat with a big red X through it- they’ve changed the packaging over the years. Then, the other thing is that if you are interested in looking for a flea and tick preventative, talk to your veterinarian about it. Where I see most of the accidental poisonings with this are some of the products that are just purchased over the counter, at either the feed store or the pet store, where you don’t have a veterinary professional giving an input for that type of product. 

[00:16:30]Dr. Lancellotti: If you have a household where there are both cats and dogs, and you’re getting a flea preventative for your dog, check the packaging for that big red X over the cat. If you happen to get a flea or tick preventative from your veterinarian for your dog, just take a second to ask your veterinarian, “Hey, is this okay for me to use around my cat?” We often have a lot of different things in our heads that we’re trying to keep track of, and just giving us a gentle reminder that there is a cat in the household, will help prevent this as well. 

Toxin #4: Antidepressants

[00:17:04]Dr. Lancellotti: Let’s move on to toxin #4- antidepressants. I know this is something that is present in a lot of different households, so tell me why people should be extra careful with their antidepressants when there’s a cat in the household. 

[00:17:19] Dr. Klippen: We see lots of dogs getting into these products because dogs like to chew and get themselves into trouble. But cats, for whatever reason, seem to be drawn to certain antidepressants. The ones that we see cats accidentally getting into are things like Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, and Cymbalta. For whatever reason, particularly Effexor, the pill has some sort of smell or flavor that cats seem to be drawn to. Ironically, I see quite a few of these ingestions in the emergency room, but more so cats than dogs, with this type of medication. 

[00:17:59]Dr. Lancellotti: If they do get into these antidepressants, then what might the cat experience? 

[00:18:06] Dr. Klippen: If ingested, we may see things like not eating, lethargy, vomiting, tremors, and seizures. Sometimes, they will have an elevated body temperature or they may develop diarrhea.  

[00:18:19] Dr. Lancellotti: What would you recommend that pet owners do if they’ve noticed that the cat has gotten into the antidepressants? 

[00:18:25] Dr. Klippen: In these particular situations, again, because cats are so much smaller than people and smaller than dogs, reaching out to Poison Control to see if it’s something that needs to be seen on emergency. Reaching out to your emergency facility nearby is good because sometimes some of these cats may need to be hospitalized for medications to counteract the side effects of these drugs. 

Toxin #5: Over the Counter Pain Relievers

medication in blister pack

[00:18:51]Dr. Lancellotti: Going along with some other medications that are at home, toxins # 5 are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Tell our listeners a little bit about what nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories are, and why we don’t want their cats to get into them. 

[00:19:09] Dr. Klippen: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are things like Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Aleve, and Aspirin. The reason why it’s a concern for cats is because they have difficulty metabolizing the drug. They don’t have some of the enzymes that they need to be able to break them down. So if ingested with the NSAIDs, we can begin to see things like kidney failure and potential gastric ulcers or stomach ulcers. 

[00:19:40] Dr. Lancellotti: I know cats can be a little bit tough as far as if they have pain at home, and very well-meaning owners can try and relieve that pain. What are some issues with using pain medications? 

[00:19:54]Dr. Klippen: That is one of the big frustrations. There’s not a really good, safe, over-the-counter pain medication for cats. Even well-intentioned people have administered either pain relievers, like acetaminophen or Tylenol, or a portion of Ibuprofen to a cat (again, all well-intentioned). But the big thing is that even with Tylenol given at an infant’s dosage, it could potentially be considered fatal to a cat. It is definitely not recommended. 

[00:20:27] Dr. Lancellotti: If the owner gives that Tylenol to the cat, and the cat doesn’t get treatment, what sort of consequences might that have?

[00:20:36] Dr. Klippen: Ingestion of Tylenol for cats, if left untreated, can actually cause severely low red blood cell counts. Because of how fragile the cat red blood cell is, it’s a lot more susceptible to some of the oxidative damage. We may see things like difficulty breathing, swollen face, swollen paws, liver failure, and then in some severe cases, even death, unfortunately. 

[00:21:02] Dr. Lancellotti: So, what do you think the best thing is for pet owners to do if their cat has gotten into Tylenol or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs? 

[00:21:11] Dr. Klippen: Because we want to try to get it out of their system and decontaminate them, the best thing is to head into the emergency facility, so that hopefully, they can induce vomiting and prevent further absorption of the medication. 

[00:21:26] Dr. Lancellotti: Perfect. There’s another type of medication that can also cause problems with cats. It seems like cats really just shouldn’t be exposed to any human medication.

Toxin #6: ADD/ADHD medications

Let’s talk a little bit about these prescription ADD and ADHD medications. Why might they be problems for cats in the home? 

[00:21:46]Dr. Klippen: There are a lot of children and there are a lot of adults that are on ADD and ADHD medications, and maybe part of a morning routine is to have a parent put out the morning meds alongside breakfast. This is usually where the cat jumps up on the table, sees the pill on the plate, and next thing you know, has slurped it up. So that’s usually how they get into it. But ADD and ADHD medications are amphetamines, which are stimulants. Certain drugs such as Adderall, Conserta, Dexedrine and Vyvanse can cause things like tremors, seizures, heart problems, and elevated body temperatures in cats who have ingested it. 

[00:22:33] Dr. Lancellotti: How soon after ingesting the medication might you see problems with the cat? 

[00:22:38] Dr. Klippen: It depends upon the formulation. There are immediate release medications as well as extended release. With the immediate release, we may see signs within a couple of hours (usually 1-4), whereas the extended release may be upwards of 8-12 hours before we start to see signs. With those particular formulations, the clinical signs last a lot longer, so I think knowing which version that you or your loved one takes is really helpful in determining how long a pet would need to be monitored for and a hospital. 

[00:23:20] Dr. Lancellotti: Perfect. If a family knows that the cat has gotten into this medication, what would you recommend that they do? 

[00:23:26] Dr. Klippen: I would want them to go into the emergency room, so we can try to get it out, and hopefully not develop signs to begin with.

[00:23:33]Dr. Lancellotti: And they can always call ASPCA Poison Control and the Pet Poison Hotline and give them that information, as far as what the actual medication is, and what dosage it is, to help guide treatment with the emergency room. Dr. Klippen always gives such great information and tools and resources for pet owners. We’ll split up this episode into a 2-part series and you can join us again next week for part 2/2 of the ‘household cat toxins’ series. Make sure you subscribe on Apple podcasts so that you don’t miss the episode. I look forward to your next visit with Your Vet Wants You To Know.

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