Harmful substances and poisonous foods for cats
Your cat’s sense of exploration is one of the things that makes them so precious to you, but it sometimes means you have to keep an eye out for things that can harm them, too.
Your cat’s natural curiosity leads them to explore non-stop; whether they’re roaming the great outdoors or climbing into all the nooks and crannies of your house, there’s no knowing what they’ll find on their next adventure. Around the home and in the garden there are many food and non-food substances, including plants, which could be potentially poisonous to your feline friend. Some of these are obvious, but others look completely innocent.
For example, your cat might like the look of the snack you just ate or the medicine you take, but these things – while causing no harm to us – might be poisonous foods for cats, and in some case they could be life-threatening. Many chemicals that are routinely used around the house, such as bathroom cleaners, can also be harmful if your curious cat gets their paws on a bottle.
Minimizing the risks for your cat
Keeping your home and garden safe is mostly about common sense. Don't leave things open and easily accessible, for example, if they’re likely to be mistaken for a tasty treat. The following tips might also help you keep your cat safe and out of trouble.
Your cat should only take medicine if it’s under the direction of a vet – they’re best placed to know what will make a poorly cat better. Many medications that humans can use safely are poisonous for cats, so don’t be tempted to give it a try. It’s also good to bear in mind that some medicines can be safely given to dogs, but have serious adverse effects if your cat takes them instead.
Keep all prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs out of the reach of your cat, preferably in closed cabinets. Painkillers, cold medicines, vitamins and diet pills are common examples of human medications that could be potentially lethal cat poison even in small doses.
If your cat has fleas, before buying or using flea products contact your vet to discuss what types are best for them. Read all the information before using a product on your cat or in your home, and always follow label instructions to make sure they stay safe. When using a house spray, make sure you remove all pets from the area for the time period specified on the container. If you are uncertain about the use of any product, contact the manufacturer or your vet to clarify.
In the house:
Don’t let your cat into areas where cleaning agents are used or stored. Some of these things might only cause a tummy upset in your cat, while others act as cat poison and could cause severe burns on their tongue, mouth and stomach, and in some cases be fatal.
Many common household items are poisonous for cats, even if they don’t look dangerous – even in low quantities, they can be very toxic. There’s no need to banish them from your home altogether, but keep an eye on things to make sure you cat doesn’t decide to play! These items include:
- Pennies (due to their high concentration of zinc)
- Potpourri oils
- Fabric softener sheets
- Automatic dish detergents (which contain cationic detergents which could cause corrosive lesions)
- Batteries (which contain acids or alkali, which can also cause corrosive lesions)
- Homemade play dough (which contains a high quantity of salt)
- Winter heat source agents like hand or foot warmers (which contain high levels of iron)
- Ground coffee
- Alcoholic drinks.
It’s also a good idea to take care when using potentially health-threatening pollutants around the home, as your cat can wander in at any time. These pollutants include fumes from household products such as cleaning agents, pesticides, paints and varnishes, and microbial and fungal agents found in air conditioners, air ducts, filters and humidifiers.
If you’re removing lead paint, use extreme caution, and clean up quickly and thoroughly if you can. Other items containing lead that your cat might take a shine to include lead-based paint, linoleum and caulking compounds.
If it’s possible your cat has come into contact with any of these substances, keep an eye out for signs of ill health. Cat poison symptoms and signs of ingestion include vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, loss of appetite or muscle co-ordination, blindness, and seizures. If you are unsure, it’s always best to contact your vet for advice.
In the garden and garage:
Your cat loves playing in the ‘jungle’ (better known as your garden!). So, when treating your lawn or garden with fertilizers, herbicides, or insecticides, always keep your cat away from the area until the area dries completely. If in doubt, you could discuss the use of these products with the product manufacturer, who should be able to tell you how safe they are for pets. Always store these products in an area safely aware from your feline friend, as they are often poisonous for cats.
When using rat or mouse baits, ant or cockroach traps, or snail and slug baits, place the products in areas that are inaccessible to your cat – you don’t want them getting a paw caught or tasting anything that's bad for them. As well as this, car products such as oil, petrol and antifreeze should be stored properly. Any amount of antifreeze (which contains ethylene glycol) can be not only poisonous for cats, but lethal.
When it comes to your garden, there are also some plants that aren’t good for your cat – check our list to find out how cat-friendly your garden is.
Plants potentially poisonous to pets / poisonous cat plants
As well as common household and garden products that might look tempting to your cat, there are also poisonous plants for cats that often crop up in the garden. Keep a watchful eye on your cat if you have these plants around, and if you think your cat is in particular danger, consider removing them. These plants include:
- Aloe Vera
- Apple (seeds)
- Apricot (pit)
- Autumn Crocus
- Cherry (seeds and wilting leaves)
- Easter Lily
- Elephant Ears
- English Ivy, Poison Ivy, Devil's Ivy and other ivies
- Oriental Lily
- Peach (wilting leaves and pits)
- Tomato Plant (green fruit, stem and leaves)
- Bird of Paradise
- Indian Rubber Plant
- Lily of the Valley
- Peace Lily
- Poinsettia (low toxicity)
- Swiss Cheese Plant
- Tiger Lily
- Weeping Fig
The Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) is an internationally renowned poisons information service based in London. Although the VPIS only handles direct enquiries from vets (not pet owners), its website does provide some useful information if you want to check it out.
If you have any concerns about any potential toxins or poisonous foods for cats that your pet may have ingested, you should always speak to your vet as soon as possible to obtain advice and guidance.
Prevention is always better than cure, of course – and with a little attention to the things in your home, your cat should get themselves into no trouble at all.