Signs & Symptoms of Poisoning in Cats

Like dogs, cats are curious creatures. Though they can be a lot more aloof and standoffish than dogs, they will still investigate anything new they find in their environment. When they investigate something new, they might try to play with it, or even bite it or lick it. If it’s something that smells or tastes good, they might even eat it and end up ingesting it. This can be catastrophic if whatever your cat ingests is toxic.

Sometimes cats are poisoned through other means, not just from ingesting something. Depending on what type of poison it is, this will affect how your cat responds to it. Cats can be poisoned through things that they inhale such as smoke, carbon monoxide, or cyanide, and sometimes be poisoned through things they absorb from touch, such as insecticides, flea medications, carpet cleaners, and other environmental toxins. Many of those toxins can end up on their fur, which means they can accidentally ingest them when they clean themselves.

Sadly, most pet owners won’t even know their cat has been poisoned until they begin to show symptoms of toxicity. A cat that has been poisoned can be affected in different ways depending on the type of the toxin. Some toxins cause internal bleeding, while other toxins affect a cat’s central nervous system. Still, toxins can affect a cat’s vital organs and cause them to shut down. This is why time is of the essence if you suspect your cat has been poisoned in some manner.

Potential Cat Toxins to Watch Out For

Cats can be poisoned by many different things. You can safely bet that anything that can be poisonous for you or a child would also be poisonous for a cat.


Cats can be poisoned from common household foods, including onions, tomatoes, macadamia nuts, chocolate, garlic, and chives. Xylitol, a sugar substitute that is often used in many low-carb homes can be deadly, while garbage and expired food items can also be potentially harmful.

Household Cleaners and Insecticides

Many insecticides that people use on their lawn can be toxic to cats, and easily be passed into their system when they are exposed to it by being outside. It can get on their fur and be transmitted into their system after they lick and clean themselves. Everyday household cleaners like bleach, laundry detergent, carpet cleaner, and a myriad of solutions used for cleaning the kitchen, bathtubs, and toilets are also all toxic if ingested.


Houseplants are a common poisonous toxin for many cats too, especially plants like lilies. Lillie’s can cause kidney failure if consumed, while flowers like daffodils and tulips can cause tummy issues, and even cause convulsions and heart damage. flowers and household plants that are poisonous to cats like azaleas can also be harmful too, causing everything from feline vomiting, cat diarrhea, and (in severe cases) even death. Plants like the sago palm are toxic as well, causing cat seizures, vomiting, and liver failure.

Over the Counter Medications

Many over-the-counter medications are poisonous agents for cats as well. Painkillers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen are all poisonous if eaten and can cause a range of health issues like stomach ulcers, kidney damage, and red blood cell damage. In some cases, the drugs can be fatal to a cat.

Antidepressants are toxic too and can cause both vomiting as well as serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndromes happen when your cat’s blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature all rise suddenly. Your cat could experience seizures. ADHD drugs are stimulants and can be poisonous, and even medications formulated and designed for cats can be harmful in wrong doses. These include medications like painkillers and de-worming drugs.

Environmental Poisons

Rat and mouse poison are highly toxic for cats and can be fatal if they get into it. A cat can also suffer poisoning from agents like zinc, lead, pool chemicals, anti-freeze, battery acid, paint thinner, and a whole host of other chemical hazards. Even beauty products in the home like suntan lotion, nail polish remover, perfumes, soaps, and hair dye are dangerous… basically, if you can name it, your cat could possibly be poisoned by it. It’s not unusual for cats to even be deliberately poisoned by neighbors who view them as pests or nuisances.

Vitamins and Supplements

Sometimes cats’ overdose on vitamins and supplements, especially if they are given high levels of vitamin A or D or consume too much cod liver oil.

Bugs, Reptiles, and Insects

Heck, cats can even eat the wrong insect and be poisoned by it, like accidentally eating a Spanish fly or licking toads and suffering from toad toxicity. Cats have been known to be poisoned from slug and snail pellets too, although that’s more common with dogs.

Symptoms of Cat Poisoning

If you suspect something is off about your cat, there are some clear warning signs that could indicate your cat has been poisoned. How quickly you act on those signs could mean the difference between life and death for your feline friend.

Cats that have ingested something toxic may exhibit gastrointestinal upset such as feline nausea, cat vomiting and/or diarrhea (both with blood and without blood), as well as suffer from a lack of appetite. Some cats may also drool excessively, or in certain cases vomit up a green or frothy-looking fluid and have watery eyes.

Cats that have internal bleeding may cough or vomit up blood, behave weakly or lethargically, or have gums that look pale in color, indicating possible feline anemia. Other compromising conditions could be a racing heartbeat, twitching, a loss of consciousness, or total collapse.

In some cases, cats may suffer from organ failure, like in the kidneys or liver. When that happens, they might show symptoms like any of the above as well as other warning signs, such as decreased urination, dark urine, excessive thirst or urination, stools that are black and tarry-looking, halitosis, and even jaundice or discoloration of the gums.

Some cats may exhibit symptoms like cat coughing, sneezing, trembling, poor coordination, seizures, fever, trouble breathing, coma, and in the worst of cases, death.

What to Do When Your Cat Has Been Poisoned

If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, you should call your vet right away. You can also call an animal hospital nearby or call an animal poison hotline. If at all possible, try to figure out what your cat has ingested or been poisoned by. Obviously, in the most ideal situation, you will know exactly what your cat has consumed or been exposed to so that you can tell your doctor, and they will be able to treat the cat accordingly.

However, the reality is that most of the time you will not know the source of the toxin. Your vet may try to determine what your cat got into by running tests to confirm or rule out certain things, but it can be difficult to narrow down an exact cause.

Your vet may order blood work and urine tests, although those will mainly be to try and determine the state of your cat’s vital organs and his overall health. Urine and blood panels can tell your vet whether or not your cat’s organs are functioning as they should or if they have been compromised by whatever poison he’s ingested.

If you are able to figure out or confirm what your cat has been poisoned with, sometimes there may be something specific your vet can give them to counteract it. However, that is rarely the case. More often than not, your vet won’t know or be able to determine the source of the poison or toxin. That means treatment will be aimed largely at trying to alleviate your cat’s most dangerous symptoms, stabilize them as much as possible, and keep them that way so that the toxin can move through their system and dissipate. You may have to bathe your cat if they’ve gotten into something that’s on his skin or fur so that the contaminant can be removed and prevent further harm.

In some cases, your vet may order IV fluids and push certain medications to counteract the effects of the poison. In other cases, or in conjunction with that, they may induce vomiting, perform a gastric lavage (stomach pumping) and/or give your cat activated charcoal as an attempt to get rid of or try to absorb some of the toxins that may still reside in your cat’s system. Sometimes surgery or an endoscopy is indicated, especially if the toxic material can’t be removed via one of the other methods mentioned.

Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot that can be done when a cat has been poisoned, other than try to keep them stable so that the toxin can pass through their system and they can begin to recover.

Supportive care may be necessary, consisting of fluids to flush remaining toxins out and rehydrate a cat that is dehydrated, medications to relax a cat and reduce muscle tremors, medications to control seizures, chelation therapy for cats that have been poisoned with lead or zinc, oxygen for cats that are struggling to breathe, and blood transfusions for cats suffering from severe anemia.

If a cat has been bitten by a snake or tick, sometimes anti-venom may be administered, and if a cat has ingested too much acetaminophen, they may be given vitamin C to try to help reduce toxicity levels.

Your cat will most likely have to be in the hospital for a short time and undergo some follow-up testing to make sure he is recovering well. Your vet will want to make sure the poison is completely out of his system so no further complications arise.

Preventing Cat Poisoning

Prevention is always the best medicine in any given health situation. However, sometimes that’s easier said than done. There are some steps you can take though, to keep your cat safe and limit their exposure to potential poisons.

Some of these preventative measures include feeding your feline a diet designed only for cats. Don’t feed them human food because they will develop a taste for it and could end up eating something unhealthy. A taste for human food will also make them curious about what’s in your garbage cans, which can be just as dangerous.

Keep them out of all garbage and make sure any household chemicals and potential toxins are put up well out of your cat’s reach. If you have any house plants around the home, ensure they are benign and non-toxic because if they are at all cat-like in behavior, they are almost sure to tangle with them at least once. It’s just what cats do.

Try to keep your cat indoors as much as possible too, so you can keep them out of the clutches of diabolical neighbors. Keeping them indoors will also help to prevent them from tangling with something they shouldn’t, like snakes and other poisonous critters. Cats love to hunt and roam, but when you allow them to do so, their potential for happening upon something toxic increases exponentially.

Another good preventative measure is to only use cleaning products and pesticides that are deemed cat-friendly and safe. If you have a question on it, you can ask your vet for recommendations.

If your cat is on any medications, especially daily meds, be sure to keep careful track so you don’t accidentally double-dose them. Also make sure their medications are stored away from yours so there is no possibility of a mix-up.

Though it’s impossible to try to prevent every conceivable scenario, by taking even some of these preventative measures into consideration, you may be able to save your cat’s life someday. Know the warning signs of cat poisoning and do the best you can.



Wilson, Julia. “Poisoning in Cats – Common Causes, Symptoms & Treatment.” Cat-World, 6 Feb. 2017, Accessed 31 Oct. 2018.

“Poisoning in Cats – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost.” WagWalking, 19 Oct. 2016, Accessed 31 Oct. 2018.

“Poisons (Swallowed) in Cats.” PetMD, Accessed 31 Oct. 2018.

“Top 5 Cat Poisons | Common Symptoms & Their Causes.” Aspen Grove Vet, 23 May 2016, Accessed 31 Oct. 2018.



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