The most common toxicity we see at the clinic is the inadvertent application of a dog flea and tick product on to a cat. It is the accidental poisoning of the Spring and Summer season.
Turns out those warning labels are real warnings.
Those big red letters that state "DO NOT USE ON CATS" doesn't seem to be enough to dissuade people from using it.
Granted, in many cases the drugs and products that we use for people are also used in veterinary medicine. Unfortunately there are a few very very important exceptions.
I get the phone call routinely, it always starts something like this, "Hey Doc, I think that Fluffy is _____,(fill in the blank, truly, the blank isn't the important part), and I gave her some ______, (again fill in the blank, also probably not important I specify the product). Do you think she will be alright?I can't come in until tomorrow."
To which I almost always have to gasp and roll my eyes silently as I try to muffle the screaming "NO!" into a more calm and less threatening voice of, "No, that is not safe for cats."
Unfortunately, in the huge number of cases the cat was given the drug hours, or even days, ago and my heeded warning is too late.
In the hopes of saving another cat I am going to violate one of the covenants of medicine. I am going to provide broad sweeping generalization guidelines. (Disclaimer provided; Always ask your vet before giving your pets anything! Please?).
- Charlatans: If it didn't come from your vet don't give it. This includes drugs of any and every type, supplements, vitamins, food, treats, chews, toys, etc. etc. Sound too broad, and slightly paranoid? OK, it might be, but I have seen cats die from every crazy thing imaginable. Like, a supplement recommended by a feed store, a drug store, a big box store, the list goes on. I have seen cats be injured by toys, treats, chews, leashes and clothing. Not to mention urinary tract infections, calculi, strictures, and inflammation from over zealous supplements and inappropriate diets.
- Accessories: When you are purchasing something for your cat ask your vet. Collars, although cute, can be functional in alerting an unsuspecting bird of your cats presence and providing a name should they wander. But they can also get stuck around a leg and become a tourniquet or a noose around their neck should your cat get caught in something. Use a microchip, it is far safer.
- Drugs. If it didn't come from your vet for that specific pet don't give it. This includes every pain reliever, antibiotic, cream of every type. Did I ever tell you about the client who used hemorrhoid cream for a rectal mass? No, in fact the cat did not have a hemorrhoid..and boy did that stuff burn his butt bad!. (People are obsessed with laxatives and hemorrhoid cream. I guess its a big human problem?)
- Cats and Drugs: I cannot over emphasize how fragile cats are when it comes to drugs. One human sized pain reliever can kill your cat! Don't give them anything without your vets blessing. And, if the box says to "Not Use On Cats" they really do mean it. We had a client who almost killed both of her cats last year because she thought it was a "suggestion." After spending almost $500 she was angry at us for having to pay for three days of hospitalization, emergency supportive care and all of the numerous drugs it took to save their lives. She was lucky to have been able to walk out with two cats. It was an expensive lesson to learn.
This is a good time to remind us all about the Top Ten Toxins for dogs and cats in 2013, from the Pet Poison Helpline;
Cats: Top 10 Toxins of 2013
- Lilies: Plants in the Lilium species, such as Easter, Tiger, and Asiatic lilies, cause kidney failure in cats. All cat owners must be aware of these highly toxic plants!
- Household cleaners: Most general purpose cleaners (e.g., Windex, Formula 409) are fairly safe, but concentrated products like toilet bowl or drain cleaners can cause chemical burns.
- Flea and tick spot-on products for dogs: Those that are pyrethroid based (e.g., Zodiac, K9 Advantix, Sergeant’s, etc.) cause tremors and seizures and can be deadly to cats.
- Antidepressants: Cymbalta and Effexor topped our antidepressant list in 2013. Cats seem strangely drawn to these medications. Beware – ingestion can cause severe neurologic and cardiac effects.
- NSAIDs: Cats are even more sensitive than dogs to drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. Even veterinary specific NSAIDs like Rimadyl and Meloxicam should be used with caution.
- Prescription ADD/ADHD medications: These amphetamines such as Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse can cause tremors, seizures, cardiac problems and death.
- Over the counter cough, cold and allergy medications: Those that contain acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) are particularly toxic, as they damage red blood cells and cause liver failure.
- Plants containing insoluble calcium oxalate crystals: Common houseplants like the peace lily, philodendron, and pothos can cause oral/upper GI irritation, foaming at the mouth, and inflammation when ingested, but severe symptoms are uncommon.
- Household insecticides: Thankfully, most household sprays and powders are fairly safe, but it’s best to keep curious kitties away until the products have dried or settled.
- Glow sticks and glow jewelry: These irresistible “toys” contain a chemical called dibutyl phthalate. When it contacts the mouth, pain and excessive foaming occurs, but the signs quickly resolve when the cat eats food or drinks water.
“Every January, we examine our records to see what toxins contributed to the most emergency calls from pet owners and veterinarians the previous 12 months,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT and associate director of veterinary services at Pet Poison Helpline. “We hope that by sharing these lists, more pet owners will become educated about how to avoid problems and protect their pets in 2014.”
The best thing concerned pet owners can do is get educated on the most common pet toxins, which are listed above, and then pet-proof their homes. However, accidents happen and if a pet may have ingested something toxic, Pet Poison Helpline recommends taking action immediately. Contact a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680. Pet Poison Helpline also has a helpful iPhone application with an extensive database of over 200 poisons dangerous to cats and dogs. “Pet Poison Help” is available on iTunes for $1.99.
If you have a pet question or want to share any of your cat photos, antics, or even a cute little story about how precious your cat is to your life you can find me and a bunch of other cat-enthusiasts at Pawbly.com. Pawbly is dedicated to the love of pets and provides free help to any pet in need. Please join us today. Maybe you can save a pet's life with your knowledge and lifetime experience?
Or you can find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice. Or at the clinic Jarrettsville Vet, in Jarrettsville Maryland.