Cat lovers would never knowingly harm their pets and even those who wish to deter neighbouring cats from visiting their garden would not wish them ill. But sometimes the most well-intentioned actions can cause sickness, sometimes severe, in cats. A number of cases have recently come to light where cats may or have been ill as a result of coming into contact with substances which people may not realise are dangerous.
A WORTHY MEMORIAL FOR HARRY
The death of her much-loved cat prompted Frances Green to campaign successfully for warning labels to be included on one of Britain 's best known household disinfectants.
Mrs Green, from Welwyn Garden City, lost Harry in July 2002 but it was not until a year later when she watched a television programme on household cleaning that she discovered some disinfectants can be dangerous to cats. Coincidentally that information had been given to the programme by FAB.
Having used Dettol throughout Harry's illness and around her home for many years previously, Mrs Green was concerned that her attempts to maximise hygiene may in fact have had an adverse effect on Harry. Disinfectants containing phenols – those that turn cloudy when mixed with water - are of particular concern because cats are unable to eliminate the toxins following ingestion. A cat may swallow the product by licking his paws after they have come into contact with it.
Last summer Frances launched a one-woman campaign to have a warning included on every bottle of Dettol. Supported by the vet who had treated Harry and by her local MP, she contacted Reckitt Benckiser, the manufacturers of Dettol and outlined her concerns. In October she heard that her lobbying has been successful and the company promised that warning labels would be included ‘within six months'. Frances hopes that Reckitt Benckiser's positive attitude will also be adopted by other manufacturers of products containing phenols.
Frances said: ‘Any positive eventual outcomes are a memorial to Harry, a very special cat.'
Alex Campbell of the Veterinary Poisons Information Service commented: ‘We very much welcome the news about additional label information for these products. Phenol and some phenolic compounds and coal-tar acid derivatives used in some disinfectants, specialist soaps and wood treatments, such as creosote, are potentially problematic in many animals especially if the exposure is significant. Cats, birds and some reptiles are known to have a particular sensitivity to these compounds. As acid derivatives phenolic compounds are potentially corrosive and prolonged skin exposures can cause severe skin irritation or burns. If the animals ingest or groom material off contaminated skin they may develop irritation or burns of the mouth and tongue as well. They may therefore vomit or salivate excessively. In severe exposures such substances could be absorbed across damaged skin and cause systemic signs such as breathing difficulties, hyperthermia or even shock. Luckily severe cases are very rare, but so are animal specific warnings on such products and therefore this commitment by a major manufacturer like Reckitt Benckiser is most laudable.'
A MULTI PURPOSE SPRAY, BUT NOT A CAT DETERRENT
A reader's letter was printed in the Daily Mail suggesting that WD40 could be sprayed on hard surfaces in gardens – for example, bricks, walls, flowerbed edging - to deter cats. The letter writer said: ‘It really works and is more plant and animal friendly than the caustic oven cleaner I once tried.'
Unfortunately, the Daily Mail failed to check the validity of this statement or to publish the letter FAB submitted after consulting the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS). Alex Campbell of the VPIS told FAB that WD40 contains petroleum distillates which can be a considerable irritant to the skin and particularly foot-pads of cats and dogs. Exposure to the liquid could result in blisters, inflammation and burning. Subsequent grooming of the fur and skin may then result in severe irritation to the mucous membranes of their mouths. The letter writer may also find that his plants suffer over a period of time and WD40 is not particularly environmentally friendly as it is flammable, quite volatile and does not mix well with water.
CHOCOLATE BAN FOR CATS
It is generally well-known that chocolate is dangerous for dogs. Cocoa mulch used on gardens can also cause problems as it contains significant quantities of the methylxanthine alkaloid theobromine, which is particularly toxic to dogs. Although it appears that cats do not find chocolate or cocoa mulch as attractive or appetising as their canine counterparts, the Veterinary Poisons Information Service reports that some cats have experienced gastrointestinal discomfort after eating chocolate. Reaction has been much less severe than in dogs but as only a few cases have been reported it is too early to state categorically that exposure to these products is less problematic for cats. The VPIS manager, Alex Campbell, offers this advice:
‘As anything can be toxic in excess it is probably good policy to avoid feeding cats foods intended for human consumption and one should limit access to gardening materials such as cocoa mulches if you have a cat that is more inquisitive and less fastidious than average.'
A vase of lilies may look pretty standing on your table, but if you have a cat, beware!
The plants of the lilium species are among the most dangerous for cats. These include day lily (hemerocalis species), Easter lily, stargazer, rubrum, tiger and Asiatic lilies (all of the Lilium family). Symptoms of poisoning from these plants include protracted vomiting, anorexia and depression and ingestion can cause severe, possibly fatal, kidney damage.
Hidden dangers of plants
Lilies are one of several plants toxic to cats
Most of us are surrounded by plants, both wild and cultivated, in our homes and gardens and come to no harm. However, a small percentage of these plants have the potential to cause harm to ourselves and our cats.
Who is at risk ?
Most cats are fastidious creatures and are careful what they eat. Poisoning in cats is therefore generally rare. It is the young, inquisitive cat or kitten that is most at risk of eating harmful plants, particularly household ones. Boredom also has a part to play. When a cat is confined to a run or lives entirely indoors hazardous plants should be removed from its environment. Cats given free access to the outside world tend to have other things to occupy their minds than sampling unfamiliar vegetation. But even free roaming adult cats may accidentally ingest needles or seeds that have become entangled in their coat during grooming.
Cats don't eat plants !
All plants, even grass, can have an irritating effect on a cat's gastrointestinal system causing them to vomit. But, given the opportunity, cats like to nibble on grass. When not available their attention may turn to often less suitable household plants. Tender plants are generally a favourite. Particularly dangerous is Diffenbachia (dumb cane).
Remove all potentially hazardous household plants to prevent unnecessary exposure. This is especially important for kittens or cats kept indoors. A list of plants that are unsuitable to grow in a house with cats is given below.
Outdoors the story is not so simple. Free roaming cats have access to many gardens so it will be impossible to prevent all possible contact with potentially harmful plants. You can however remove the most toxic plants from your garden and make a note of any in your neighbour's gardens that are potentially dangerous. List common and Latin names. This list may help your vet if poisoning is suspected.
You can also ensure that any new additions to the garden are safe. The Horticultural Trade Association has a code of practice for its members and most garden centres and nurseries label plants that are toxic or cause skin reactions. Plants are grouped into three categories: A Poisonous; B Toxic if eaten; and C Harmful if eaten. You are unlikely to find a category A plant on sale - Poison Ivy being one example. Category B plants should be avoided. After gardening, never leave hedge clippings or uprooted plants near pets. Their novelty value may encourage inquisitive chewing. Sap from damaged stems can cause skin irritation as well as being poisonous. Bulbs, rhizomes and roots can be the most hazardous parts of some plants.
Has my cat been poisoned ?
A veterinary surgeon should be contacted immediately if your cat suddenly collapses, has repeated vomiting or severe diarrhoea or shows signs of excessive irritation (red, swollen, blistering or raw) of skin of the mouth or throat. Cats that are lethargic and off their food for a day or more may also have ingested something unsuitable and professional help should be sought. If you see your cat eat something that you suspect to be poisonous do not attempt to make the cat vomit. Take the cat to the vet with a sample of the plant - or even better a plant label. This will help the vet to find a treatment or antidote to the poison. Make a note of the time of eating and any symptoms. Several days may pass between the ingestion of the undesirable material and the effects.
It is more common for plants to cause skin irritation in gardeners than to poison them. Contact with the leaves, stems or sap of certain plants can cause rashes and hypersensitivity to sunlight resulting in sunburn. In cats these plants may cause blistering or itching of the mouth and gums. Occasionally this is misdiagnosed as gingivitis. Sneezing and eye problems can also be caused through contact with these plants. Contact with the leaves of food plants such as tomato, strawberry, rhubarb, parsnips, carrot, celery, marrow and cucumbers may all potentially affect the cat in this way. Geranium and Primula leaves can also cause similar skin irritation. Many plants that are poisonous when eaten may also have the potential to cause skin irritation on contact with leaves or sap. These are indicated in the list below.
The following is a fairly comprehensive list of plants that are potentially poisonous or harmful to your cat when eaten. Contact with some of the plants listed may be sufficient to cause skin irritation (marked *) It is often the fruit or seeds of plants that are potentially harmful. Many of us are already familiar with plants that carry really toxic berries such as Deadly Nightshade. Only a small quantity of these need to be eaten for a fatal result. Other plants in the list may come as a surprise - Daffodils for example. Here, however, it is the bulb that causes harm if ingested.
The fact that the list contains some very common plants should not be cause for concern. Most of these potentially harmful plants taste bad and are unlikely to be eaten in sufficient quantities to cause permanent damage. Woody garden plants are also unlikely to be eaten by your cat - tender household plants pose most risk.
Castor Oil Plant, see Ricinus
Christmas Cherry, see Solanum
Chrysanthemum, see Dendranthema
Croton, see Codiaeum
Dumb cane, see Dieffenbachia
Devil's Ivy, see Epipremnum aureum
Elephant's Ear, see Alocasia, Caladium
Holly, see Ilex
Ivy, see Hedera
Mistletoe, see Viscum
Oleander see Nerium
Poinsettia, see Euphorbia
Star of Bethlehem, see Ornithogalum umbellatum
Umbrella Plant, see Schefflera
Zebra Plant, see Aphelandra
Angel's Trumpets, see Brugmansia
Angel Wings, see Caladium
Apricot, see Prunus armeniaca
Avocado, see Persea americana
Azalea, see Rhododendron
Baneberry, see Actaea
Bird of Paradise, see Strelitzia
Black-eyed Susan, see Thunbergia
Bloodroot, see Sanguinaria
Box, see Buxus
Broom, see Cytisus
Buckthorn, see Rhamnus
Burning Bush, see Dictamnus
Buttercup, see Ranunculus
Cherry Laurel see Prunus laurocerasus
Chincherinchee see Ornithogalum
Chrysanthemum see Dendranthema
Columbine see Aquilegia
Corncockle, see Agrostemma githago
Cornflower, see Centaurea cyanus
Crocus, see Colchicum
x Cupressocyparis leylandii *
Daffodil, see Narcissus
Elder, see Sambucus
False acacia, see Robinia
Flax see Linum
Frangula see Rhamnus
Foxglove see Digitalis
Four o'clock: see Mirabilis jalapa
Giant Hog Weed, see Heracleum mantegazzianum
Glory Lily see Gloriosa
Hemlock, see Conium
Henbane, see Hyoscyamus
Holly, see Ilex
Horse-chestnut, see Aesculus
Ivy, see Hedera
Larkspur, see Delphinium
Lily of the Valley, see Convallaria
Lobelia (except bedding Lobelia) *
Lords and Ladies (Cuckoo pint), see Arum
Madagascar periwinkle, see Catharanthus
Marigold, see Tagetes
Monkswood, see Aconitum
Morning Glory, see Ipomoea
Nightshade, deadly, see Atropa
Nightshade, woody, see Solanum
Oak, see Quercus
Onion, see Allium
Peach, see Prunus persica
Peony, see Paeonia
Pokeweed, see Phytolacca
Poppy, see Papaver
Primula obconica *
Privet see Ligustrum
Rhamus (including R.frangula)
Rosary pea, see Abrus precatorius
Rubber plant, see Ficus
Rue, see Ruta
Skunk cabbage, see Lysichiton
Snowdrop, see Galanthus
Solomon's seal, see Polygonatum
Spindle Tree, see Euonymus
Spurge, see Euphorbia
Sumach, see Rhus
Sweet pea, see Lathyrus
Tobacco, see Nicotiana
Tomato, see Lycopersicon
Thornapple, see Datura
Yew, see Taxus
* Contact with these plants may be sufficient to cause skin irritation
Information sourced: http://www.fabcats.org/owners/poisons/article.html
The information is the opinion of the writer in the link to the website provided and is not a substitute for veterinary/professional advice.
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