Although cats tend to sometimes be a bit wiser than dogs when it comes to eating things off the ground, oral toxicities are still encountered in Small Animal Practice, some quite often – and some with some malicious intents.
So let’s have a look at some common toxicities you might deal with when you have cats coming down to your practice.
Although more and more rare (and much more rare in cats than dogs), some owners still try to give good old paracetamol when their kitty cat is not quite right. More rarely, some curious cats chew on some forgotten packet. Unfortunately, since many times these are well-meaning owners, this means we may be presented late with these cases, and also inducing vomiting is a bit more tricky in cats than in dogs. However, other times we get some activated charcoal and acetylcysteine fairly easily and can try to do something for these cats.
Also known as anti-freeze, it is widely available and used in the UK (hint – it’s usually icy in the winter). Anti-freeze is toxic both for dogs and cats, but cats are quite a bit more at risk due to the small amount they need to ingest to develop toxicity. Unfortunately, this is likely a common toxicity you will encounter and oftentimes there is some suspicion the poisoning might be intentional 🙁 Other times, it’s just an environmental contaminant and cats will drink it from contaminated puddles. These cats present in many different ways, but often truly appear “drunk” when in the consultation room (markedly ataxic), as well as presenting signs related to acute renal injury, such as vomiting and anorexia. Diagnosis is often possible by looking at a urine sample (often easily obtained as they develop PU/PD from the renal injury) and where you can very often see calcium oxalate monohydrate crystals (sometimes even without spinning down the sediment), which are often quite typical. Treatment is usually quite aggressive and some people even use real vodka (yes!) diluted and given IV to compete with the ethylene glycol. Sadly, many of these cats don’t survive or are eventually euthanised as they often already present with markedly altered renal parameters.
Lilies are scary – but some cats bathe in lily gardens and are fine, while others develop acute renal injury from licking pollen from their paws. This is because while most lilies are toxic, there are a few that aren’t. However, it’s safer to not have any lilies in households with cats! All parts of the lily are toxic, which is why even those cats that have pollen in their coat should be brushed and potentially placed on IV support to aid with potential renal failure. These cats are often placed on fluids for at least 24 hours and also given activated charcoal. However, sometimes it can be quite hard to convince the owners to treat something that does not exist, as they often present with history of being in contact/eating lilies but without obvious clinical signs. When they do show clinical signs, they tend to be related to anorexia, vomiting and polyuria/polydipsia, often related to the underlying renal damage.
Despite these common toxicities, there are others also seen in cats, such as metaldehyde (from slug baits), permethrin (yes, some people still make that mistake) or organophosphonates. The VPIS has amazing information about all sorts of toxicity and for practices that are members can be an amazing help.
For others that like quick guides, the VPIS has also partnered with BSAVA to create the Guide to Common Canine and Feline Poisons.