Avoid toxic substances during holiday traditions

By Dr Beth Leermakers

Many holiday- and non-holiday-related household items are toxic to pets.
Photo courtesy of Linda Raymond/Getty Images

As my foster dog Zena happily munched on a plant in a potential adopter’s yard, the adopters debated whether they’d removed all the poison ivy. Then we all wondered if poison ivy is toxic to dogs (it’s not). Many people are aware that poinsettias are poisonous to dogs and cats, but there are many other holiday- and non-holiday-related household items that are also toxic to pets. Because cats can jump up on tables and counters and get into more trouble, I’ll focus on cats in this column (although some items are equally toxic to dogs).

The Pet Poison Helpline lists these top 10 sources of feline poisoning:

1. Lilies. All parts of these gorgeous flowers are toxic to cats. Your cat can even get sick just by brushing up against the flower, getting pollen on his fur and then ingesting the pollen when he grooms himself. Ingesting lilies causes kidney failure in cats. These flowers are non-toxic to dogs.

2. Canine topical flea and tick medications. Topical flea and tick medicines designed for dogs and containing pyrethrin and pyrethroid insecticides are toxic if they’re applied to cats. Cats can’t metabolize these chemicals quickly and efficiently because of their liver metabolism, and the insecticides affect their nervous system. When cats are treated with flea medications containing concentrated pyrethrins, cats typically develop muscle tremors, incoordination, seizures, hyperthermia and death within a few hours if the toxicity goes untreated. Other symptoms of pyrethrin poisoning may include:

• Allergic reactions (hives, congestion, itching, respiratory distress, shock and, in rare cases, death)

• Mild reactions (paw flicking, ear twitching, hyper salivation, mild depression, vomiting and diarrhea)

• Moderate-to-serious reactions (protracted vomiting and diarrhea, depression, incoordination and muscle tremors that are different than paw flicking and ear twitching)

If your cat displays muscle tremors and incoordination, take her to the vet immediately.

3. Household cleaners. Be sure cleaning products are stored in cat-proof cabinets.

4. Anticoagulant rodenticides. Rat poison is also toxic to cats (and dogs) if it’s swallowed. These poisons prevent blood from clotting normally, leading to bleeding deficits. Don’t use rat poison in your house or yard if you have pets. Talk with your pest control professional about pet-friendly ways to manage rodents.

5. Paints and varnishes. Keep open containers away from your kitty.

6. Veterinary non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Rimadyl and Deramaxx. Hoping to help their cat, well-meaning but misinformed cat parents often administer these canine drugs. Unfortunately, canine NSAIDs aren’t safe for cats because of sensitivity and dosing issues. Some NSAIDs are intended for use in cats and are safe when administered properly. If your cat needs medication for arthritis or other painful conditions, consult your veterinarian and avoid sharing your dog’s meds with your cat. What helps your dog may harm your cat.

7. Glow sticks/glow jewelry. Although these novelty items aren’t very toxic to cats, their unpleasant taste causes drooling and agitation in curious cats who take a little nibble. To avoid the frightening sight of your drooling, distressed kitty, keep these toys out of feline range.

8. Amphetamines (human illegal drugs or prescription medications such as ADD/ADHD drugs). To avoid poisoning your cat, keep these drugs in a cat-proof medicine cabinet.

9. Acetaminophen (Tylenol in brand name or generic form). Like the NSAIDs, this drug is often administered by cat parents who are trying to help their cat. Unfortunately, ingesting as little as 10 mg of acetaminophen per kg of body weight can lead to these common symptoms of toxicity: labored breathing; swollen face, neck or limbs; hypothermia; jaundice, due to liver damage; vomiting or even coma. If your cat shows these symptoms, take her to the vet immediately.

10. Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin in brand name or generic form). Although they didn’t make the top-10 list, several other household items can also be toxic to cats:

Liquid potpourri. This fragrant product contains detergents that are corrosive to the lining of your cat’s throat and esophagus as well as essential oils that are toxic for cats.

Household insecticides. These products are safe when applied correctly but can be dangerous to pets if you don’t follow the instructions. If you’re doing your own pest control, read the label carefully to be sure the product is safe for pets. If you’re using a pest control company, be sure to tell them you have pets in your home.

Effexor (human anti-depressant). According to the poison control center, this prescription medication is particularly appealing to cats, so keep it in a cat-proof medicine cabinet.

Many flowers and plants. While lilies are the deadliest plant to cats, many other plants and flowers are also toxic to felines. Although poinsettias are toxic to cats and dogs, irritating the mouth and stomach and sometimes causing vomiting, poinsettias are “over-rated in toxicity” (i.e., not as dangerous as people think they are), according to the ASPCA’s List of Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants. Consult this list to be sure your holiday floral arrangements are safe for your pets.

Table foods. Any food that isn’t specifically formulated for cats can cause gastro-intestinal upset, including vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Avoid giving your cat these “people foods”: alcohol, chocolate, caffeinated drinks and foods, dairy products, fat trimmings, raw meat, eggs and fish (including tuna!), grapes and raisins, onions, garlic and Xylitol (sweetener used in sugar-free foods, especially gum).

By keeping these toxic substances away from your cat, you’ll keep your beloved companion safe from the most common household threats, during the holidays and throughout the year.

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