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Steps to take specifically for cats exposed to toxins

Siamese cat
compiled by Dr. Jo Olver

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA —  Cats do strange things, but a cat showing abnormal behavior is a poisoning (toxin) suspect.

If you think your cat has gotten into something toxic, there are steps for you to take immediately while arranging a veterinary visit. Some substances damage the skin itself (in much the same way as a hot burn), while others are only toxic if your cat licks them off. Assume it’s a toxin until you know otherwise.

If you suspect what the product was, read the packaging for information. Advise the veterinarian.

Some specific problems for cats include:


If your cat has something on her hair, such as the dog’s spot flea/ tick preventative, start with a bath with Dawn dish soap. Yes, use Dawn because it’s effective and safe at removing toxins from the fur and skin of animals exposed to a wide variety of hazardous substances.  If you do not have Dawn brand then use any liquid dish soap available. 

Permethrin, a chemical contained in various flea and tick products for dogs, is potentially lethal for cats. Never use a canine parasite control product on your cat, no matter what it is. Do not allow your cats to mingle with your dogs for 72 hours after application of one of these products, as even contact with the “greasy spot” between your dog’s shoulder blades can make your cat deathly ill.

The product package will list ingredients – here is where you will find the ingredients which might be a problem for your cat.


A number of human foods, including grapes, garlic, onions, and chocolate, can be toxic to cats if ingested in sufficient quantities. Don’t Share Food… no matter how much they beg!  Some items that you consider tasty treats may be dangerous for your pet. As tempting as it might be to share your food or drink with your four-legged friend, please resist! Some of the hazardous edible household things include: Alcohol, Avocado, Caffeine, Chocolate, Fatty foods, Garlic, Grapes and raisins.  Macadamia nuts.  Marijuana.  Onions.  Salt.  Tobacco, including e-cigarettes.  Yeast products.


This sweetener commonly found in chewing gum and human foods is toxic to cats. If you find chewing gum containing xylitol on your cat’s fur, some vegetable oil can loosen the offending substance so you can remove it, or cut it off with scissors.


Your first-aid kit should include sterile saline solution or an ophthalmic saline solution to flush your cat’s eyes if she gets something in them.  Make a veterinary appointment as soon as possible after a thorough flush, since the cornea and other sensitive tissues will need to be checked for damage.


Keep all medications in their original containers, which show the amount of medication in each pill, liquid, or topical preparation as well as the number of pills or the volume of liquid, cream, or gel. Remember that cats can be poisoned if they are given an incorrect dose of a feline product, too. Due to their unique physiology, many human medications, including acetaminophen, are quite toxic to cats.


Essential oils such as citrus and tea tree oils can be toxic to cats if they are either inhaled in aerosol form or ingested.

Some household cleaners can cause toxicity if your cat strolls across a wet and freshly mopped floor.

A common source of potentially life-threatening feline intoxication is antifreeze ingestion. Even tiny amounts of antifreeze that drip onto a garage floor can prove fatal for cats if ingested. Cats, unfortunately, are often attracted to the taste of antifreeze.


A wide range of houseplants can be toxic to your cat. Common culprits include philodendrons, lilies, poinsettias, and rhododendrons. It is best to consult a listing of poisonous plants before bringing any home. While you may be able to safeguard your plants and your cat, it’s best to simply avoid having poisonous plants in your home.

If you let your cat go outside, check your garden and flower beds. Herbicides and some fertilizers can be toxic. Your cat can become ill simply by walking in these toxins and licking them off her paws while grooming.

Another concern for outdoor cats, depending upon where they live, is interactions with poisonous/ venomous creatures


  • •          Use caution if making the cat vomit. Some toxins can do more damage to the gastrointestinal tract and/ or lungs if they are vomited up.
  • •          Bath with Dawn or other liquid dish soap. Mixing a small amount in a cup of warm water and applying that thoroughly to the entire affect hair-coat can be a very important, and life-saving first step.
  • •          Keep your cat in a confined, indoor space so you know exactly what it is doing until you can get a veterinary checkup. Monitor your cat for three to five days for symptoms suggesting that she may not be well, such as not eating, lethargy, hiding, and hyperactivity after a known or possible exposure.

Know what hazards are out there to keep your cat safe.

You can find a list of potential feline toxins on the Cornell Feline Health Center’s website at:

(Sourced from CatWatch Newsletter March 18, 2024)