Last month, an employee of the National Zoo, was charged with attempted animal cruelty for allegedly trying to poison feral cats in her Columbia Heights neighborhood by putting out cat food laced with antifreeze and rat poison. The Washington Humane Society caught her actions on video tape after some area residents alerted them to the problem. The case has not yet come to trial and the employee has not been fired or suspended from her duties at the National Zoo despite an urgent request from Alley Cat Allies that she be at least suspended pending the outcome of her case. Yet – as sad as this case is – malicious poisoning of cats is not as common as you may think.
According to the ASPCA Poison Control Center -- who averages 375 calls daily from pet guardians and veterinarians regarding possible pet poisonings – most cases of pet poisoning are not malicious but happen accidentally. So understanding how pets are poisoned is the easiest way to prevent it from happening in the first place.
The most common source of pet poisoning – 25% of the calls to the poison control center -- comes from medicating them for common illnesses with human drugs. Well-meaning pet parents try to diagnose and treat their pets without seeking the advice of a veterinarian – and don’t realize that many prescription and over-the-counter drugs safe for humans are toxic to their pets. These include a variety of pain killers, cold and flu medications and anti-depressants. Even medications that are safe for both pets and humans need to be dosed properly and that requires the input of a veterinarian as well.
For cats – another 20% of the calls to the Poison Control Center – comes from the use of flea and tick medications formulated for dogs. Although cats and dogs share many common parasites the medications safe for dogs can be life-threatening to cats. Since many families find it easier to get the dog to the vet than the cat they may be tempted to treat the cat based on what the veterinarian recommends for the dog. Big mistake! Cats are not small dogs. When they have parasites or are ill, take them in for diagnosis – in the long run it will be cheaper than dealing with the aftermath of not.
Rounding out the list of the top ten toxins to pets are rodenticides, people food, flavored veterinary medications, chocolate, household cleaning supplies, plants, herbicides and outdoor toxins like antifreeze and fertilizers. See the poison control center web site for a detailed list.
Keeping your cats indoors and cat-proofing your home to ensure potential sources of poison are out of their reach is your first defense against poisoning. If you do suspect that your cat has been poisoned call a vet immediately – and – get in touch with the ASPCA Poison Control Center. Time is of the essence. And to learn in more detail about the manifestations of the most common feline toxicities, read our veterinary scholarship paper on the subject.