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Shelter Medicine: Poison Control

Keeping kitties safe from common substances

  • Common over-thecounter painkillers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be lethal to cats. Jordache/Shutterstock.com

Shelters and rescues work hard to keep their cats happy and healthy, providing them with food, space, enrichment, and plenty of TLC. Yet dangers can lurk in unexpected places: There are a surprising number of toxic substances that cats could encounter in a shelter or foster home setting. Cats may be exposed because they chew or ingest toxic materials; they may come in contact with chemicals and lick them off of their paws or fur; and sometimes, well-meaning caregivers may unknowingly administer treatments that are toxic to cats.

Indeed, cats are uniquely sensitive to toxicity, more so than humans and even more than dogs, who—while vulnerable to many toxins—can metabolize certain substances that can do great harm to cats. This metabolic deficiency, combined with cats’ small body weight, makes them prone to severe or fatal toxic reactions when exposed to even small amounts of particular substances.

The good news is that a little education can prevent accidental toxicity. Shelter staff and rescuers must be aware of the common substances and products that pose significant danger to cats; these include common insecticides (such as those used for flea control in dogs or for the lawn and garden), rodenticides (e.g. rat poisons), disinfectants (including some of the most commonly used shelter and home products), certain painkillers including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen, meloxicam) and acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), baby foods that contain onion powder, and flowers of the lily family. Some antibiotics may also pose a threat, and improper administration of certain vaccines can also be a serious problem.

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