Many substances are available to cats during the winter and holiday season. Antifreeze is deadly. Just a few sips from an antifreeze puddle on your garage floor or the licking of paws after walking through a puddle can produce symptoms within 30 minutes such as staggering, vomiting, weakness, listlessness, frequent drinking, and urination that could be followed hours later by coma and death. After four hours, the ethylene glycol in antifreeze causes severe kidney damage that is irreversible. If treated without delay, the veterinarian will induce vomiting, administer activated charcoal to bind the antifreeze in the gastrointestinal tract and give the cat intravenous ethyl alcohol (ethanol) for three days or longer. The ethanol works by competing for the enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase, that metabolizes ethylene glycol into toxic components. Keep a bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide on hand in case your veterinarian tells you to induce vomiting before bringing your cat in. To reduce exposure of your cat to ethylene glycol, choose a product such as Sierra®, made from propylene glycol, as these are much less toxic.
During the holiday season potpourri is abundant. Potpourri is frequently used to add fragrance to your house by simmering in water in decorative pots. Most potpourri liquids contain natural or essential oils which can cause vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhea, weakness, and possibly liver damage. Some products can also burn the mouth and tongue and should it get in the cat’s eyes or on its skin, the pain can be severe. If treated quickly by a veterinarian, most cats recover within a few days.
Mistletoe can be poisonous to children and pets. Although mistletoe is sometimes used to treat cancer, arthritis, and other conditions and diseases, it can prove fatal when ingested by children or pets. Real mistletoe should never be displayed in homes at the holidays.
Poinsettia is also toxic, however mildly. It is irritating to the mouth and stomach, sometimes causing vomiting, but not fatal.
If you suspect your cat may have ingested a toxic substance, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center which is staffed by veterinarians and veterinary toxicologists, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A consultation fee may be required which helps pay for the Center to operate since it does not receive state or federal funding. Contact them at 1-888-426-4435 or visit their website for information on toxic foods, medicines, battery poisonings, etc. and plants that are toxic and safe.
Taking the Nip Out of Winter
By following the tips below, you can keep your cat safe and warm in the coming months:
- Place your cat’s bed above the floor in a draft-free location. Placing a flannel sheet or fleece throw over it can help your cat generate heat.
- Before getting into your car, bang on your car’s hood and/or blow the horn before starting the engine, to make sure there are no cats sleeping inside to keep warm.
- If your cat goes outside, make sure you wipe his paws off to remove any salt or chemicals from his feet. Keep your cat away from antifreeze which, if made with ethylene glycol, is deadly.
- If you’d like to heat your cat’s bed, use only cat safe beds designed specifically to be used for cats. You can visit Amazon to find some electric, hot bottle, or self-generating heated beds and pads.