The Most Common & Serious Poisons Of Cats

Updated November 23, 2021

In 2020, the American Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) published its data on poisonings in cats. It’s the best information we have on household dangers to our feline friends.

From a cat-owner’s perspective, it contain two important lists: the top 5 reported poisonings and the top 20 fatalities. As you’ll see, these are quite different.

The Top 5 Poisons Of Cats

  1. Lilies, typically as cut flowers in vases
  2. Spot-on permethrin flea treatments made for dogs
  3. Glow sticks or jewellery (ie, dibutyl phthalate)
  4. Ibuprofen (Nurofen®, Advil® etc)
  5. Dracaena plants (Lucky Bamboo most commonly)

These are good to know, and easy to prevent.

Serious as they are, only Dracaena appears in the next list. You’ll see it’s mentioned as well in my guide to safe plants for a cat garden.

The Top 20 Most Fatal Cat Poisons

The APCC have also listed their known fatalities in order of the percent of reported cats that died. I’ve linked each poison to its relevant Wikipedia page if you want to read more. See my comments afterwards.

Fatal Poisons Of Cats% FatalWhat is it?
Bifenthrin67Insecticide mostly for termites & ants
Borax60Insecticide mostly in ant baits
Metronidazole*60Antibiotic used in cats
Nitrogen55Possibly nitrogenous fertliiser
Bromethalin55Rat poison (not Australia)
Methimazole*50Cat medication
Minoxidil47Human medication
DEET46Insect repellent
Ethylene glycol45Engine coolant antifreeze
S-methoprene41Cat flea treatment
Sulfurated lime solution40Old mite & ringworm treatment
Selamectin*39Cat medication
Dracaena spp35‘Lucky bamboo’ & others
Meloxicam*35Cat & human medication
Pyrethrin (nonspecific)30Generally dog flea products
Acetaminophen28‘Paracetamol’ in Australia
Multivitamin*27Cat & human medication
Enrofloxacin*26Cat medication
Tramadol hydrochloride*25Cat & human medication
Mirtazapine*24Cat & human medication

Key Findings

This list helps us understand which are the toxins of greatest importance. It even highlights two that haven’t been on our radar before. These are:

  • Bifenthrin: used in Australia as a long-acting residual chemical to control outdoor pests. Cats are probably being poisoned when it gets on their bodies and they lick it off.
  • Minoxidil: a liquid medicine for human male-pattern hair loss sold as Regaine®. Read more about minoxidil plus Voltaren and hair dyes here– two more very serious potential poisons.

The others are less surprising, and mostly self-explanatory. But we haven’t finished yet…

Problems With The List

The APCC works by taking reports directly from the public. Therefore, while it gives us a unique insight directly into US homes, it is also badly affected by misreporting and misattribution.

All the drugs marked with an asterisk (*) are commonly used medications of cats. In every case it’s almost impossible that they have the fatality rates described. Some of them are being used in sick or dying cats, leading owners to blame them, not the underlying disease. Others are just so commonly used that many cats will die while taking them.

Similarly, borax is a poison generally considered to be of low toxicity. I too get many enquiries about it (Ant Rid®), but it seems mostly harmless to pets.

Therefore, here is a revised list of cat toxins, in order of toxicity.

The Top 10 USA Cat Poisons

RankFatal Poisons Of Cats
1Bifenthrin
2Nitrogen
3Bromethalin
4Minoxidil
5DEET
6Ethylene glycol
7Sulfurated lime solution
8Dracaena spp
9Pyrethrin (nonspecific)
10Acetaminophen/paracetamol

In closing, let me say that I wrestled with whether to publish this list in light of the recent spate of baitings in Adelaide parks. However, if you look at the sorts of toxicities these are, they aren’t deliberate. They’re caused by accidental access to household poisons.

Only by knowing them can we prevent them effectively.

Swirski, A. L., Pearl, D. L., Berke, O., & O’Sullivan, T. L. (2020). Companion animal exposures to potentially poisonous substances reported to a national poison control center in the United States in 2005 through 2014. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association257(5), 517-530

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

Andrew

7 Replies to “The Most Common & Serious Poisons Of Cats”

  1. Andrew,
    Thankyou vey much for sending me your page.
    I didn’t get to say goodbye to Cody.
    He was in the hospital on an IV, and alone.
    It breaks my heart in two.
    I went to visit him 2 times on 8/31,
    And both times he tried to come out of the kennel for me to take him home.
    I went into the kennel to be as close to him as I could, but I told him ‘not sweetheart, one more night and hopefully we can be home tomorrow’.
    I had taken him a toy, and clothes with my scent, and Catey and Abby’s too, so he could have that close to him.
    He was having to stay another night because his Bun and Creatinine was improving a little and the vet thought one more night and see how he was on 9/1.
    I completely believed Cody was coming home to us.
    The vet said Cody looks to have had a heart attack. He said iir was quick, within seconds.
    I couldn’t even be there for him when he passed. It had to be horrible for him,
    I would have held him.
    I cry more now even thinking about it.
    He was always here for me. Always.
    He followed me everywhere. He was my constant companion. There will only ever be one Cody.
    I long for the day that it will get better
    Andrew, but I don’t know when it will ever come.
    His sister Catey is so sad. We play but it isn’t the same without Cody.
    Abby, my 15 yr old cat, Cody&Catey’s sister, is feeling just as sad . They keep looking for him. Me too.

    I appreciate being able to share my thoughts with you
    Although you are thousands of miles away.
    I know you have a good heart and you understand.
    I don’t know how I found you, but I’m very thankful that I did.
    You are a blessing at this time.
    Thank you again Andrew.
    Sincerely.
    Debi

  2. It’s also important for you to know That when I took Cody in on August 16th
    It was a ‘sixth sense’ feeling that I just felt he needed to be checked. He had no outward symptoms of anything, except possibly constipation which he had never had before.
    I asked the vet check him all over
    Teeth, lab work UA just to be sure he was all good, and that’s when I found out about his kidneys.

  3. My cat caused a pinhole in a AA alkaline
    Battery. I found the battery in October,
    I was able to trace back to June when he did it.
    He passed away in September from kidney failure. Is it possible that it was caused by the exposure to the battery.
    I am agonizing over this.
    Labs were done and so was UA, Which diagnosed kidney failure.
    Again looking back and reliving the last several months, and Now after reading everything I can find on the signs that if he had been exposed he would’ve had clinically, I can say that he was never symptomatic in anyway. I wouldn’t have known the cause, but I would have seen something was definitely wrong, but he was completely asymptomatic.
    I am praying for some closure, and praying even more that it wasn’t my fault what happened to him he was my boy, I haven’t missed a day of crying over losing him.
    The incident happened in June, and he passed away September 1.

    My Cody was only almost 6 years old. I have his sister, Catey, and I worry about her too now because they were rescues from a TNR program, and they were never retested for FELV/FIV
    I also have my Kitty Abby that is almost 16 and is such a sweet girl
    I’m Hoping so much that you can help me.
    Thank you so much for reading my comment/post.
    We are three broken hearts.

    1. Hi Debi. I’m not aware of any reports of AA alkaline batteries causing kidney failure and think it would be extremely unlikely. As you can see from my more recent post on household cat poisons, they are masters at being exposed to anything around the house, and even if it was a toxicity you’re unlikely to be able to ever work it out. However, these things happen and you shouldn’t feel responsible. I lost my previous dog at the same age to snakebite and despite it being just one of those things I never really forgave myself.

      1. Thank you so much Andrew. I appreciate you so very much for responding, and I can have some peace in knowing Cody wouldn’t have died from that exposure to kidney failure. He had no symptoms of anything looking back to June. I know some of those symptoms would have to be there even though I wouldn’t have known why, it would have gotten my attention. Like you said though they hide so much.
        I didn’t know he had kidney failure. My vet told me he could have had if for months or years.
        It is something we go through when we lose one of our beloved ones.
        They love us unconditionally and if something happens we blame ourselves.
        I will always think there is something
        I could have done to make it turn out that he could still be here. It scared me so bad when I found that battery, and began to panic that it could have been the cause.
        I’m so sorry you lost your little one too.
        If there was anything you could have done, you would have done it, and your baby knows.
        I believe my Cody knows too.
        I love him so much. I won’t ever get over him.
        We do know where they are though.
        In a perfect heaven where we will be with them again.
        Again, Andrew,I appreciate you so much.
        The heartache will remain, however now, you have given me some peace, and it means more than you could ever know.
        I pray you may have peace too.
        When I say I know how you feel, I really do.
        Sincerely,
        Debi
        ❤️❤️

  4. We have changed our flea treatments from Advocate to Revolution and NEXgard so they won’t be any future mix-ups with the cat and dog treatments.

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