Cat surrounded by plants.
While cats love to explore, they can sometimes find things that they shouldn't. It's important to know what toxins to look out for in your home. Photo Credit: Emelia Turner

Is your house safe for your cat?

Cat owners may not know it but the home poses some unexpected risks to felines, including flowers, cleaning products and human medications.

With their curious nature, cats have a tendency to explore places, or eat things, that they shouldn’t.

And while their antics can be endearing, they can also lead to serious health risks if they ingest something toxic.

Cat owners who are unaware of the everyday household items that can be dangerous or deadly to their pets are at risk of unknowingly exposing their pets to these hazards.

Over 50% of UK adults are not aware that lilies, one of the most lethal toxins, can be fatal to their cats. All parts of a lily, including the stem and the water that it sits in, are poisonous, not just the pollen.

Head of Service for the Veterinary Poison Information Service (VPIS), Dr Nicola Robinson, 51, London, says: “We’ve had cases where a cat has got renal damage because it drank the water that the lilies were in.”

White an pink lilies.
Eating any part of the lily or drinking water from the vase can cause serious kidney failure, even in small amounts. Photo Credit: Anita Jankovic on Unsplash

Symptoms of poisoning generally appear within 6-12 hours of ingestion, and kidney failure can develop in under 72 hours.

“No-one with cats should have lilies in their house,” says Dr Robinson.

Fortunately, some plant stores now offer cat-friendly plant categories on their websites, and supermarkets are beginning to add warning labels to flowers, particularly lilies. These simple yet effective measures help cat owners make safer choices and reduces the risk of accidental poisonings.

Launched in 1992, VPIS has assisted with over 280,000 cases, many of which involved cats getting something harmful on their skin, such as engine oil or household cleaners.

“Cats roam around outside and often hide under cars. These cars may be dripping engine oil, which can get on the cat’s coat, and the cat will then groom this off,” Dr Robinson says.

“Unlike dogs, cats are more likely to be exposed to ammonium compounds, which are found in products such as cleaners, disinfectants, and antifreeze.” To reduce the risk of a cat being harmed by these, “it’s important to rinse surfaces after cleaning to ensure no residue is left behind.”

While acids cause immediate pain upon contact, alkaline substances like oven cleaner do not produce instant effects and can go unnoticed. However, if a cat comes into contact with oven cleaner, such as through drips from the oven door, it will eventually develop burns on its skin and tongue and will require decontamination.

Medicated creams, especially psoriasis cream, also pose a serious risk to cats if licked off their owner’s skin. To lower this risk, owners should wash their hands after applying creams to prevent transferring them to the cat’s fur during petting. Dr Robinson says that “paracetamol is also really horrendous. If a cat had just a fifth of a tablet, they would need to have intravenous treatment for at least two days.”

Though many people enjoy having them in their home, another cat toxin is essential oils. “Cats love knocking thing of sides, windowsills, and tables,” Dr Robinson says. “One thing we find is that they will knock off reed diffusers which have essential oils in them.”

As with dogs, chocolate is poisonous to cats as well, along with other foods such as onions, green or sprouting potatoes, grapes, raisins, and salt. Mouldy food is also particularly problematic, so Dr Robinson advises, “If you have a greedy cat, make sure your food bin is secure and away from them, as they can easily flip the lid off and eat the food inside.”

Cat owner Rhianna Hopkins, 21, Birmingham, stresses the importance of creating a safe environment for cats. “I keep products like bleach, washing detergents, and medications in cupboards so that my cats are not able to reach them,” she says.

Black cat by window.
Bella, 4, is prone to seizures so Rhianna ensures that the correct dosage of medication is given to avoid intoxication. Photo Credit: Rhianna Hopkins

She also underscores the necessity of pet insurance. “We keep Connie and Bella insured to make sure they can receive the best care if something were to happen.”

The cost of treating a poisoned cat can stretch far into the thousands, so pet insurance is crucial to ensure your cat receives the necessary treatment without financial constraints.

Tortoiseshell cat sleeping.
Tortoiseshell cat, Connie, 10, was adopted by Rhianna when she was a kitten, almost 10 years ago. Photo Credit: Rhianna Hopkins

“I think cat owners definitely need to be more informed about the things that can potentially harm and poison their animals,” Rhianna says.

“If there’s something you’re not sure about, you must get accurate information. Google is not our friend for poisoning cases. Nor is social media,” says Dr Robinson. “A lot of people say things online to cause alarm, even though the case may not be as severe as you think.”

However, for severe toxins such as lilies or antifreeze, it’s vital to seek help immediately. “If you wait until signs start, by that point there is nothing that can be done,” Dr Robinson warns.

She recognises that cat owners can’t be aware of every toxin, given how many there are, but it’s crucial to be familiar with the most harmful ones and stay vigilant.