Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Cats > Cat Poisoning: How It Happens, Symptoms & Care (Vet Answer)

Cat Poisoning: How It Happens, Symptoms & Care (Vet Answer)

sick cat

Vet approved

Dr. Lauren Demos Photo

Written by

Dr. Lauren Demos

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Having a sick cat is always a concern; they are furry family, and we want them to be well. But some instances of sickness can be potentially more severe than others, and may require immediate intervention to improve the chances of speedy recovery. Cat poisoning is one of those illnesses.

Cats aren’t typically prone to eat a lot of inappropriate substances (compared to dogs, anyway!). However, it can still happen. For instance, some things may smell quite sweet to your cat (such as antifreeze), and others may be ingested during the grooming process—as we all know how fastidious cats are in general. In such cases, cat poisoning is a potential risk to be aware of.

This article will examine a few of the more common cat poisoning situations, how they happen, symptoms of such illnesses, and the care required.

divider-catWhat is Cat Poisoning?

Cat poisoning, by definition, is the ingestion of any foreign substance that has a negative impact on the body. This can include substances that pose no problems in other species, but can cause marked illness in cats, due to their unique physiology.

Most cat poisoning occurs by ingestion of a substance—by either eating, drinking, or grooming the substance in question. This can include things, such as rat bait, antifreeze, or lead paint dust. However, some poisonings can occur in less common ways as well. This can include ingestion of applied flea treatments that are meant for dogs, but toxic to cats—either in topical form (applied to the skin), or in aerosolized forms (such as essential oil burners.

tired sick cat
Image Credit: natata, Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of Cat Poisoning?

Poisoning in cats may have various different presentations, depending on how much of the poison the cat was exposed to, for how long the exposure occurred, the overall health status of the cat, and their age, amongst others factors.

Signs of cat poisoning can include:
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Hiding
  • Diarrhea
  • Changes in mentation (dull, obtund, etc.)
  • Vocalizing
  • Pain
  • Fast or labored breathing
  • Change in frequency of urination or defecation

What Are the Causes of Cat Poisoning?

Causes of cat poisoning can be broken down into a few main categories, including food, medications, plants, and others. Some common causes of cat poisoning from each of these categories include:

  • Grapes and raisins
  • Chocolate
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Antifreeze
  • Certain household cleaners
  • Illicit drugs
  • Certain essential oils
  • Weed killers
  • Slug and rat baits
  • Salt lamps

How Do I Care for a Cat with Poisoning?

Cats with poisoning should receive immediate veterinary care, even if you are unsure of how much of the poison was ingested, or when the poisoning may have occurred. Any suspicion is enough to warrant quick veterinary intervention, as this may mean the difference between life and death, depending on the poison.

Further, some cats may initially seem fine after being exposed to certain posions, but may quietly be succumbing to the greater effects of the toxin. Lilies are a great example of something this can happen with, as is antifreeze. Both can have huge impacts on kidney function, leading to kidney failure; but in early stages, very few signs may be noted.

Depending on the poison, cats will be treated in different ways. Some may undergo a process to bind the poison within the GI tract and minimize absorption. For some toxins, this may not be possible, so IV fluids may be used to attempt to flush the toxin out through the urinary tract and dilute its effect on the body. Topical poisons may require bathing the cat, to decontaminate the haircoat and minimize absorption.

Sick cat
Image Credit: Kachalkina Veronika, Shutterstock

divider-catFrequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why are cats more prone to poisoning than other species?

Cats are smaller in size, meaning they are more likely to be affected by smaller volumes of poisons. Further, and more importantly, they have a more difficult time metabolizing many substances—generally, due to their unique physiology, which makes them prone to deleterious effects of any substance, poisonous or not.

As cats are also fastidious groomers, they are more likely to ingest substances while grooming as well. And some anecdotal suggestions reason that, because cats spend more time closer to the floor and under furniture, they may be exposed to substances, such as floor cleaners and certain flame retardants that larger species, such as big dogs and humans, would otherwise be better able to avoid.

poor old sick cat with hematoma on ear and inflammated eyes
Image Credit:, Shutterstock

What can I do to prevent poisoning in my cat?

Ensuring that you use pet-safe products in your home is a good start, especially when it comes to cleaning products. Do not give your cat any medications unless they are specifically prescribed by your vet, and known to be safe for cats. This means that, even though a medication may be licensed for use in dogs, you cannot necessarily assume that it is safe for cats.


Poisoning in cats is a real concern, and an urgent one if you suspect it has occurred. Immediate veterinary attention is the best course of action to ensure your cat has the best chance of recovery from cat poisoning. In many cases, cats exposed to different poisons can make a full recovery, if treated promptly and appropriately. Cat poisoning should never be dealt with at home, unless specifically directed by your veterinarian.

Featured Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets