Dear Ms. Kitty,
I’m worried about my 3 year old tabby, Sturgis. He is normally a very healthy cat, but now and then he will vomit for no apparent reason and all but stop eating for a day or two and then he goes back to being his normal self. He is an indoor-only cat, so I’m not worried about antifreeze poisoning or getting into toxic weeds in the yard. And I’m fairly certain he isn’t getting into anything in the house. What else do you think could be causing his health problem?

Mysterious Malady in Monument

Dear Concerned,

I don’t mean to alarm you, but the symptoms you mention, coupled with drooling and temporary disorientation, sound like the typical signs of cat poisoning. Ruling out an occasional hairball or stomach disorder/blockage caused by eating a rubber band or part of a toy – I would suggest you take another look around the house for possible toxins that you may be missing. Signs and symptoms of poisonings may disappear only to reoccur later with unpleasant results.

The most common type of household toxins for kitties are plants and flowers. Kitties really enjoy chewing on plants – both real and artificial. You may try putting plants up higher, but remember that cats are good climbers so it may be hard to keep plants out of reach. Houseplants that are poisonous to cats but commonly found in indoor sunrooms include azaleas, kalanchoes, aloe, English ivy, dieffenbachias and sago palms.

With the Easter season coming soon cat guardians also need to beware of Easter, Tiger and Day lilies, among other types of lilies, tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Just a couple of bites of the flowers, leaves or stems of these plants or flowers or pollen licked off during grooming can cause liver or kidney failure if the poisoning is left untreated for more than a couple of days.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t have houseplants or flowers around your cat. According to the ASPCA, there are over 200 other indoor species that are safe for kitties including African violets, Boston ferns, bamboo palms and chicken and hens succulents. Daisies, roses, most orchids and begonias are both pretty and safe as well.

So you may enjoy your morning coffee or tea with milk, but a couple of laps drunk when you’re not looking can cause serious harm to your cat. Caffeine is a definite no, no for kitties. Other foods to keep to yourself include avocados, onions (white, red and green), garlic, raisins, chocolate and raw eggs (like in a protein drink made with milk) and raw fish or sushi. The sweetener substitute, Xylitol, found in sugarless gums and mints, is also toxic to cats.

Many people use non-toxic household cleansers like those made by Simply Green, Seventh Generation, Nature’s Miracle and Oxi-fresh. There are also plenty of homemade cleansers based with vinegar and/or baking soda that work well. Recipes for those can be found online at websites like About.com under the Household section. Many common household cleansers used for kitchens and bathrooms are toxic.

Did you know that a few licks of lime remover or a drain unclogging agent can cause serious harm or death to kitties who drink from the shower stall or sink? If you must have these cleansers in your home, place baby locks on storage cupboards and double rinse your showers, tubs and sinks. Fabric softeners are another common toxin – so be careful when you wash kitty beds and blankets.

Also keep an eye on medications like Tylenol and Advil (or any acetaminophens and Ibuprofen products) and antidepressants like Prozac and particularly Effexor, which contains a smell and flavor that is seemingly appealing to cats, when you lay them on the counter and reach for a glass of water. Concentrated topical flea and tick medications made for dogs contain pyrethroids, which are highly toxic to cats and poisonous if your cat licks the medication off of your dog.

If you know or suspect that your kitty has ingested a poisonous plant, food or household cleanser, call your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately to ask if you should induce vomiting prior to taking them to the hospital. You can also call for help 24/7 at the Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680 (keep this number on your fridge) or find fast, reliable help online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com.

Your vet will use a variety of techniques to rid your cat of the toxins in his body including use of an activated charcoal (to bind the poison in the stomach and intestines) and flushing their kidneys with IV fluids. A trip to the emergency vet will be expensive, but waiting to see what may happen could result in the worst consequences for you and your cat.

— Ms. Kitty