If they become bored, indoor cats may decide to nibble the houseplants. Although they are unlikely to be attracted to the cupboard where you keep household chemicals, they can be poisoned if something is accidentally spilled and they get the chemicals on their paws. Cats are clean creatures and may attempt to lick the offending chemicals off their pads or fur - with dangerous consequences. Some chemicals may also be absorbed through the cat's skin.
Cats seem to be naturally drawn to greenery in the house, particularly if they are not allowed outside, but many house plants are poisonous. Some will just make your cat sick or make his mouth sore, but others are more dangerous, so you should ban ivy, amaryllis, azalea, cyclamen, hyacinth, iris, poinsettia and philodendron if you own a cat.
Put a pot of grass from the garden on the windowsill, and then your cat will have something safe to nibble.
Outdoor cats have many more opportunities to pick up poison. You may be very careful yourself and make sure that you always keep the garden shed and garage out of bounds to your cat but your non-cat owning neighbours may not. Antifreeze, curiously enough, is very attractive to cats, who will lap it up, so make sure any bottles of it are stored safely, and any spills wiped up.
It is all too easy for a cat to pick up a poison outdoors and unfortunately if he is a free-roaming feline, the first you will know is when he returns home obviously in distress. In these instances you will probably have no idea what has caused the problem.
Unfortunately, many cats are attracted by the taste of slug pellets, which are obviously very poisonous. Slug pellets generally contain a poison called metaldehyde, which acts on the nervous system and causes cats to become disorientated, to dribble, and become extra-sensitive to noise.
Another problem is a cat eating prey such as mice and rats which have been poisoned. Although cats will rarely eat dead prey, they may happen upon a rodent which is dying, which sadly also makes it easier for the cat to catch.
The most widely used rodenticides are warfarin and alphachloralose, both of which are nerve poisons. Their symptoms include loss of balance and agitation. In serious cases, these toxins cause convulsions, aggression and loss of consciousness. If you suspect your cat has swallowed rat poison, keep him warm and try to keep him alert, which will help him to metabolise the poison until you can get him to the vet.
NEVER be tempted to give a cat 'human' painkillers - their bodies react the drugs differently to humans, and as little as half a paracetamol tablet can kill a cat.
Vets sometimes prescribe aspirin for cats, but the dosage is extremely small, and must be given with very close veterinary supervision to prevent a fatal overdose.
Overdoses of feline treatments
Just because a pet treatment (for example a flea treatment or a wormer) is 'safe for cats' it doesn't mean that it is impossible to overdose. Always follow the instructions to the letter, and don't be tempted to guess your cat's weight if you need this to calculate the dosage.
Different feline medicines with the same or similar ingredients can also combine to produce an overdose, so never use (for example) a flea collar as well as a spot-on flea treatment or spray.
Also, never use dog treatments on a cat, as some chemicals which are harmless to dogs are toxic to cats.
Spotting the signs
If your cat begins to stagger, appears agitated, vomits, has a sore mouth, suffers a fit or has diarrhoea, suspect poisoning and take him straight to the vet.
What to do
Dealing with minor contamination (poison on paws or fur):
If you see your cat contaminate itself with a small amount of oil you can deal with this at home, but for anything more serious, or if you do not know which chemical is involved, seek veterinary assistance immediately.
If there is only a small amount of oil: