Paracetamol is a painkiller that can be found in almost every household and it’s estimated that around 6000 tonnes of the drug is sold every year in the UK alone.
It’s available under different brand names, and in many different formulations including tablets, capsules, liquid suspensions and powder preparations, and is available in compound products with other drugs including codeine, caffeine, aspirin, ibuprofen and decongestants.
For humans it’s seen as a mild painkiller, and we use it for everything from pain to headaches, but for cats, paracetamol is extremely toxic.
Cats cannot break down paracetamol and toxins are produced that seriously damage their liver and red blood cells. Even just part of a single tablet can cause severe toxicity and death.
Cats might be exposed to paracetamol accidentally after eating or drinking some form of paracetamol or a product that contains it, or it may be given to them to attempt to treat an illness by their owners who are unaware of how dangerous the drug is.
Paracetamol is rapidly absorbed and signs of paracetamol ingestion may occur within 4 hours in cats, but almost always within 6-24 hours.
The most striking early sign of paracetamol toxicity is discolouration to the mucous membranes, and gums and tongue may appear brown in colour
There may also be
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid, laboured breathing
- Decontamination (trying to remove the drug from the stomach, depending on when the cat was exposed)
- Specific therapy, vets may give some medications to counteract the effects of the drug
- Monitoring and supportive care
The prognosis is variable and depends on how much paracetamol is consumed and how long it takes for the cat to present to the vet.
If you believe that your cat has consumed paracetamol in any form, you should seek immediate veterinary advice.
Keep up to date with the rest of the Keeping Cats Safe campaign here