Top 5 Cat Toxin Risks That Increase During the Holiday/Winter Season

  • SSRI antidepressants
  • Lilies (Lilium & Hemerocallis)
  • Liquid potpourri
  • Glow jewelry and glow sticks
  • Household cleaners

The ASPCA sees an increase of certain toxins for cats during the holidays and winter months. Toxins can cause many symptoms including GI upset, salivation, seizures, or death. If your cat has gotten into any of the above toxins, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) and your veterinarian right away! It could be the difference between life and death.

SSRI Antidepressants

More antidepressants are ingested by cats during the holidays. Even one antidepressant tablet can be toxic to a cat. Some of the antidepressants have a weird odor or chemical that attracts cats. Symptoms can include: agitation, aggression, panting, tachycardia (increased heart rate), hypertension, mydriasis (enlarged pupils), vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, tremors, and/or seizures. Immediate veterinary attention is needed.

Other names: SSRI, antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, Effexor, Venlafaxine, Cymbalta, Prozac, Reconcile, Fluoxetine, Citalopram, Escitalopram, Paraxetine, Sertraline, Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Zoloft, selective norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors, SNRIs, Duloxetine, Nefazodone, Serzone


During the colder weather, more plants and flowers are brought into the house as part of holiday celebrations. Lilies are the top holiday plant that is toxic to cats.  Plants from the Lilium and Hemerocallis species (Easter lily, Tiger lily, Day lily, Stargazer lily, Oriental, Wood, Red, Asiatic) are highly toxic for cats. All of the plant, even pollen, can be toxic (and it only takes a minimal amount)!!  Lilies have a toxin that leads to deposits of calcium oxalate crystals in cats’ kidneys, very similar to the way antifreeze causes kidney damage.

Within hours, cats can present with vomiting, anorexia, and depression. Within 12-24 hours it can progress to kidney failure if not treated. With treatment, the prognosis is good if treatment is initiated early and aggressively.  However, if treatment is delayed beyond 18-24 hours, or anuria (no urine production) has already developed, the prognosis is grave.

Other types of lilies, such as Peace, Peruvian, and Calla lilies, are commonly mistaken in this group; however, they are not true lilies. These lilies can be irritating and can cause drooling or pawing at the mouth but do not cause the serious systemic effects that true lilies do.  Seek immediate medical attention if there are any questions about which species of Lily it is.

Click Here to learn more about other poisonous plants

Liquid Potpourri

As the weather gets colder, many cat caregivers use liquid potpourri in simmer pots to add fragrance to their home. Due to a cat’s curiosity, they may be exposed to high doses of essential oils/cationic detergents when they lick the warm liquid.  The essential oils in the liquid potpourri can cause corrosive burns to the mouth when ingested.  Symptoms may include: drooling, mouth pain, anorexia, pawing at the mouth, difficulty breathing, and malaise. Rarely, liver failure and lung failure can occur. Cats can have contact burns on their body or start a fire if they come in contact with the heat source or burner for the potpourri. It is best to use alternative types of fragrance or place the simmer pot where your cat cannot access it.

Glow Sticks and Glow Jewelry

Glow sticks and jewelry are popular as holiday decorations, and can be accidentally chewed and ingested by cats. While it’s not very poisonous, this chemical has a very bitter taste, resulting in profuse drooling, oral pain, inappetance, and vomiting. This exposure can often be managed at home by the cat caregiver. First, turn off the lights and look for the presence of the glowing liquid. Remove the chemical carefully from your cat by flushing the taste out of the mouth. Try offering something tasty like chicken broth or milk. Use liquid dish soap to bathe your cat to remove the remaining liquid off the fur. Removing remaining glow liquid off the cat’s fur is important since they are fastidious groomers and may expose themselves to more of the bitter chemical if it’s still on their fur. Contact your veterinarian if there are concerns with liquid in the cat’s eyes, or the cat is showing signs of illness after treating at home.

Household Cleaners

Most surface cleaners are generally benign, and when ingested directly from the bottle, can result in minor GI signs (vomiting, diarrhea, or lack of appetite). However, certain concentrated cleaners can be highly toxic or corrosive. Household bleach is a GI irritant, but “ultra” bleach can be corrosive, resulting in severe esophageal or upper GI damage. Concentrated lye products, toilet bowl cleaners, and oven cleaners are also corrosive, and immediate flushing out the mouth for 10-15 minutes should be performed prior to a veterinary visit to minimize tissue injury. Do not make your pet vomit!

Appropriate pet-proofing (such as keeping toilet seats down or securing cleaners in a locked or elevated bathroom cabinet) is the easiest way to prevent exposure to these irritating products.

Click Here to learn more about which household chemicals are toxic

When in doubt call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435) or the Animal Hospital of North Asheville (828-253-3393). Do not delay, it can mean a full recovery for your curious cat if you act immediately!

Information provided by Justine A. Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT CEO, VETgirl and the ASPCA