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Jan. 2011 – Triumph: Tales of Life

Acetaminophen—Common Household Cat Killer

Beethoven is a lucky, normal kitty. He is lucky for two reasons: first, because he is one of the lucky stray cats who has been adopted and is able to live in a loving home; second, he is lucky because he ate Tylenol and lived to tell the tale.

Being a naturally curious cat, Beethoven likes to eat things, and he once ingested acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Acetaminophen is perhaps the most common pain medication in U.S. homes today. Unfortunately, it also seems like a tasty treat for our feline friends, and ingestion as small as 1/4 of a tablet can be dangerous.

Cats who ingest acetaminophen will develop symptoms, including increased respiratory effort, swelling of the face and paws, decrease in blood pressure, acute collapse, and dark purple gums, and even death within 1-4 hours following ingestion.

Kitty patients can also develop methemoglobinemia, in which hemoglobin builds up in the blood. The blood will stay a dark, muddy color in spite of oxygen therapy, as the iron in the blood becomes oxidized from the body’s attempt to metabolize the acetaminophen.

Luckily for Beethoven, he lived due to the owner’s fast action. They noticed his panting, his dark gums, and his lethargy. The owners said Beethoven had been acting normally a few hours prior, when he was playing with his housemates. They brought Beethoven in to Care First Animal Hospital at Falls Pointe immediately for an evaluation. At this time in veterinary medicine, there is no immediate in-house animal test to confirm or rule out acetaminophen toxicity; however, through initial examination, blood testing, and learning Beethoven’s history, acetaminophen toxicity was the likely diagnosis.

Doctors administered the antidote, N-Acetylcysteine multiple times over 24 hours. Additionally, Beethoven received supportive treatment with oxygen therapy, activated charcoal, and IV fluids. Due to the fast action of Beethoven’s family and the rapid diagnosis and administration of the antidote, Beethoven is back home chasing his housemates and continues to be a sweet, curious cat.

We can all learn from Beethoven’s mishap.

Keep your medications away and in child-safe containers (child-safe is also very cat resistant). Be sure to be safe, rather than sorry, and take swift action if you notice your furry friend acting differently, especially if you notice respiratory distress or changes in the gum colors.

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