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Tylenol Toxicity in Cats

Tylenol is poisonous to cats.

It's happened to most people with cats at one point or another. One morning you look up from your coffee to see that your cat is limping. You're concerned, wondering if it's a sprain or strain or something more serious. You don't want to call the veterinarian right away because your cat hates the carrier and isn't very good at the vet's office. You think, "She probably just twisted her ankle jumping down from the cat perch. Maybe she just needs a Tylenol."

Before you are faced with this situation, it's imperative that you know that you should never give Tylenol to a cat.

Acetaminophen, Tylenol's active ingredient, is a human medication used to treat pain and fever. It can be poisonous to both dogs and cats but especially to cats. Veterinarians may, in certain situations, give a very conservative dose of Tylenol to a dog. However, the drug is never used in cats because they are as much as 10 times more likely to suffer from acetaminophen toxicity as dogs are.

Why Is Tylenol Bad for Cats?

Tylenol is broken down by the liver once it is ingested, and cats don't produce some of the necessary enzymes to deal with many of the byproducts of that process. These substances may then have one of two negative effects on the cat's body:

  • Liver damage. In other species, a proper dose of Tylenol can be broken down in the liver to byproducts that are harmless and are then eliminated from the body. However, cats' inability to properly break down Tylenol in the liver results in one of the drugs' byproducts binding to liver cells and damaging them. This can lead to life-threatening liver failure.
  • Red blood cell damage. Another of the components of the breakdown of Tylenol also isn't dealt with by a cat's body as well as by a human's because of felines' lack of a specific enzyme. Therefore, this byproduct is left free to bind to the cat's red blood cells and damage them. The damaged red blood cells can't efficiently carry oxygen anymore, and if enough of them are damaged, the cat's tissues and organs don't receive adequate oxygen to function properly.

Acetaminophen is present in many products other than Tylenol, as well, which is another reason you should always check with your veterinarian before giving your cat ANY medication.

Signs of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats

Cats that have ingested a toxic dose of Tylenol may develop some or all of the following signs of illness:

  • Fast breathing
  • Bluish or mud-brown gums
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Listlessness
  • Brown urine
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Death

Signs can begin as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion of the drug.

Diagnosis of Tylenol Toxicity in Cats

Your veterinarian will usually diagnose acetaminophen toxicity in your cat through physical examination and history (if you know that your cat was given or got into Tylenol or another acetaminophen-containing medication). The doctor will probably run some blood tests to evaluate your cat's liver function and the condition of his red blood cells in order to determine the extent of the illness.

Treatment of Tylenol Overdose in Cats

Depending on how long it's been since your cat ingested the acetaminophen and what his signs are, your veterinarian may do any or all of the treatments listed below.

  • Induce vomiting in an attempt to remove any undigested drug from the stomach before it can do more harm.
  • Administer activated charcoal to bind remaining drug and carry it through the gastrointestinal tract without allowing it to be absorbed.
  • Place the cat on intravenous fluids for support and to help flush the system.
  • Give blood transfusions.
  • Administer oxygen therapy.
  • Provide other medications as needed depending on your cat's signs.
  • Give n-Acetylcysteine, a medication that can decrease the effects of Tylenol's byproducts on red blood cells.
  • Provide SAM-e, an antioxidant that can help mitigate acetaminophen's toxic effects.

Prevention of Tylenol Poisoning in Cats

Cats must never be given Tylenol or any other products that contain acetaminophen. It's also important to always keep your medications out of reach of your cat and take extreme care when you are getting acetaminophen-containing pills or capsules out of a container to take yourself. Lean over a counter if possible so, if a pill is dropped, you are more likely to notice it. Make sure that any guests in your home also know that they should keep their medications out of reach of your cat.

You can learn about more human drugs that can poison cats in our article, "Human Medications That Are Dangerous to Cats."

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