Cats should never drink alcohol. Which includes beer, wine, liquor, whiskey, vodka, etc. Alcohol has similar effects on the brains and livers of cats as it does on us humans. Only that it takes far less alcohol to cause irreparable damage to a cat than it does to a human.
So, can cats drink alcohol? Cats cannot drink alcohol. Their bodies lack enzymes that can break down ingested alcohol. The alcohol, therefore, circulates around their bodies without detoxification exerting adverse effects to the cats. Just a teaspoon or two of alcohol can result in a coma for a 5-pound cat. The higher the alcohol amounts ingested, the more consequential the case and the worse the symptoms.
Astonishing, isn’t it? Read on to learn more about why cats cannot drink alcohol. As well as what is in alcohol that makes it toxic and poisonous to cats. The symptoms of alcohol poisoning in cats have also been discussed along with prevention of accidental drinking in cats. The treatment and management of cats that have ingested alcohol have also been explained in this article.
Why Can’t Cats Drink Alcohol?
Exposure to even a small amount of alcohol can cause severe damage to the health of your cat. The medical term used to refer to the condition of a cat that has ingested alcohol is ethanol poisoning (ethanol toxicosis).
When left untreated, this condition has lethal outcomes regardless of the cat’s breed or age.
Ethanol poisoning not only occurs from alcoholic beverages but also from alcohol-infused products. Which include perfumes, cleaning supplies, mouthwash, dyes, disinfectants, inks, some medications and so forth.
The speed of alcohol absorption into your cat’s body system depends on several factors such as weight and age.
These two main factors also determine just how much intoxicated your cat will be after alcohol ingestion.
The effects of ethanol poisoning have a quicker onset if your cat ingests alcohol on an empty stomach.
The type of alcohol ingested also affects the differences in the onset of ethanol poisoning symptoms and the situation outcomes.
For most felines, the lethal dose of alcohol is 5.5 grams per kilogram of cat bodyweight. Which means that if your cat weighs around 10 pounds, it may not survive more than 25 grams of alcohol. A 4-ounce glass of wine or a 1.25-ounce whiskey shot contains just enough alcohol content to kill your cat.
Unfortunately, most people are unaware of this danger that alcohol poses to cats. Getting your cat tipsy should never be an idea that is considered funny or taken lightly since the consequences are fatal and that’s frankly animal abuse. What’s worse, ethanol poisoning can also occur if your cat eats fermented bread dough or rotting apples from trees.
Such exposure to ethanol results into the depression of the cat’s central nervous system which is expressed as incoordination, drowsiness and unconsciousness. Other effects of ethanol poisoning include damaging of body cells, slowed heart rate and heart attack.
A toxic reaction on cats through the skin from exposure to products containing alcohol is also possible. When humans ingest alcohol, it is absorbed in the stomach and intestines and later decomposed in the liver.
The decomposed alcohol form becomes harmless unlike the case in cats. The livers of cats do not possess the enzymes responsible for detoxifying alcohol as is the case in humans.
The result of alcohol ingestion in cats is its circulation around the body without getting decomposed and suppressing the body function. That is just part of the story.
The body temperature of cats drops significantly on ingesting alcohol. Their blood chemistry also gets altered resulting in a dangerous condition known as metabolic acidosis where their blood becomes hyper-acidic. At such a point, death follows soon especially due to heart attack.
If the cat is fortunate enough not to die from the effects of ethanol poisoning, the toxicity may still be harmful. The toxins inflict harm on the liver and kidneys of the cat and ultimately reduce the pet’s quality of life.
As such, giving alcohol to your cat, even if occasionally, is no laughing matter. It could cause permanent harm to your pet or untimely death.
Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning in Cats
Ethanol poisoning symptoms are usually apparent 30 minutes after a cat ingests alcohol. The cat appears overly excited, confused and may even begin to stagger. The symptoms tend to vary depending on some different factors.
That includes the amount of ingested alcohol, how long ago the alcohol was taken and the overall metabolism of the cat. The consequences of alcohol intake in cats usually goes further than just short term behavioural changes.
Even the tiniest amounts of ingested alcohol can cause loss of consciousness, liver and kidney failure, metabolic acidosis and respiratory problems. Trembling, vomiting, diarrhoea and decreased breathing rate are some common symptoms shown when a cat drinks alcohol.
The alcohol remains in the cat’s blood system causing severe poisoning since it does not undergo decomposition. The symptoms of ethanol poisoning in cats have more gravity on kittens that have relatively less bodyweight.
Cats that ingest alcohol on an empty stomach also start to show symptoms of alcohol poisoning much faster. The symptoms of ethanol poisoning in cats actually have much resemblance to those shown by a drunk human. Including slow reflexes, weakness and urinating involuntarily.
Low blood pressure (hypotension) and a decrease in body temperature (hypothermia) are some additional symptoms to look out for in cats.
Generally, all symptoms of ethanol poisoning in cats boil down to the ingested alcohol dosage compared to body weight.
The symptoms should not be ignored no matter how mild the exposure to alcohol was. Calling or visiting a poison control centre for animals or your local veterinarian should be done immediately.
Prevention of Accidental Alcohol Drinking in Cats
Keeping products that contain ethanol away from cats is the main way of preventing your pet from drinking alcohol accidentally. Especially because it’s absolutely possible for your cat to drink alcohol without anyone pouring it in the cat’s water bowl.
To make matters worse, your cat can get tipsy without you noticing it. You, therefore, need to watch your pet keenly especially during festivities when alcohol spills are not uncommon.
Cats are curious animals and their relentless pursuit of edible things may result in accidental ethanol poisoning. Another way in which pet parents can make it harder for their cats to drink alcohol is by disposing of leftover drinks.
Alcohol-containing products and food items should also be kept well out of the cats’ reach. Homebrewing kits should be sealed tightly and kept away from cats. When you drink alcohol in the presence of a cat, remember to keep the bottle tightly shut.
Cats are very interested in what their owners eat or drink and can accidentally end up with ethanol poisoning. It’s also important to have a nearby piece of cloth or towel to wipe any spills when drinking alcohol.
The little time spent on grabbing a towel can be enough for your cat to have licked the spilt alcohol.
One more thing, being aware of local pet hospitals that offer services even in the night is important. Rushing your cat to the local veterinarian may be the only remedy of preventing fatality in case of accidental alcohol drinking.
Treatment and Management of Cats that Have Ingested Alcohol
Alcohol contains ethanol which is highly toxic to cats. Ethanol inhibits glutamate receptors in the brains of cats and causes blockage of communication between brain cells. Consequently, overall proper body functioning is inhibited by the ingestion of alcohol.
In order to treat ethanol poisoning in cats effectively, you should be thoroughly descriptive to the veterinarian. Be clear about the type of alcohol the cat ingested and the amount that was ingested.
Don’t forget to inform the veterinarian of any medications the cat may be taking or if it has any health disorder. The vet will conduct some blood tests to determine the alcohol concentration in the cat’s bloodstream and the blood’s acidic levels.
Medication will then be prescribed to decrease the ethanol levels and treat the damage to the cat’s internal organs. The vet will decide if the pet requires intravenous fluids for hydration or artificial ventilation in the form of oxygen masks.
Cardiac therapy or some other suitable form of medication may also be given to your cat. Some variables are also considered when treating cats that have ethanol poisoning symptoms.
The main variable is the elapsed time since alcohol ingestion. The major goal of treatment is to lower the absorption of ingested alcohol into the cat’s intestines.
If the cat gets to the vet within one or two hours after alcohol ingestion, induced vomiting may be a possible treatment. You should, however, not induce your cat to vomit on your own as it may lead to suffocation of the cat.
If the ingested alcohol is much absorbed, intravenous fluids can be used to stop dehydration and also increase urine production. The good thing for your pet is that treatment for ethanol poisoning in cats is non-surgical.
A venous catheter may, however, be placed to ensure that fluid therapy is effective. The medication can be given intravenously for about four treatments in six hours followed by the other four treatments in eight hours.
Sodium bicarbonate is usually administered depending on the cat’s body weight with the aim of maintaining the urine pH level. Dialysis may also be done on the cat in case of kidney failure.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.