How to Treat a Cat Who Has Ingested Bleach

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Bleach's corrosive action may cause severe burns to a cat's gastrointestinal tract, making it necessary to act quickly if your cat has ingested it. While most cats are put off by the smell of bleach, they won't hesitate to lick it off their fur or paws if they come in contact with it. Take prompt action to prevent further injury and get your cat to the veterinarian immediately for proper treatment.

Call your veterinarian. Prompt attention is necessary to prevent bleach's corrosive action from causing burns that set up inflammation, swelling or other conditions that may be fatal. As prompt action is necessary, your vet will ask you questions to determine if it is bleach that is swallowed or some other substance and walk you through administering first aid to your cat.

Determine if your cat has ingested bleach by sniffing near his mouth. You can do this while holding for your vet. Look for discolored white or yellowish spots on his fur and sniff them to see if they smell like bleach. Your cat may exhibit signs of poisoning such as lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea. Cats rarely drink enough bleach to poison themselves, but are more likely to ingest toxic amounts through fur grooming after incidental contact.

Remove the hazard. Make sure your cat can't get into any more bleach while you're on the phone with the vet. If your cat drank water with bleach, such as from a toilet tank or a bowl of bleach solution for cleaning, remove the cat from the area or place the bleach where the cat cannot access it. If your cat has bleach on his fur, rinse the area with clear water and wipe with a cloth to remove as much bleach as possible.

Dilute the bleach. Your vet may advise first aid to stop the corrosive action. This may include rinsing your cat's mouth with water to remove as much bleach as possible from his oral membranes. He also will advise offering a bowl of water or milk to your cat. While milk may cause digestive upset in lactose-intolerant cats, the milk will soothe membranes irritated by the bleach. If you know your cat is lactose-intolerant, let your vet know. She may suggest trying water first to dilute the corrosive action of the bleach.

Take your cat to the vet. Removing the hazard and giving the cat an opportunity to dilute the bleach's corrosive action with water or milk should be done at once, but are not a substitute for proper veterinary care. Your veterinarian will examine your cat for lesions and other irritation to the gastrointestinal tract and watch him for signs of fluid in the lungs -- a common side effect of bleach ingestion -- for 12 to 24 hours. He likely will administer intravenous fluids and treat corrosive burns that could become inflamed and cause respiratory distress.