Food was tainted with antifreeze in Ithaca cat poisonings, say Cornell vets

June 3, 2015 by Mark H. Anbinder

Animal control officers "found a plastic container of dry cat food mixed with a liquid later identified as ethylene glycol" in a Collegetown parking lot where one cat was found dead, and three others very sick, on Sunday, according to SPCA of Tompkins County executive director Jim Bouderau.

A colony of feral cats in Collegetown was affected by poisoned food this week.A colony of feral cats in Collegetown was affected by poisoned food this week.Ethylene glycol, more commonly known as antifreeze, "is highly toxic to cats," according to Dr. Elizabeth Berliner, Director of Shelter Medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Berliner, who has been helping to care for the affected cats, says a teaspoonful is toxic to the average cat.

No family pets appear to have been affected by the poisoned food, Bouderau tells 14850 Today, just members of "a known colony living in the Collegetown area," many of whom have been spayed or neutered through the SPCA's TNR program. This "Trap, Neuter, Return" program allows the SPCA's animal control officers to help keep feral cat populations down by humanely trapping cats and taking them to a veterinary clinic before they're released back to their home environment. This colony is partially cared for by residents in the neighborhood.

The SPCA issued an alert on Sunday evening urging community members to keep their pets indoors, which likely helped reduce the risk to pets. Bouderau also suggested on Monday that area pet owners keep an eye on their pets for symptoms that are "neurological in nature," such as stability or balance issues, non-responsiveness, or trembling.

"Within a few hours of ingestion, cats ingesting a toxic dose will experience neurologic signs, including seizures, lethargy, and coma," said Dr. Berliner in a statement. "Over 12 to 24 hours, the signs will progress to kidney failure and death." Although most commercial antifreeze products contain a bright green dye, the ethylene glycol used here was clear, according to Cornell's toxicology lab.

The three cats who were found ill earlier this week had to be humanely euthanized due to the severity of their condition. A fifth cat who may have been exposed to the tainted food does not show signs of illness, and is being monitored, along with three kittens who were brought to Cornell's animal hospital. Bouderau says the kittens, at the bottle-feeding stage, are also members of the feral colony.

Investigators consider the poisoning cases intentional, and are continuing to collect evidence at the site and watch for other cats who may be affected.

The SPCA urges anyone with information about the poisonings or those who might be behind them to contact humane investigators at 607-319-5067. Anyone who sees a cat they think might have been poisoned should call the SPCA emergency phone at 607-592-6773.

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