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PSA: Puffer Fish and Cats

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

We've had puffer fish for a while, off and on.  They are adorable little intelligent fish who respond when you walk in the room and their mouths look like little smiles.  They are just so freakin' cute with their round bodies and little fins.  Well, Monday night one of our puffers was looking a little off.  I put him and the other puffer in an isolation tank just for the night until I could go to an aquarium store in the morning.  I thought I had the lid secured properly (I am kicking myself about this, believe me!).


Well, the cat got the fish sometime in the early morning hours.  She didn't eat the fish, just played with them (not that that's any better of an end for the adorable fish, but...)  Apparently puffer fish have a potent neurotoxin in their skin and organs.  I did not know that puffers were poisonous, I never would have even let them in our house.  Our kitty nearly died.  In the morning, we found her mostly paralyzed, with tremors, dilated pupils, a very low body temperature, and heavily panting.  We rushed her to the vet and the vet did not think it looked good, but admitted that this sort of thing was pretty much unheard of in the veterinary world (puffer fish poisoning).  She was put on fluids and a heating pad, and simply monitored for the duration of the poisoning.  This morning, the vet says that she is looking good and is finally out of the woods.  I really don't even care about the $400 spent on her care, as she is absolutely the most awesome cat ever (even cat-hating DH adores her.  In fact, he's the one that picked her out at the shelter) but I am upset that I never did the research, didn't secure the lid adequately, and was never told by the pet store that they were extremely toxic.


So...if you have puffer fish, or are thinking of getting one, please make absolute 100% sure that there is no way a pet or a child can come in contact with them.  The tetrodotoxin in puffer fish is estimated to be 1000 times deadlier than cyanide.  Green spotted puffers and figure eight puffers are the ones commonly sold in pet stores.


post #2 of 11

I thought it was well know about puffer fish being poisonous. They are a sushi delicacy in Japan, but unless they are cut in just the right way, they can kill you, the toxin is in the organs and skin.



The poisonous nature of the dish comes from marine microorganisms that produce the neurotoxin, which travels up to food chain, eventually finding its way into the puffer fish. While the fish is itself immune to the toxin, it nevertheless concentrates the substance in its organs and skin, much to the chagrin of would-be predators, or sushi enthusiasts. It is reported that the small amount of toxin that finds its way into the meat of the fish slightly numbs the lips and mouth during the meal, and some even claim a mild state of euphoria results from eating the dish. On a side note, it is now believed that this particular tetrodotoxin is used in the Caribbean by voodoo  practitioners in the creation of their supposed ‘zombie powder,’ as just the right dose may induce a paralytic state resembling death, which will last for hours or days.


post #3 of 11

good to hear that the kitty will survive.


Like the PP, I too thought it was fairly common knowledge about how deadly puffer fish can be. I think they are like one of the most deadly vertebrate s in the world, at least in the top 5.



post #4 of 11

Just so the OP doesn't feel like a dolt for not knowing this... I didn't know this :)

Are Puffer Fish the same as Blowfish?

Glad to hear kitty will survive.

Sad to hear cute Puffer Fish did not, though.

post #5 of 11

Oh, poor cat....um, and fish! I'm glad she'll be ok. I knew they needed skillfull prep to be edible but I never thought about them being kept as pets. 

post #6 of 11

I'm glad your cat will be OK. Puffer fish toxin can kill an adult human, so the kitty is pretty lucky. I didn't know they were sold as pets, I just knew people ate them at their own risk. The pet store really should tell you, I'm surprised they didn't have at least the standard CYA disclaimer. 

post #7 of 11
Originally Posted by seashells View Post


Are Puffer Fish the same as Blowfish?


post #8 of 11

Sorry about your cat and your fish. bawling.gif


You know, even though this is considered "common knowledge," I still think pet stores and other sources should warn people about this when they buy the fish. I'm guessing most things that are "common knowledge" have some people who don't know. It's not like knowing puffer fish are poisonous is required to get through elementary school or anything. Plus, I normally hear them called blowfish or sometimes fugu in culinary situations, so I can see why you might not know a puffer fish was the same thing.

post #9 of 11
Originally Posted by seashells View Post

Just so the OP doesn't feel like a dolt for not knowing this... I didn't know this :)


Ditto.   I mean, once the delicacy-in-Japan thing was brought up, I thought "ohhhh yea, I've heard of that" but if I saw a cute fish in a pet store with no warnings or mention of it, it would not have occured to me.


OP, I am so sorry you went through that! Please don't blame yourself, the pet store really ought to have alerted you (particularly asking if you had other pets, etc).  You might consider writing them a letter suggesting they do so with future customers.

post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

I never really thought that they were "true" puffers, just thought they were named that because of their looks.  The first time we bought them years and years ago, the sales person told us that they didn't actually puff up, so I just thought of them as faux-puffers, or puffer wannabees :).  Since I've done recent research, I find that they do actually puff up, but it takes pretty severe abuse to get them to do it.  I know that fugu is dangerous to eat and that some people have died from it, I just thought they were different fish.  I did go to every pet store that I know of in this town to let them know and none of them knew that puffers were poisonous.  I even found them being sold at Wal-Mart!  Since venomous snakes aren't supposed to be sold, I just didn't think that selling poisonous fish would be okay.  I shudder to think what would have happened if we had an infant or toddler who found the dead fish before we did (we assumed, at first, that the cat had actually eaten them, until our DD found one)...


The kitty is home and showing no signs of permanent damage, thank goodness.  She is back to her mischievous self, which leads me to believe that she will continue to be the most expensive free cat ever LOL.  She's even tried to get back into the fish tank, but we now have her foiled.  No more puffers, though!  And I seriously do feel so bad for the fish.  They are real personable fish and actually interact with humans.

post #11 of 11

Wow, that is scary!  Glad kitty is okay, and sorry about the fish as well.

 IMO, another personable type of fish are the Bettas...or what used to be called Siamese Fighting Fish.  I found this out by accident when I bought one on impulse to keep in my office at work a few years back.  He was so cool and responsive to my presence and really fun to watch.  I adopted another one  from a neighbor who had to move cross-country, and kept him at home.  I've had aquariums with tropical fish most of my life and found the Bettas to be the most fun, and easy to care for, as long as you do some brief research on their particular needs.      

I'd love to get another one just as soon as I'm settled again.          

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