Spate of Nottinghamshire cat deaths may be down to deliberate anti-freeze poisoning

22 reported deaths in just four months

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Something creepy is afoot in the old mining village of Calverton, in Nottinghamshire – cats have been dying at a suspiciously high rate. There have been 22 reported deaths in four months.

But what makes this sequence of painful deaths particularly distressing for the cats’ owners is the possibility that this is not happening by accident but through malice.

Before the cats died, they were groggy, lethargic and excessively thirsty. Later, their appetite disappeared and their breath smelled vile.

“Someone is using anti-freeze to poison cats deliberately,” the local Tory MP, Mark Spencer told The Independent. “We can’t prove it because we haven’t had a post-mortem done on a cat, but all the vets seem to think it is poisoning by anti-freeze. All the symptoms point to that.”

The suspicious deaths began during the August heat, when there is no obvious innocent explanation as to how one cat after another came to ingest anti-freeze, unless someone has been putting down bowls of cat food laced with the stuff. So far as anyone can tell, wild mammals like hedgehogs may also be dying the same way. In September, the RSPCA launched an investigation and warned villagers to be on the look-out, after the first dozen or so unexplained deaths.

It said in a statement: “We just want to warn people in the area and urge cat owners to be vigilant. This could have been accidental, but we want to prevent further incidents in the future.”

Over the weekend, Mr Spencer, who has been Tory MP for Sherwood since 2010, held a public meeting about the cat deaths. Later today he will raise the matter in Parliament.

Local vets suspect the deaths are due to poisoning by anti-freeze

Nick Lawlor, who was at the meeting, told the BBC that his son’s cat, Piper, had died of suspected poisoning.

He said: “They’ve got to pay for what they’ve done. You can’t kill kids’ pets. Her eyes were rolling around her head. She was fitting. She passed away within a couple of hours.

“Personally I’m not a cat person. I’ve got a Staffie, [but] what I saw the cat go through hurt.”

The danger of anti-freeze is due to an ingredient called ethylene glycol – as little as a tablespoon of which can cause acute kidney failure in a cat.

Mr Spencer is to urge the Department of Environment to compel makers of anti-freeze to include an ingredient called bitrex. According to its manufacturers, Johnson Matthey, bitrex is “officially the most bitter substance known to man”. It is inert and colourless and takes only a few drops to make any substance taste horrible.

It is advertised as a safety measure for parents to prevent young children swallowing anything that might harm them, but would function equally well as a deterrent for hungry animals.

Manufacturers in the US are voluntarily adding an ingredient that makes the normally sweet-tasting liquid taste horrible, after one animal charity calculated that as many as 90,000 animals a year were being poisoned by anti-freeze.

Mr Spencer said: “I have spoken to the Nottingham University veterinary department, who say that cats are particularly susceptible. If a cat walks through spilt anti-freeze and licks his paws, that is enough to kill a cat, while a dog could survive 50 times that dose.”