Owners Concerned with Toxic Chemical Exposure to Pets
In just a few short months, COVID-19 has made us reexamine how we interact with family, friends, and colleagues, and how we keep the spaces around us clean. But what do these enhanced cleaning measures mean for our pets? Are the chemicals in these common cleaning products safe for our furry friends?
While it is important to do our part to keep our homes and workplaces clean, veterinarians warn that pets may be accidentally exposed to cleaning agents, resulting in serious injuries or illness.
Over the past several months, Alex Blutinger, VMD, DACVECC, Critical Care Veterinary Specialist, BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, says there have been increased concerns from pet owners about the potential dangers of common household cleaning items, including hand sanitizer, bleach, and alcohol-based products.
Though many of these products are often non-life-threatening, Dr. Blutinger says in large doses, they can lead to more serious issues, including vomiting, hypersalivation, abdominal pain, incoordination, and in some cases, seizures or respiratory failure.
If these products meet pets’ skin, eyes, paw pads, or if they are licked or swallowed they can result in corrosive wounds, chemical blistering, rashes, and severe burns” remarked Dr. Blutinger.
“We also see emergency situations resulting from pets inhaling chemical fumes such as those in harsh aerosolized sprays. Best practice is to read the ingredient label of any household products prior to purchasing and be particularly careful with products containing ingredients such as bleach, any acids, or oxide/hydroxide ingredients. Though many other ingredients can be harmful, these are among the more common acidifying and alkalizing ingredients that give common household cleaning products their effective caustic cleaning properties.”
Here are tips and advice on how to keep clean while also protecting pets from common harmful household cleaners.
Toxic Ingredients to Avoid
- Hydrogen Peroxide: Topical exposure of hydrogen peroxide, such as to the skin or paws, may result in skin irritation and rashes. Three percent hydrogen peroxide may at times be used to induce vomiting in dogs, but should carefully be done under the direction of your veterinarian. While 3% hydrogen peroxide is often effective in making dogs vomit, it is inadvisable for cats. If consumed by cats, hydrogen peroxide may cause severe bleeding and inflammation in the stomach and esophagus. Though effective in dogs to release ingestion of harmful toxins, 3% hydrogen peroxide can cause inflammation and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract. Immediately consult with a veterinarian if you think your pet has ingested a harmful chemical.
- Isopropyl Alcohol (or rubbing alcohol): If ingested by pets, isopropyl alcohol can cause vomiting, disorientation, incoordination, and in severe cases, collapse, respiratory depression and seizures. Rubbing alcohol should not be used at home on a pet’s skin. It is can be used as an antiseptic in a controlled hospital setting, but if used inappropriately (i.e. on open wounds, in high concentrations, in large volumes, etc.) it can cause damage to the skin, delay wound healing, and have negative effects on other body systems.
- Bleach: Bleach may have severe effects on dog and cats. Severity of these effects depend on the amount of bleach the pet has been exposed to and the means in which they were exposed, such as walking through a puddle on the floor, chewing on a bottle cap, and so forth. Regular strength household bleach can cause skin irritation, eye irritation and swelling and tearing of the eyes. Ingestion of high concentrated bleach can result in esophageal burning, stomach lining deterioration, oral ulceration, severe depression, pawing at the mouth, hypersalivation, vomiting or retching, lethargy, and inappetence.
- Ammonia: Ammonia is an ingredient used in some disinfecting wipes or sprays, which can cause corrosive injury to any tissue it contacts. Like other chemicals, it may act as a local or systemic irritant. When aerosolized, and even in low concentrations, it can cause eye swelling, tearing, and burning. At higher concentrations it can cause irritation to the throat and lungs, leading to coughing and airway inflammation.
- Phenols: From disinfectant sprays to toilet bowl cleaners, phenols can be found in many common household cleaning products. These products have the potential to be extremely corrosive if they come into contact the pet’s skin or eyes, or if it is swallowed. If inhaled, phenols can cause detrimental injury to the lungs. Be particularly mindful of these chemicals, as they can be rapidly absorbed through the skin causing incoordination, hypersalivation, and seizures.
Best practice is to keep your products as green and clean as possible. If you choose to use the noted ingredients, be sure to keep pets out of the room or in a secure place while you clean,” noted Dr. Blutinger.
“If you are mopping, using a mop bucket, have paper towels, and other potentially harmful paper products laying around, like sanitizing wipes, keep your pet crated or in a separate room. Make sure your garbage bags and cans have lids and are always secured. Secure the doors of cabinets or closets where you store cleaning products, and immediately discard of products when you are done using them. Also, keep windows open to ensure proper ventilation.”
While pet-safe alternative cleaning compounds do exist, topical exposure or ingestion of any chemical has the potential to cause adverse reactions and serious side effects. Care should be taken to minimize exposure to any household chemical. If there is concern for topical exposure, washing off the chemical with warm water and pet-friendly shampoo can be attempted.
If you suspect your pet has been poisoned or are concerned about possible exposure, contact a veterinarian or seek veterinary medical help right away. Two good options, which do have a small cost associated with them, are the Pet Poison Helpline at 1 (844) 492-9842 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 1 (888) 426-4435. This may save you a trip to the pet emergency room!