Toxic Household Items

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Toxic Household Items

We all know that old saying “curiosity killed the cat”. Unfortunately, they really are rather curious creatures, and can end up at the veterinary hospital because of exposure to household poisons.

To help minimize the number of harmful compounds in your household, consider shopping for less toxic alternatives to some of the typical household items. Keep only enough on hand to do the job. Make sure you read the label before purchasing products. If you have any difficulty understanding the contents or safety information on the packaging, discuss this with the vendor before you take it home. You may need to read the fine print to find some of the information.

A DANGER or POISON label indicates the product is most toxic, a WARNING label is next most toxic, and a CAUTION label is used for products less toxic than those with warning labels. Note that what may be labeled a toxic substance for people might not always correlate with the toxicity in other species such as cats—sometimes products that are safe for people are unsafe for cats!

Sometimes it is not the active component which is of concern. For example, a product may contain petroleum distillates, (which are toxic to cats) though the active ingredient may be a different chemical.

Store them safely, handle them safely, and dispose of them in concurrence with local waste disposal ordinances.

The process of cat-proofing your home is no different than child-proofing. Here is a checklist of some of the materials that should be kept away from curious Kitty:

Human medications : Cats may want to “play” with a shiny foil, or roll a noisy pill bottle, or can accidentally spill a liquid in their fur. Assume that unless the medicine is safely locked away out of reach, there is a potential for Miss Kitty to find it and get into trouble! Some of the medicines we commonly take are quite toxic to cats. Acetaminophen is an example of a drug that is safe for us, but very toxic to cats. Ibuprofen is another common medicine not safe for cats. Aspirin (ASA) is another one that should never be given without veterinary advice as it needs to be given in much smaller doses, and at much longer intervals to be safe for felines, and so prescription is reserved for special circumstances only.

Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) : Have the car’s antifreeze changed at a commercial garage rather than in your own to eliminate the possibility of spills. If that is not possible, keep pets out of the garage, and be meticulous in clean up if spillage occurs. Do not spray the spill with water and flush the solution out onto the road since it smells and tastes sweet and will attract animals. Make sure changed fluid is recycled properly and not dumped down the drain. Better yet, buy a “pet friendly” version of antifreeze that is safer.

Oils, tars, grease, gasoline—petroleum products: All of these are very toxic to cats! If there are spills on the garage floor, do not attempt to clean with the garden hose as this carries the material out onto the street and drive, where cats (and wild birds etc) can drink the contaminated water. Use sawdust or kitty litter to “soak up” the spill for a half day, then dispose of the contaminated material according to hazardous waste guidelines. Make sure oil from oil changes is recycled, and not dumped down drains. If your car leaks oil into the garage, get the leak fixed and used cardboard or cat litter to catch and soak up drips, then remove the soiled material promptly. Keep cats out of garages or tool sheds. Ensure toxic fumes do not build up in enclosures.

Petroleum distillates, paint, paint solvents; strippers, thinners, nail polish, nail polish removers, hair spray : Can contain many harmful compounds including trichloroethylene, benzene, xylene, trichloroethane, acetone, and others.
Alcohol : Isopropyl rubbing alcohol from the first aid kit, the ethyl alcohol in beverages or ethyl alcohol from fermentation of bread dough are all potential sources of toxicity for pets. Methanol is wood alcohol, and found in windshield wiper fluids and some other products. Lysol ® household cleaner is very high in alcohol. Keep all of these out of the reach of pets to prevent poisoning.

Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) : Never combine bleach with cleaners containing acids or ammonia or a release of toxic chlorine/chloramine gases will occur. Do not leave bleach to soak surfaces while Kitty enters the bathroom unattended since contact irritation can occur if Kitty walks on the cleaner. Mildew removal products may contain calcium hypochlorite and this is about twice as deadly as the regular bleach.

Pine Oils : Pine Sol ® is a cleaning solution containing high concentrations of pine oil alcohols derived from pine tree wood. Turpentine is another such preparation consisting of pine oil terpenes. Cats are particularly sensitive to pine oils because they lack an efficient liver enzyme system to detoxify them.
Phenols : As mentioned above cats are sensitive to Lysol cleaner but not only because of their sensitivity to the alcohol in the product. This cleaner also contains phenols and cats have problems detoxifying this type of poison due to the low efficiency of the detoxifying liver enzymes.

Chlorine, bromine : Chlorinated cleaners contain bleach-see note above. Pool chemicals may contain very high concentrations of these compounds and so should be kept away from cats.

Furniture polish : May contain petroleum distillates which are toxic to cats .

Pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, fungicides : bait, collars, spot on applicators, sprays, granules, and powders may contain a number of toxic compounds.

The pyrethroids are synthetic pyrethrins such as permethrin. The natural pyrethrins are Chrysanthemum flower extracts. The synthetic formulations are very toxic to cats, so do not ever use dog products on cats.

Piperonyl butoxide is often added to pyrethrin type products to help lengthen the activity of the pyrethrin and synergize it’s action.

Carbamate and organophosphate insecticides are often combined with other agents, and cats are especially susceptible to chlorpyrifos.

Anticoagulant rodenticides (strychnine, bromethalin) are poisons that lead to lack of ability to clot the blood.
Metaldehyde snail and slug bait is an example of a very toxic compound for pets and also wild birds. If it must be used, follow manufacturer’s guidelines and set bait in a place that is inaccessible to cats or any animals.

Mothballs (naphthalene, paradichlorobenzene) are to be avoided, especially in the outdoor environment (toxic to wildlife).
Boric acid dust or solution is corrosive and toxic to pets, and commonly found in ant killer and cleaners.
Fertilizer : As with lawn weed killer products, read manufacturer instructions carefully. Some granular and liquid sprays contain enough concentrated nutrients so that contact exposure can lead to paw irritation.

Pressure treated wood : Slow release around the wood of the impregnated fungicide can contaminate water.

Batteries : Though puppies are the silly bandits most commonly found chewing on household batteries, leaking batteries are a risk to any pet. If a cat brushes up against an old leaky battery, the acids transferred to the fur can lead to burns of the tongue during grooming, or local contact chemical burns. Old batteries should be disposed of by recycling. Large batteries that spill are very dangerous as concentrated sulfuric acid can literally eat through the pads of a cat walking over the area. Small round button batteries like those in watches and cameras are sometimes swallowed, and usually pass through without harm, but cats may get them lodged in their food pipe (esophagus) where it may block the tube or cause perforation.

This is not a comprehensive list, but gives an indication of just how many potentially harmful compounds can be found in our homes, garages, and gardens . If an exposure to a harmful compound may have occurred, there should be no delay in seeking veterinary attention since some of these are only reversible problems if caught early. Remember to take the package along to the vets if the source of the exposure is known.

A few major poison control centers exist for animals. The ASPCA Poison Control Center is perhaps the best known. Their phone number is listed on their website. A newer one is the Animal Poison Hotline 888-232-8870, sponsored by North Shore Animal League America and PROSAR International Animal Poison Center (IAPC). PROSAR IAPC is staffed 24 hours a day with licensed veterinary professionals as well as experts in toxicology and pharmacology. Currently, they have provided care to more than 35,000 animals per year according to their press release.

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