The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that household chemicals are the 6th leading cause of poisoning (toxicosis) in pets. These chemicals include many traditional household cleaning products that you most likely have in your home.
So, whether you like your house to be spotless (good luck with that when you have cats, dogs or other indoor pets!), or if you only do a good cleaning once a month, you need to be aware that there are risks associated with your household cleaners.
Poisoning is one potential result from household cleaners. Another important factor is allergies. Dogs and cats, as well as other pets, can have allergic reactions to environmental factors – and their lives can be made miserable until you find what those specific factors are.
How to tell if your dog or cat has been poisoned
Many household cleaners are corrosive or caustic if they spill on or otherwise come in contact with a dog or cat’s fur or skin – and also internally, if those chemicals are ingested. These are some signs to look for:
- Raw, red skin
- Rash or blistering of the skin
- Pawing at the mouth or eyes
- Tearing of the eyes, nasal discharge
- Sneezing, coughing
- Severe drooling
- Breathing problems for asthmatic animals from strong fumes
- Lack of appetite, lethargy
- Seizures, vomiting, diarrhea
Of course, many of these symptoms can also arise from other causes, so a vet visit will be in order no matter what. But if you KNOW that your pet has come in contact with a household cleaner, call the ASPCA hotline (see below) or your local small animal emergency clinic (if there is one) for advice, and then get to the vet as soon as possible before the toxins can have a permanent (or even fatal) impact.
Which cleaners to watch out for
While most cleaning products can be used safely in your home as long as you follow the label recommendations, the best rule of thumb is: If it can adversely affect your family members, it can also affect your pets, so take the same precautions to protect them.
All traditional cleaning products contain chemicals like bleach, ammonia, chlorine, formaldehyde, phenol and isopropyl alcohol. These can ALL be harmful to your cats and dogs.
Beware of these products
- Floor cleaners (dogs may lick the floor, especially if there’s a treat lying there or food drops; cats may lie on the floor and then groom themselves thereby ingesting some of the floor cleaner, dogs definitely lie on the floor so they will inadvertently pick up toxic particles, etc.).
- Laundry detergents leave a residue behind on clothes and bedding (even if you do an “extra rinse.”)
- Toilet bowl cleaners and fresheners (does your dog drink out of the toilet?). Watch out for cleaners and freshners that clip to the edge of the toilet or are put in the back of the tank. Definitely a risk to your dog or cat with this one.
- Counter cleaners and all-purpose cleaners for use in the kitchen, bathroom and other places can be harmful, especially if your cat or dog likes to “counter surf.”
- Carpet fresheners may not be as harmful as other cleaners, but if your cat or dog gets the cleaner on his paws (before you vacuum it up), clean it off immediately. You don’t want them licking it off, or developing a skin irritation on their paws.
- Air fresheners aren’t really cleaning products, but they add to the clean smell in your home. Sprays, candles and plug-ins can cause problems for animals with allergies.
- Bleach can affect your pets in many ways – via ingestion, touching the skin, even breathing the fumes.
- Other cleaners include oven cleaners, furniture polish, window cleaners, drain uncloggers, etc. Any of these, when sprayed, licked, spilled or otherwise coming in contact with your dog or cat, can have toxic and serious effects.
Safe cleaning alternatives
Most cleaning products can be used in your home as long as you follow the directions on the package and keep them out of reach of your animals. But if you’re looking for more pet-friendly alternatives (or if you must switch to greener solutions because of allergies), you can try:
- Many people use apple cider vinegar to clean their homes, using a 1 cup to 1 gallon ratio of vinegar to water. There are also a number of commercially-produced, environmentally-safe cleaners that use vinegar as their base.
- For windows and mirrors, try a mixture of lemon juice and water, plus a lint-free cloth.
- Baking soda can be mixed with water and is good for areas where you need to scrub, like the kitchen sink or the toilet.
- Plant-based products don’t leave the toxic residue that can be found in traditional cleaners.
- Enzymatic cleaners can be non-toxic but still effective in removing pet stains.
- If you have a clogged sink or tub, try pouring a half cup of baking soda in the drain, followed by two cups of boiling water. If you still need more cleaning power, follow the baking soda with a half cup of vinegar, and close or cover the drain while the mixture works on the clog. Flush with a gallon of boiling water.
If your pet is allergic
If you’re trying to eliminate toxins from your home because your dog or cat is suffering from environmental allergies, one key is to limit her exposure to all environmental pollutants in your home. It seems like a huge and daunting task, but here are a few tips to make it manageable:
- Where does your dog or cat spend most of her time? Focus first on eliminating toxins in those areas.
- Use green, non-toxic cleaners on bedding (and no fabric softeners, which contain detergents that can cause reactions).
- If your pets spend a lot of time on the floor (and which pets don’t?), change to a non-toxic floor cleaner.
- To find out which product(s) trigger your cat or dog’s allergies, change out your household cleaners one at a time.
What to do if you think your pet has been exposed to poisonous substances
If you suspect your pet has been exposed to any poisonous substances, contact your veterinarian or call the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) hotline at (888) 426-4435 immediately. These experts are available 24/7/365 and will give you the advice you need in your emergency situation.
To prevent accidental poisoning, do these two things:
- When you’re in the process of cleaning, keep your pets away from the area just as you would keep small children out of the area.
- ALWAYS lock your dangerous cleaning chemicals away in a place where your pets (and your children) cannot get into them.