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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

As spring is all about making a fresh start, human society feels compelled to engage in spring cleaning rituals to clear out the old and make room for the new. As we undertake this potentially Herculean task (depending on the winter harshness you and your pets endured), it's vitally important to recognize the potential toxic effects household cleaning products may have on our pets.


After all, our cats, dogs and other companion animals live in a shared environment with us and are exposed to the same toxic substances in our homes and yards. Plus, pets groom themselves using their mouths. Therefore, residues from cleaning products and other environmental toxins end up in their skin, coat, eyes, nose, and throat.


Single or repeat exposures may have short and long term negative health implications for our feline and canine friends. Ingestion of or contact with cleaning products can cause a variety of clinical signs in pets, including:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Nasal and ocular (eye) discharge
  • Ptyalism (salivation)
  • Emesis (vomiting)
  • Diarrhea
  • Anorexia (decreased appetite)
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Death


Clinical signs may not be evident until your pet is extremely sick with metabolic disease (kidney, liver, or other organ system failure), cancer, or other severe illness; therefore, prevention is the best treatment.


To get a first hand perspective from someone intricately involved in the pet-safe product movement, I contacted Quincy Yu, founder of SeaYu Enterprises, which makes Clean + Green.


Clean+Green is a non-toxic, plant-based, biodegradable and fragrance free cleaner, stain remover and odor eliminator that works on contact, permanently eliminates the stain or odor, is easy to use. Our package is made with recycled materials which are themselves recyclable. So you have a product that works and is safe for pets, people and the planet.


More studies are confirming that our pets are at a higher health risk than even people are from the negative effects of chemicals and fragrances in our home. With the availability of non-toxic and fragrance free cleaners on the market today, pet parents have safer alternatives to traditional products.


And from Polluted Pets, published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), April 17, 2008:


Dogs and cats were contaminated with 48 of 70 chemicals tested, including 43 chemicals at higher levels than those typically found in people, according to our study of plastics and food packaging chemicals, heavy metals, fire retardants, and stain-proofing chemicals in pooled samples of blood and urine from 20 dogs and 37 cats collected at a Virginia veterinary clinic. In dogs, the average level of stain- and grease-proof coatings (perfluorochemicals) was 2.4 times higher. In cats, fire retardants (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers or PBDEs) were 23 times higher, and Mercury was more than 5 times the amounts compared to average levels in people found in national studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and EWG.


The study is the most comprehensive investigation of the chemical body burden of companion animals conducted to date, with 23 chemicals reported in pets for the first time. The results reinforce findings from prior studies showing that pets' unique behaviors may place them at risk for elevated exposures and health risks from chemicals pollutants in the home and outdoors, in air, water, food, soil and consumer products for people and pets.


Don’t let your pet’s illness be your incitement for change. Yu suggests that you "check your cleaning products' labels and avoid:

  • Phenols (which are typically found in cleaners with the word "sol" in the name)
  • Phthalates
  • Formaldehyde (found in general household cleaners)
  • Bleach
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Perchloroethylene (found in rug and carpet shampoos)


Pet-safe cleaning products strive to reduce the likelihood that toxic effects will occur in our pets, but there is no 100 percent guarantee that such cleaners won’t cause any clinical signs of illness. Products that lack odor or are without known toxic components, and that can be applied directly to surfaces, are less likely to cause harm. Even "all natural" products may not be completely safe for all pets. I suggest following manufacturer’s directions when applying such products to your environment. Additionally, never directly apply them to your pet’s skin, coat, or other body parts.


If you suspect or know your pet has been exposed to a cleaning product or other toxic substance, immediately contact your veterinarian. Pending their counsel, further help may be needed. Two great resources in managing pet toxicities are the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) (888-426-4435) and the Pet Poison Helpline (855-213-6680).



Dr. Patrick Mahaney


Image: Zanna Holstova / Shutterstock


Comments  4

Leave Comment
  • Excellent Advice!
    03/27/2012 07:11am

    Excellent advice. We all need to remember that Fido and Fluffy lick their fur and feet, so any residual from cleaning goes into them. (Also true of lawn treatments if your critter goes outside.)

    We also need to be aware there might have a detergent residue on items Fido and Fluffy sleep on.

    Ingested over a period of time, there can be problems.

    Thanks for the reminder, Dr. Mahaney.

  • 03/30/2012 03:14am

    Thank you for your comments.
    Great point about detergents too! In our home, we only use fragrance and color free versions and do not use fabric softener.
    The thought about the dangers of fabric softener in our pets just came to mind based on your comments about detergent (thank you)! Perhaps that will be the subject of a future article??
    Dr PM

  • 03/27/2012 09:16am

    I don't know about others' pets but my two cats also seem to feel it is there duty to investigate any and every new smell... 8 or 9 times. So even when they make a "what is this horrible thing" face, they still keep coming back and sniffing again and again.

    So, yeah, all natural, pet-friendly products at my house.

  • 03/30/2012 03:18am

    Thank you for your comments and sharing your cat's impressions of the smells that cause the revision (yet keep them coming back for more).
    Is there a particular smell (or few scents) that do this to them?
    Hopefully, their instincts will keep them safe from toxic and offensive odors. Your use of pet-safe products will help!
    Dr PM
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

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