Make Spring Cleaning Pet Safe Instead of Pet Toxic

Written by:

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
Published: March 27, 2012

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