Animal Welfare International

Pet Tales: Coronavirus cleaning can pose danger to pets

The hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and cleaning products that people have been buying and using during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a spike in calls to veterinary toxicology specialists.

As people spend more time at home with their pets and more time cleaning and sanitizing their homes, the Pet Poison Hotline is reporting a 100 percent increase in the number of telephone calls from pet owners concerned about toxic chemicals in common household cleaning products, especially alcohol or bleach.

The hotline is not reporting an increase in pet deaths but cautions people to be careful.

Dogs and cats can lick cleaners and sanitizers out of bottles and containers or lick their paws after walking on surfaces where alcohol- or bleach-based products have pooled or puddled, risking internal damage. Those substances can also cause irritation and swelling to paws. Owners also need to securely dispose of cleanser-soaked paper towels that have been used to clean surfaces. Many dogs like to steal paper from the trash and shred and eat it.

This information from the Pet Poison Hotline has been shared by BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, which operates Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Centers in Ohio Township and Peters.

The top tip is to put pets in a crate or another room when cleaning and sanitizing. Don’t bring animals back until floors and surfaces are dry. Keep the products safely stored away from pets and children.

Though many of these products are generally non-life-threatening, large doses can lead to vomiting, hypersalivation, abdominal pain, and in some cases, seizures or respiratory failure, said Dr. Alex Blutinger, a critical care veterinary specialist at BluePearl.

Quick action is needed when pets ingest something poisonous, said Dr. Rachel Smith, internal medicine specialist and medical director of the PVSEC South office in Peters. A delay in treatment can cause life-threatening damage to internal organs, usually the liver or kidneys.

Be wary of household cleaners containing hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, bleach, ammonia and phenols, which are found in many disinfectant sprays and toilet bowel cleaners. Many people keep 3% hydrogen peroxide in the house to to induce vomiting in dogs that have eaten something that is bad for them, such as grapes, raisins or chocolate.

Never induce vomiting in a dog without first talking to your veterinarian or a poison control hotline, Dr. Smith said.

“Inducing vomiting is not always the best thing to do” because a caustic substance can cause further damage when it is vomited back up through the throat and mouth, she said.

Peroxide can cause inflammation and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract. Never use it to induce vomiting in a cat, Dr. Smith said. It may cause severe bleeding and inflammation in the stomach and esophagus.

If ingested by pets, isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) can cause vomiting, disorientation and, in severe cases, collapse, respiratory depression and seizures. If used in high concentrations on open wounds, it can damage skin and delay healing.

Bleach can have severe effects on dog and cats, depending on the amount the pet has been exposed to. Regular strength household bleach can irritate skin and eyes. Ingestion of highly concentrated bleach can burn the esophagus, damage the stomach lining and cause oral ulcers. Symptoms include severe depression, pawing at the mouth, hypersalivation, vomiting, lethargy and loss of appetite.

Ammonia, used in some disinfecting wipes or sprays, can cause corrosive injury to any tissue it contacts. In aerosol form, it can make eyes swell, tear and burn. In higher concentrations, it can irritate the throat and lungs.

Phenols, which are found in many disinfectant sprays and other cleaning products, can be extremely corrosive to eyes and are rapidly absorbed through the skin.

Dr. Smith said she has not seen a spike in cases caused by household cleaning products. The most common causes of poisoning are chocolate, prescription and over-the-counter medications for humans, and xylitol, an artificial sweetener used in sugar-free gum and some baked goods and peanut butter. Always read the content labels of “people food” given to pets.

Cats are far less likely than dogs to ingest toxic and caustic substances, Dr. Smith said.

Because time is of the essence, it might be best to call the poison hotline first, she said, especially if you know what the pet has ingested. If the pet is sick and you don’t know why, lab work at a veterinary clinic is needed.

The number for the Pet Poison Helpline is 855-764-7661. The cost is $59. The website www.petpoisonhelpline.com has an extensive list of the many substances that can poison pets, including a wide array of plants and flowers.

Source: Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com