In addition to what goes into our pets’ mouths, dogs and cats can be poisoned by toxins that are absorbed, inhaled or injected into their bodies.  Knowing what, where (which body part) and how much Fido or Fluffy got into determines your course of action.


Paws and snouts are primary areas of contact, but your pet may absorb toxins through the ears, eye lids, belly and any place there is skin.  We often forget, but “the skin,” that protective covering on our furry friends as well as ourselves, is the largest organ of the body providing considerable surface area for harmful things to enter.


An additional danger caused by substances that get on paws and coats is that they may also be ingested once the animal licks and grooms.  Should you notice something on your pet that should not be there, wash the area thoroughly and visit your Veterinarian to prevent long-term effects and discomfort.



Ocular Decontamination

Check label and keep in mind that if it will burn the skin, it will damage the eye!  If product is labeled “Caution,” it is generally an irritant.  Flush eye for 10-15 minutes at home to see if irritation resolves.  If product label denotes “Danger,” product is considered corrosive!  Flush for 10-15 minutes at home and proceed promptly to veterinarian for additional irrigation, fluorescein stain, antibiotics and other treatment.

Irrigate with eye wash, water or saline, in that order of preference.  Do not use eye drops, such as Visine®, to flush toxins.



Dermal Decontamination

For toxins absorbed systemically, such as Tea Tree Oil, be sure to have gloves, goggles or other protective gear yourself.  Irritants (Caution labels) will cause mild redness in most cases, so rinse the animal in a warm bath and apply topical Vitamin E if suggested by your veterinarian.  A vet visit may also be advised to administer activated charcoal and observe if toxin was also ingested.


If the toxin was corrosive (Danger label), rinse pet for 15 minutes then bathe with dish soap to degrease.  Burn care may be required.  Remember, if the animal is in pain, he or she may not cooperate with you and may need to be sedated at your veterinarian’s office in order to bathe, so act promptly.


For oil-based toxins (petroleum products), use a gentle dish washing liquid or shampoo before flushing with water.


If the poison is a dry powdery substance (such as sink scrubs or granulated swimming pool chlorine), brush or vacuum away before washing the area — if you add water to a dry toxin, you will activate it ON your pet’s skin! If the irritant is in your pet’s eye, carefully flush the eye with purified water/eye wash.


For pollens, bathe pet quickly (especially depending on the plant – i.e. lilies and cats!), especially if pollen is on fur, mouth and any part of the body, and get to the vet where they will induce emesis (aka vomiting) and administer activated charcoal if ingested.  A CBC, Chemical Panel and UA (urinalysis) will be conducted and fluids given aggressively for 48 hours or until asymptomatic if there are concerns about toxicity.



Pyrethrin is an insecticide derived from the Chrysanthemum flower, and Pyrethroid is a synthetic form.  You may find these ‘thrins’ in flea control products (concentrations greater than 3% can cause problems) and due to glucuronidation, cats are very sensitive!  Glucuronidation is a metabolic process where drugs are broken down into water soluble compounds that are more easily excreted by the kidneys out of the body, but cats are glucuronidation deficient.  What this means is that drugs stay in the feline system longer than they do in canines and they act as a higher dosage. Always take care to use cat-specific products on your kitty and if your cat co-habitates with a dog, make sure she can’t rub against or lay in the same bedding if pyrethrins have been applied to the dog.


Symptoms can include

  • Tremors, seizures, ataxia
  • Skeletal muscle weakness


Bathe kitty with mild liquid dish soap and warm water (not too warm as to open pores allowing more of toxin to go into the system).  If cat is twitching, she may need to be sedated at your vet’s office even before bath, so act quickly.


After bath, towel dry to prevent hypothermia, keep kitty warm.  Your veterinarian will need to monitor the cat for 48-72 hours, maintaining hydration and perfusion and limiting stimulus to prevent seizures.



Essential Oils may contain terpenes which can be rapidly absorbed (orally & dermally, then metabolized by liver and phenols (alcohols).  Oil exposure can cause irritation and lesions to the tongue, mucous membranes and throat.


Topical decontamination, most commonly caused by the application of Tea Tree Oil, can result in Hypothermia, ataxia (involuntary muscle movements), Weakness, Central Nervous System depression, tremors, bradycardia (slowed heart rhythm) and increased liver enzymes,


Bathe cat well with mild hand/dish washing detergent, examining for skin irritation. It will be important for the vet to maintain hydration and perfusion, provide heat support, monitor blood pressure and administer liver protectants.

Of particular note are:

  • Oil of Wintergreen and Sweet Birch (methyl salicylate) convert to aspirin causing GI & respiratory issues and anemia.
  • Citrus Oil (d-limonene) may cause hypersalivation, tremors, ataxia (abnormality in muscle and eye movements – can be on just one side of the body) and coma.
  • Pine oils may result in neurological and renal issues, present as vomiting, salivation, anorexia, oral and pharyngeal pain and ulcers.
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Peppermint Oil may cause vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizure
  • Cinnamon Oil is upsetting to gut


Oral decontamination includes diluting by administering water flavored with tuna juice to encourage drinking, pain meds, antibiotics, soft food or feeding tube if mouth and pharyngeal ulcers present, as well as oxygen support in severe cases.


Products safe for humans are not always safe for our furry family members. Do your best to keep toxins out of paws and claws reach!  Additionally, remember that cats are not small dogs and toxins affect them differently, so know the differences, read labels and be prepared to help.




And if you share your life with other species, be sure to check out my classes and books on birds, rabbits and pocket pets at


Spring has sprung and you just might be pulling cleaners, fertilizers, insecticides out of the cupboard or bringing them home from the store. What pet's don't absorb in their paws, they can inhale or ingest. We're covering it all as we take page 217 (250-251 also) out of THE PET SAFETY BIBLE to discuss ABSORBED POISONS!

Posted by Sunny-Dog Ink on Thursday, March 21, 2019

For 20 years Denise Fleck’s Sunny-dog Ink motto has been “Helping people to help their pets,” and she has…personally having taught close to 20,000 pet lovers animal life-saving skills and millions more on “The Doctors,” CNN, “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life,” Animal Planet and other TV shows.  Denise is a frequent conference speaker, developed a line of pet first aid kits, written a dozen books and now offers classes online.  

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