As the time nears for spring cleaning and companies offer more environmentally friendly alternatives to toxic cleaners, veterinarians say pet owners should keep in mind that what’s green to a human can be dangerous — even deadly — to animals.
“People expose their animals without even realizing the risk,” said Dr. Karl Jandrey, who works in the emergency and critical care units at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis. “That’s the most common thing that happens when you come to our emergency room — the clients put their pets at risk because they were unaware of how significant the damage could be.”
Cats, for example, can get stomachaches from essential oils added for orange, lemon or peppermint scents in cleaners, said Dr. Camille DeClementi, a senior toxicologist at the Animal Poison Control Center run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Urbana, Ill.
Most commercial green products are safe for animals, DeClementi said, but owners should still exercise the same precautions as with chemical alternatives, such as keeping pets away from an area being cleaned, not using sprays directly on a pet and making sure that dogs don’t chew on the products.
The “green” label on products can be misleading because it still can be dangerous, Jandrey added. “In general, they probably are a little less toxic, but not free of toxic potential. They just have a need for a larger dose to cause the same kind of symptoms,” he said.
Labels can’t always account for every reaction, Jandrey said. “Each intoxicating product has different concentrations and each dog or cat, each species, has a different sensitivity to that product. So what might be intoxicating to a dog is really, really intoxicating to a cat because cats might be more sensitive.”
Nancy Guberti, a New York City nutritionist and lifestyle coach, said some products will say green when they are not.
“Natural means nothing. The consumer has to be educated. It’s all about awareness,” she said.
Extra care should be taken when cleaning around a pet’s area, such as toys or bedding, experts say. Don’t use fabric softener sheets that contain cationic detergents because they will give pets stomach distress, DeClementi said, referring to a type of anti-bacterial soap.
Such detergents and soaps, normally associated with helping to get clothes clean and fresh-smelling, can have chemicals that can sicken humans and pets alike.
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