DIY products

This month, iCatCare’s Keeping Cats Safe campaign is highlighting the potential risk that DIY products may pose to cats. 

Many different home decorating and DIY products may pose a risk to your cat (Courtesy of Nicola Bates, Veterinary Poisons Information Service)

Decorating and maintaining our homes involves the use of numerous chemicals and products. Cats can be accidentally exposed to these chemicals by drinking from open containers or spills, or licking treated surfaces. Brushing against treated surfaces or walking through spills and then grooming the product off and ingesting it that way is probably the most common way cats are poisoned by many products. If you are worried about your cat seek veterinary advice immediately.


Products to fill in cracks and small holes usually contain mineral powders of quartz or calcium carbonate. These products are of low toxicity. 

Signs of exposure and treatment
Inhalation of the powder prior to mixing may cause mild respiratory symptoms and ingestion of the powder or paste (wet or dry) may cause stomach upset. Veterinary treatment will be based on the signs the cat is displaying.

Expanding foam and expanding adhesives

Expanding foam and expanding adhesives start as a small volume and expand as they dry. These products contain polyurethane and isocyanates, typically diphenylmethane diisocyanate. Cats may be exposed to the product as it is drying, or they may eat lumps of the dried material. Ingestion of these products if not expanded leads to a risk of obstruction due to expansion of the foam or adhesive in the stomach. Expanding wood glues can expand to more than eight times the original volume within 2 hours.  

Signs of exposure and treatment
There is limited information about exposure in cats but, in dogs, most develop only mild gastrointestinal symtoms. However, ingestion of even a small volume can cause vomiting – including vomiting of blood – anorexia, diarrhoea, lethargy, depression and abdominal discomfort and extension. Dehydration may occur due to excessive vomiting. On the skin, foam that has not yet hardened will set rapidly and may cause local irritation, redness, itching, swelling and blistering. Clipping may be necessary as well as washing with detergent or oil, and any skin irritation treated. If a solid mass has formed in the cat’s stomach, this will be removed. The vet may give medication to treat the stomach and prevent vomiting.

White spirit

White spirit is a solvent and a petroleum distillate (it is derived from the distillation of crude oil). Petroleum distillates have various toxic effects. They are irritating to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes, and severe problems can result from breathing in the fumes of even a small volume of white spirit.

Signs of exposure and treatment
If the cat ingests or grooms the product off this may cause a burning sensation leading to hypersalivation, head shaking, pawing at the mouth, vomiting, diarrhoea, local irritation and ulceration of the mouth. Signs of inhalation of the fumes include choking, coughing, fever, breathlessness, cyanosis (a blueish colouration of the skin due to lack of oxygen in the blood) and fluid in the lungs. Ingestion or inhalation of a large volume can lead to ataxia (loss of full control of the limbs), depression, drowsiness and, in severe cases (rare), coma. On the skin, white spirit may cause inflammation, redness, swelling, blistering, hair loss and burns. Stop the cat from grooming and check with your vet for treatment.

Wallpaper paste

Wallpaper adhesives typically contain starches (eg, potato starch derivatives), polyvinyl acetate (PVA) and some contain fungicides (often captan or a triazine) to inhibit mould growth. 

Signs of exposure and treatment
Signs in cats that have ingested wallpaper paste include lethargy, lack of appetite, ulceration of the mouth and dehydration, but are usually mild. Check with your vet if you are worried.

Household paint

It is important to know what type of paint a cat has been exposed to in order to determine any potential risks of poisoning. The important thing to know is whether the paint is water-based or solvent-based. If the paint is labelled ‘minimal’ or ‘low VOC’ (which stands for volatile organic compound), then it is effectively water-based, whereas if the label states ‘medium’ or ‘high VOC’ it is solvent-based paint. If white spirit is recommended to clean the paintbrush, or if the product label states any of the following phrases: ‘Flammable’; ‘Keep away from sources of ignition’; ‘No smoking’, then it is solvent-based.

Signs of exposure and treatment
Water-based paints are of low toxicity and most cats show no signs after exposure, although a small number develop mild stomach upset. No specific treatment is recommended but if there is heavy contamination of fur the cat should be washed with water and a detergent. Solvent-based paints are typically petroleum distillates like white spirit. Check with your vet if you are worried.



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