For our third Keeping Cats Safe topic, we’re looking at the risks associated with chemicals in the home and garden. This week we’re looking at benzalkonium chloride (disinfectant) poisoning in cats.
Lots of household disinfectants, including antibacterial products and patio cleaner, contain the cationic detergent benzalkonium chloride. Cationic detergents are irritant and can cause adverse effects in cats that have licked treated surfaces, or walked on them and then ingested the chemical when they later groomed themselves or cleaned their paws.
Normally, signs of benzalkonium chloride poisoning aren’t immediate, and it can take several hours for them to become apparent. Signs include:
- Red, inflamed tongue with a painful mouth
- High body temperature
- Reduced appetite and/or drinking
- Redness and irritation of skin
- Breathing difficulties and coughing
Veterinary advice should be sought if you believe your cat has been exposed to the disinfectant, and you should wash the product off to prevent any more being ingested.
There are some simple steps that can be followed to help prevent exposure to benzalkonium chloride:
- Dilute the product in line with instructions
- Don’t allow your cat to access the area where it has been used until it’s dry
- Don’t allow your cat to walk over a recently treated surface
- Store products out of sight and reach of your cat
- Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions
- If used outside, try not to allow your cat to access a recently treated surface that has become wet after rain
- Clean up spills quickly
Alternative cleaning methods
If your cat walks on kitchen surfaces, other methods of cleaning might be safer.
- Steam cleaning, depending on the surface, is a chemical-free alternative.
- Non-ionic or anionic detergents can be used, for example diluted washing up liquid, as these are less irritant.
- Properly diluted bleach is a good antibacterial agent if disinfection is necessary.
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