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Keeping Cats Safe: DIY products

19th June 2020

  •   News
Keeping Cats Safe: DIY products

Home decorating and maintenance involves the use of numerous different chemicals that can potentially be hazardous to cats.

Cats can accidentally ingest products by drinking from open containers or brushing against a treated surface and then grooming themselves. You might discover exposure from paint footprints, sticky or discoloured fur, or the distinctive smell.

We look at some commonly used products below.

White spirit

Also known as turpentine substitute, ‘turps’, Stoddard solvent and mineral spirits, white spirit is a colourless volatile liquid commonly used as paintbrush cleaner. It is a solvent and petroleum distillate

Ingestion or oral exposure can cause a burning sensation which can manifest as hypersalivation, head shaking and pawing at the mouth. There may be vomiting, diarrhoea, ulceration of the mouth and you might notice a strong smell of the solvent. Aspiration pneumonia is a potential complication of ingestion.

Ingestion of a large volume could result in:

  • Central nervous system depression with ataxia
  • Depression
  • Drowsiness
  • And in severe cases coma

On the skin, white spirit may cause burns, inflammation and other skin complaints.

White spirit is extremely toxic to cats and every effort should be made to ensure they can’t come into contact with it. Immediate veterinary assistance should be sought if you suspect your cat has been exposed to petroleum distillate.

Household paint

Household paint is either water-based or solvent-based. In Europe paint labels are required to state the volatile organic compound (VOC) of the paint, and this is what will tell you which type it is. If it’s labelled as ‘minimal’ or ‘low VOC’ it’s effectively water-based, and if it’s listed as ‘medium’ or ‘high VOC’ is should be treated as a solvent-based paint.

If the VOC content isn’t listed, you can ask what’s needed to clean the paint brushes, if it’s water, then the paint is water-based, but if white spirit is recommended, it’s solvent-based.

Alternatively, if the product label includes any of the following phrases, it contains solvents:

  • Flammable
  • Keep away from sources of ignition
  • No smoking
Water-based (low VOC) paint

Low VOC paint is a thick liquid, usually used on walls. These paints are of low toxicity and most cats won’t show symptoms after exposure, although some may develop mild gastrointestinal upset. Coated fur should be washed with water and a detergent such as washing-up liquid or shampoo.

Solvent-based (medium of high VOC) paint

High or medium VOC paint may, but not always, include gloss paints or specialist paints. These are usually petroleum distillates and should be treated in the same way as white spirit, as detailed above.

Wallpaper paste

This can either be a powder or a ready-to-use paste, and typically contains starches, PVA and sometimes fungicides to stop mould growth.

Signs after ingestion can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Oral ulceration
  • Inflammation
  • Dehydration
Expanding foam and adhesives

Expanding foam is used as a gap filler, sealant, or as insulation. It’s usually available in aerosol cans or in tubes. Expanding glue is available with an applicator top and is generally used as a wood glue. When applied, the product remains soft for some time and then gradually hardens.

Cats could be exposed to this product whilst it’s in the process of hardening, or they may eat lumps of the dried material.

The main risk of ingesting these materials is them expanding once they’ve been ingested. Products vary, but some foams claim they can expand up to 30 or 50 times in volume.

Ingestion of even a small volume can cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Haematemesis
  • Anorexia
  • Diarrhoea
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Abdominal discomfort and distension
  • Dehydration may occur due to excessive vomiting

On the skin, foam that is uncured will rapidly set and may cause local irritation.

Veterinary advice should be sought if your cat has ingested a product of this type.


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