Dangerous disinfectants – how cleaning your patio could put your cat in danger

With the summer here, many of us will be spending more time outdoors, enjoying and sprucing up our gardens. However, before you clean your patio, think carefully if you own a cat. Many patio cleaners contain benzalkonium chloride, a chemical that can be toxic to cats, with exposed cats potentially suffering severe reactions and even occasionally death. 

As part of the charity International Cat Care’s Keeping Cats Safe campaign, the danger to cats from benzalkonium chloride and other disinfectants is being highlighted throughout the month of July.

Benzalkonium chloride is a cationic detergent that can be found in many household disinfectants, including commonly used antibacterial sprays and patio cleaners. Cationic detergents are irritants and can cause adverse effects in cats that have licked or walked over treated surfaces and then groomed or cleaned their paws and ingested the chemical. These effects are often seen several hours after exposure and typically include drooling, a red and inflamed tongue and a high temperature. The mouth may be extremely painful and cats can stop eating. There may also be redness and irritation of the skin. In severe cases of exposure, especially without the correct veterinary treatment, the cat can die. 

The Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS), which provide a 24-hour telephone emergency service for veterinary professionals who suspect acute poisoning, reports receiving an average of 70 calls each year about cats being poisoned as a result of exposure to benzalkonium chloride, and another 35 per year for other disinfectants.

International Cat Care has highlighted several of these cases on its website to help raise owner awareness. One involves a cat that developed a high temperature, was drooling profusely and had ulcerations in its mouth, 12 hours after walking on a recently cleaned patio. The cat was treated with pain relief, fluids and fed soft food only, and after 6 days was lucky enough to make a full recovery.

To keep cats safe International Cat Care recommends that all disinfectants be kept well out of the way of any areas that cats can access, as the greatest risk is when cats are exposed to concentrated solutions of the disinfectants. Cats should also be kept off treated surfaces until completely dry, and where concentrated disinfectants (such as patio or floor cleaners) are used, the area should be thoroughly rinsed and allowed to dry before cats have access. This is particularly important as if treated areas become wet again (ie, from rain fall, wet paws or even a cat licking the surface) the product may still be present. To be completely safe, the charity has advice on several alternative methods of cleaning on its website. 

International Cat Care also advises that if your cat comes into contact with a disinfectant that you wash it off straight away and seek immediate veterinary advice, as the quicker treatment is received the more positive the outcome.

Benzalkonium chloride and other cationic detergents are very widely used disinfectants around the house. Although cases of poisoning are relatively uncommon, they can be severe, and care should always be taken when using these products.

For more information about the risks of disinfectants see: http://icatcare.org/advice/keeping-cats-safe/disinfectants and for further case studies see: http://icatcare.org/advice/keeping-cats-safe-campaign/disinfectant-case-studies 

Full details about the campaign can also be found at: http://icatcare.org/keeping-cats-safe




Press enquiries:

Jo Vuckovic, Digital Communications Manager
jo@icatcare.org, +44 (0)1747 871872



Drooling, redness and ulceration on the tongue of a cat, 12 hours after licking a patio treated with a cleaner containing benzalkonium chloride 

Notes to editors: 

About International Cat Care (iCatCare)
A charity dedicated to the health and welfare of cats.

The International Cat Care vision:
All cats, owned and unowned, are treated with care, compassion and understanding.

The International Cat Care mission:
To engage, educate and empower people throughout the world to improve the health and welfare of cats by sharing advice, training and passion.

About the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM)
ISFM is the veterinary division of International Cat Care. ISFM aims to provide a worldwide resource for veterinarians on feline medicine and surgery.


For more information, please visit http://www.icatcare.org or https://www.facebook.com/icatcare