Poison Control

When Clinic Disinfectants Cause Problems

Do you know what to expect if a pet is accidently exposed to a cleaning product in your hospital? The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has compiled helpful information regarding common problems seen when animals and cleaning products come in contact.  

There are several different classes of chemicals that may be found in cleaning products around the veterinary hospital or shelter:


Anion/Nonionic Detergents

Most commonly these cause skin, mucosal and eye irritation. Vomiting and diarrhea are possible, but often they are self-limiting. In severe cases, corneal ulceration, caustic injury to the gastrointestinal tract and aspiration may be seen.  

Cationic Detergents

These are likely to be found around a veterinary clinic due to their ability to kill bacteria and viruses. The primary effects of these detergents are mucosal and tissue irritation secondary to lipid bilayer disruption. With oral exposure vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain may be seen.

More severe signs are possible with higher concentration products, particularly those >7.5%. orrosive injury of the mouth, pharynx and esophagus are possible. Rarely such serious effects as hemorrhagic gastrointestinal tract necrosis, corneal ulceration, aspiration pneumonitis, hypoxemia, acute lung injury, CNS depression, coma and shock may be seen; cationic detergents have also caused ototoxicity.  


Most household bleaches contain 3-5% hypochlorite while industrial cleaners may contain up to 20% hypochlorite. At the lower concentrations the hypochlorite is moderately irritating to tissues and may cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Corrosive injury is more common with exposure of the more concentrated products and can lead to esophageal, gastric and possible corneal ulcerations.  

If hypochlorites are inhaled, coughing and upper respiratory irritation are most commonly seen. If a hypochlorite solution is mixed with an acid, the hypochlorite solution will liberate chlorine gas; chlorine gas has an irritant effect on the mucous membranes and may trigger wheezing and other respiratory symptoms. Patients with underlying respiratory disorders may be at higher risk for problems; serious exposures, while rare, may lead to upper airway edema and potentially chemical pneumonitis.

If Exposure Occurs

Oral Exposure

In this case, dilution is the solution. Offering the pet a small amount of water or milk can go a long way to preventing problems – and the faster, the better. If you’re dealing with a known caustic agent (don’t forget to check pH), starting on either an H2 antagonist or a proton pump inhibitor and sucralfate slurries is advisable.

Ocular Exposure

The first step, rinsing the eye thoroughly (at least 15 minutes) with tepid water or saline, is important. A drop of local anesthetic in the affected eye may help with discomfort of rinsing. If signs persist after a thorough flushing, a full ophthalmologic examination is warranted.

Inhalation Exposure

Moving the patient to fresh air and/or providing oxygen is the first thing to do. If the situation is more serious, bronchodilators, nebulized acetylcysteine or sodium bicarbonate may be considered along with close monitoring of arterial blood gas and/or pulse oximetry. Antibiotics may be considered if an infection is believed to be present.  

More Lifesaving Resources

Bordetella and Mistaken Injections
These tips will help you respond correctly if an intranasal Bordetella vaccine is accidentally administered subcutaneously or intramuscularly.  

Vet Tech Corner: Tox Histories 
Histories for poisoned pets can be complicated, but with a few tips (and our free downloadable checklist), you can be a tox history pro.

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