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Overview of Toxicity of Detergents and Soap in Dogs
Dogs can get into all kinds of potentially toxic household items including soaps and detergents. In the past soap and detergent toxicity (or poisoning) in dogs was relatively uncommon as the taste is generally unappealing. However, the risks and number of affected animals have soared with the development of washer-friendly “soap pod” packaging.
Soap pods are single-use packages of laundry or dishwasher detergent designed for convenience and ease of use. They are typically rectangles or balls of pressed detergent (sometimes with a liquid component) surrounded by a water-soluble wrapper.
This new packaging is convenient and cleaner than traditional liquids or powders. However, the toy like appearance of the pods can attract a pet’s attention more easily than other detergents. In the course of playing, your dog may ingest some or all of the soap as well as the wrapper.
Generally speaking, the majority of soaps and detergents are nontoxic. As with any non-food item, you can expect that your dog may experience some vomiting and maybe even a little diarrhea after exposure. However, different types of soap may be more or less toxic than the next. The most common forms are soaps, anionic detergents, cationic detergents, and non-ionic detergents. The average home typically contains at least one of each type at any time.
Types of soap dogs may ingest:
- Soaps: These include laundry and bar soaps. True soaps are usually not toxic to dogs. Ingestion frequently causes vomiting and/or diarrhea; homemade soaps may cause burns to the mouth and/or esophagus.
- Non-ionic detergents: This category includes dish-washing detergents, shampoos, and some laundry detergents. This group of detergents can be mildly irritating to sensitive oral and respiratory tissues but are less harmful than cationic and anionic detergents.
- Anionic detergents: Typical examples include laundry detergents, dish soaps, shampoos, and electric dish-washing detergents. These formulas can be irritating and cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs. Some stronger versions also contain chemicals that can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus and result in a lack of appetite and abdominal pain. Chemical burns to the mouth and esophagus may also result.
- Cationic detergents: Fabric softeners, sanitizers, disinfectants, and rust inhibitors in petroleum products fall into this category. These are the most hazardous group of cleaners to dog as they can cause the most damage to the mucous membranes (see more below). Cationic detergents can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, reluctance to eat, drooling, mouth pain, depression, collapse, and seizures. Many of the signs are secondary to ulceration and chemicals burns to the mouth, esophagus and/or stomach.
As mentioned above, some detergents cause a chemical burn. These physical reactions are the result of a pet ingesting or licking a caustic or corrosive chemical such as bleach or disinfectant. The burns are usually isolated to the tongue and upper esophagus; however, detergent pods can cause irritation to the stomach if they are swallowed whole and disintegrate in the stomach.
Chemical oral burns may not show up immediately. It may be several hours before you notice any of the following symptoms:
- lack of interest in eating
- swollen tongue
- excessive swallowing
- pawing at mouth
Diagnosis of Detergents & Soap Toxicity in Dogs
The determination of a toxicity diagnosis is most often based on the history of ingestion of a soap or detergent. It may also be based on characteristic changes on the surface of the tongue and a high suspicion of chemical oral burn. There are no specific blood tests or other diagnostics used to identify a chemical burn, although in severe cases sedation and endoscopy may be required to determine the extent of the damage.
Chemical burns on the tongue usually cause a whitening of the surface skin tissue. The edges of the tongue may become red and raw. The white surface eventually sloughs off, leaving the surface of the tongue raw and the exposed tissue visible.
Further damage can be assessed with the use of an endoscope, a thin flexible tube which is inserted through the mouth into the esophagus and stomach. The endoscope can help visualize internal surfaces of the digestive system without surgery. The extent of the burn can then be determined and the vet can decide appropriate treatment.
Treatment of Detergents & Soap Toxicity in Dogs
The treatment for soap or detergent ingestion depends on the type of chemicals ingested and how much of the mouth, esophagus and stomach are involved. There is no specific antidote. The following guidelines are useful for immediate care prior to veterinary attention:
- If soap or detergent has been ingested, the best initial treatment is to flush the mouth with large amounts of water to limit the damage. It is important to do this as soon as possible after ingestion; frequently the damage has already been done by the time the pet is brought to the veterinarian.
- DO NOT induce vomiting. Doing so may cause more harm as sensitive tissues are exposed to caustic or toxic chemicals again. If the product causes a burn when ingested, making a dog vomit can cause additional burning as it is vomited back up.
- Call your veterinarian to determine the severity of the product ingested.
- Seek veterinary attention if required.
- If detergent gets on your pet’s skin, the best treatment is flushing or rinsing the area for 10 minutes with cool water.
- If the detergent gets in your pet’s eyes, flush the area with water or sterile saline solution for 20 minutes. Seek veterinary attention as pets may have a corneal ulceration which needs specialized care.
ADDITIONAL VETERINARY CARE
- If the burn is isolated to the mouth, a topical cleaning agent such as Gly-oxide® is used three times daily. This can help remove dead tissue and reduce the risk of infection.
- Medications such as sucralfate (Carafate®) are used when the esophagus and stomach are affected. Sucralfate is a medication that coats the injured tissues and helps hasten recovery.
- Some pets with severe chemical oral burns do not have the desire to eat. Maintaining nutrition is important in the healing process. Animals that will not eat on their own will require a temporary feeding tube. Most commonly, a tube is placed through the esophagus or stomach a slurry of food in then fed several times a day to ensure adequate calorie intake.
- Pain control medication may be necessary.
- Severe burns in the mouth or esophagus may require hydration with fluid therapy.
- Most chemical oral burns heal within 1-2 weeks.
It is crucial to keep all chemicals safely stored away from inquisitive pets. Do not assume that a dog will not ingest something because it has a bad taste. Do not leave household cleaners unattended near your dog and take particular care to store harmful chemicals such as cleaners first when putting away groceries.