Pet-friendly house cleaning
Ah, spring. As we emerge triumphantly from the bitter cold of winter, we celebrate the reawakening of garden blooms and budding leaves with a tradition as old as the seasons themselves — spring cleaning.
Keeping your dog safe while keeping your house clean
As dog guardians, we must approach this tradition thinking not only of the fresh start we achieve by deep cleaning the nooks and crannies of our living spaces, but also of how the household cleaning solutions and implements we use throughout the year affect the four-legged members of our families. Since animals are obviously closer to the ground, they are in direct contact with most cleaning products. This makes them more vulnerable to poisoning, which could result in illness or death.
Dr. Sharon Gwaltney, vice president and medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill., estimates that more than 85 percent of the calls they receive are in regards to dogs. “Just like children, dogs are inquisitive. And if they can get in there and get something, they’re going to chew on it, they’re going to lick it, they’re going to eat it.”
In the bathroom
Tub and tile cleaners. Mildew removers. Toilet bowl disinfectants. The bathroom is home to a multitude of cleaning products. Although today’s bleach-based cleaners are more diluted to meet stringent safety standards, they are still corrosive to a dog’s mouth and digestive track.
Anything that’s a soap — whether it be a detergent, a shampoo or a bar of soap — contains compounds called surfactants that can cause severe burns in the throat and mouth. Surfactants (short for “surface active agents”) are substances that, when dissolved in water, are able to remove dirt and grease from surfaces ranging from countertops and textiles to skin and hair.
When working with toilet bowl cleaners and drain openers, be especially cautious with your dog. Depending on whether the dog gets into the full concentration of liquid out of the bottle or the solution diluted by water from the bowl, ingestion can cause problems ranging from an upset stomach to death.
Also, we must be especially careful when using drain openers to unclog a sink or bathtub.
“The most common exposure we see in regards to drain openers is when people pour the drain opener into the clogged sink or tub and let it sit there, usually with a teeny bit of water at the top, and they walk out of the bathroom,” says Gwaltney. “The dog then goes in and takes a lick, resulting in burns in the mouth.” She has seen dogs with injuries from ingesting cleaners that range from a mild burn that heals very quickly to a burn so severe that they lose parts of their tongue or lips.
In the kitchen
Many of our dogs know the kitchen as the home of their food and water bowls. It’s also home to many cleaning products that pose both chemical and physical threats to an inquisitive dog. Counter and stove top spray cleaners, glass cleaners or liquid dish soap are very chemically similar to the spray cleaners used in the bathroom. Gwaltney has even seen cases of dogs ingesting steel wool scouring pads. “Believe it or not, dogs seem to delight in shredding and devouring steel wool pads.” Steel wool, while not terribly toxic, can do major mechanical damage to the mouth, esophagus and stomach.
Another threat in the kitchen is the automatic dishwasher detergent. Whether in the form of a bottled gel or a tablet, it is very alkaline and can cause acid-related injuries. Gwaltney commonly hears from dog owners who squirted the detergent into their dishwasher’s dispenser and turned their back to put the bottle up on the counter. In that moment, the dog took that opportunity to take a few licks of the detergent their owner had just poured, resulting in burns in the dog’s mouth.
“I think dogs do things like licking automatic dishwashing liquid from the dispenser because they saw their owner squirt it in there and they think it might be food, so they have to have a taste,” says Gwaltney. “Dogs, not being the most discriminate animals, if they’re going to have one taste, then they’re going to have two or three, making the injuries even worse.”
In the laundry room
Laundry room products typically get the most use throughout the year, and they’re some of the most pet-toxic products in the house.
Some types of dryer sheets carry a warning on their box that reads “Harmful or fatal if swallowed.” Dryer sheets with this warning contain cationic detergents (surfactants containing positively-charged ions that aid in softening textiles) that can cause not only corrosive injuries to a dog’s mouth, but can damage a dog’s internal organs and cause damage in the digestive track if swallowed. They’re so irritating that a dog who has swallowed one may immediately react by vomiting, re-exposing the esophagus and mouth to any cationic detergents on the sheet.
Spot cleaners also tend to contain cationic detergents, often times at highly concentrated levels. If ingested in a large enough amount, it’s common to see damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. Many liquid laundry detergents can also burn a dog’s skin. Because of the wide variation in pH levels among brands of powdered laundry detergents, Gwaltney recommends contacting the ASPCA or a local poison control center if your dog ingests powdered detergent. An agent can check the brand’s potential for corrosive burns against a database of powdered detergent pH levels.
Knowing the dangers common household cleaners can pose to our dogs, how do we best proceed? Use the same kind of precaution with your dog as you would with your child. Equip dog-level cabinets containing cleaning products or laundry supplies with childproof locks or bungee cords. Store them high or in a locked closet.
Never leave anything harmful out in the open where your dog could access it. Keep an eye on your dog while using cleaning products. If possible, put him outside or remove him from the room while you clean. He should be kept from the cleansed area until the cleaning agents have dried.
Consider replacing your cleaning products with ones that do not incorporate toxic fume-emitting chemicals. Nowadays, there are many manufacturers creating earth-friendly cleaning products. By taking these precautions, you can enjoy the results of your clean home with the reassurance that your dog will be safe, happy and healthy.
Clean & green
Cleaning products are some of the most dangerous items in our home. But there are alternatives that can clean your house just as effectively.
Our great-grandparents used natural ingredients to disinfect and deodorize. Homemade solutions created from everyday pantry items like lemon juice, white vinegar, salt or baking soda are not only less expensive but have multiple cleaning purposes. A solution made of 1/3 cup of white distilled vinegar with 2/3 cup of warm water can be used to shine up your sink, clean mirrors and windows, clean a stain from your carpet, or wipe down your backsplash.
In this new age of “green,” there are many earth-friendly options for almost every cleaning product. Brands like Begley’s Best and Mrs. Meyer’s offer chemical-free alternatives to traditional cleansers. Seventh Generation also offers a complete line of eco-friendly “Free and Clear” products that contain no dyes and fragrances. These are great for dogs that suffer from hypersensitivity and allergies when exposed to heavily fragranced products, which are common triggers of allergic reactions, according to the ASPCA.
But remember: Although all of these products are nontoxic and more earth-friendly than traditional cleansers, the same care should be taken when using them around your dogs. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe for your pet to ingest.
For even more information on creating a healthy environment for your pet visit: