What to Do If Your Cat or Dog Ingests Mothballs
Dogs are pretty well known for their odd eating habits, whereas cats are better known as inquisitive creatures that love to explore their home and hide in secretive spaces. Closets and drawers are places that cats enjoy sneaking into and possibly napping in. These are also areas where people like to keep mothballs.
While most cats (unlike dogs, which can eat everything in sight) are quite finicky beings, some cats or kittens may actually decide to play with the mothballs and eventually place them in their mouths.
Naphthalene Is Toxic to Pets
Mothballs are composed of naphthalene, a toxin that is also found in other moth repellents and toilet-bowl deodorizers.
In some products, naphthalene has recently been replaced by paradichlorobenzene. Though paradichlorobenzene is less toxic than naphthalene, it is still able to potentially cause gastro-intestinal upset and neurological symptoms, especially in cats and dogs exposed to large amounts.
Both toxins can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed by the skin.
How to Tell If Mothballs Contain Naphthalene
According to an article by Camille DeClementi VMD on owners unsure if their pet has ingested a naphthalene mothball or paradichlorobenzene mothball should dilute three heaping tablespoons of salt in tepid water until well dissolved.
Then the mothball should be added. If it floats, it is made of naphthalene. If it drowns, it is made of paradichlorobenzene.
Symptoms of Mothball Poisoning
Cats and dogs that have inhaled moth balls typically develop symptoms within minutes. If they've ingested it, symptoms may take a few hours to show, and continuous long term exposure may take several days for signs to appear. These can include:
- Breath smelling like naphthalene
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Cerebral swelling
Complications may arise such as Heinz anemia and methemoglobinemia. In Heinz disease, the cat or dog develops anemia, becoming lethargic, weak and exhibiting pale mucous membranes.
In methemoglobinemia, the cat or dog develops brown or blue-colored gums. Several days after ingestion, the cat or dog may develop liver problems along with signs of jaundice.
What to Do If Your Pet Eats a Mothball
Poisoning may occur with the ingestion of just one mothball, so regardless of the situation, treatment must be sought at once.
A gastric lavage may be performed by a veterinarian within 30–60 minutes after ingestion. Activated charcoal will help prevent absorption of the remaining toxic traces. Fluids may be administered and the pet may require hospitalization.
Cats and dogs with difficulty breathing may require oxygen.
Note: The induction of vomiting should take place only in pets that are asymptomatic and that have ingested the mothballs within two hours.
Keep Mothballs Away From Your Cats and Dogs
As seen, mothball poisoning may be a critical situation. For this reason, it is highly recommended for dog and cat owners to keep them carefully out of reach.
If you suspect your pet has been exposed, a veterinarian should be seen at once, or the poison control center should be contacted at ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435).
The prognosis will depend on how many mothballs the cat or dog was exposed to, the overall health status of the pet, and how quickly treatment is sought.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli