Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
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In some products, naphthalene has recently been replaced by paradichlorobenzene.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
jodi munden, New zealand on April 17, 2017:
This is to the person identified as liberals suck. it is mankind that has made these deadly things that are out there, that can kill our beloved pets. Why should I a person have to suffer the loss of a loved pet because of the actions of other people. I once lost a dog because of my neibour putting down rat poisen, and the rat happened to die in my back yard and my dog just played with it for a small amount of time before I found her with it, she ended up at the vets, and eventually dieing the following morning. It cost me over $500 to treat my dog, and I still lost lost her. So in responce to your small minded, arragent, and out right selfish statement, why dont you go get some human decency and a heart!
Rebekah on September 28, 2016:
My dog ate some moth balls. What should I do?
Mike on August 21, 2016:
My dog ate some mothballs and is very sick. Can't afford to get him help because the vet said $300- $3000 and with no guarantee he will survive. His kidneys are going to fail.
liberals suck on June 18, 2016:
People that worry about what neighbors do on their own property should keep they cat or dog off the neighbors property. Is it that difficult to be responsible for your own lives or even God help us your children and pets also? Why is it people think they can break the law and let pets run around day and night on other peoples property urinating and defecating?...Which is illegal yet worry about a neighbors legal actions of putting out moth balls out? Wow is it so hard to obey the law and keep your pet indoors unless your outside with a leash, collar and up to date tags on each pet. God help us all if your obey the law for once. When did Americans get so stupid and self centered that they want their pets running in the streets to be killed by cars. liberals not responsible for their lives but want to regulate everyone else's .
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 10, 2015:
Mothballs are often used to deter snakes, mice, moles and your neighbor may think they deter cats too, but she may not be aware that it can kill them. Any chance you can give her a head's up of what a horrendous death they may cause and how they even pose a risk to children and the environment? Another option you may have is call animal control and ask what options there are to prevent getting the kitties and dogs sick. http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/mothballs/
Nancy on April 10, 2015:
My neighbor puts mothballs all around her yard you can smell it as soon as you step out the door we have a crazy overpopulation of strays both cats and dogs but the 2 at she approaches it is horrendous knowing that it can kill them is there any legal action that can be taken??
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 31, 2010:
Keep your dog indoor with you or in a safe pen, or talk to your neighbor and let him know that they are poisonous. Safer options can be found here:
Dee Dee on December 28, 2010:
my neighbor is putting out moth balls to stop my dogs from digging holes, I don't know if they are eating them, I am greatly concerned for their safety. What should I do about this, I pick them up, neighbor puts them back out.
gwennies pen on August 19, 2009:
Thanks for the tip..I know some indoor plants are just as dangerous to our pets as well. We do not use moth balls, but its still good to know. Great insight and information as I own two cats.
Wealthmadehealthy from Somewhere in the Lone Star State on August 12, 2009:
OMG Thank you for this information! I have no cats but I do have a wonderful dog. I also do use a LOT of mothballs as I live in the northern regions and must store clothes and such over winter and thru the summer months. I will keep a firm eyeball on my mothball whereabouts from now on. This poisoning never occurred to me before...I hope more people read this....Thank you again!!
Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on July 07, 2009:
Heaven forbid any of mine do this but thanks for the valuable info.