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Mothball Toxicity in Pets: What You Need to Know

Mothball toxicity in pets is a rare occurrence, with only 158 cases reported to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) between 2002 and 2004. However, the rarity of these incidents offers little comfort when it’s your beloved pet that falls ill.

According to the APCC, the majority of cases involve pets ingesting mothballs. Yet, issues can also arise from exposure to the fumes emitted by mothballs or when pets’ skin comes into direct contact with them. For pet owners with mothballs in their homes, understanding the toxic components and knowing what steps to take if their pets encounter them is crucial.

Different Kinds of Mothballs, Different Toxic Reactions

There are various types of mothballs, each eliciting different toxic reactions. Mothballs typically contain one of two active ingredients: naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene (p-dichlorobenzene). These chemicals are also found in flakes, cakes, and crystals. Naphthalene is approximately twice as toxic as paradichlorobenzene, meaning a pet can ingest roughly twice as much paradichlorobenzene before succumbing to toxicity. Hence, when purchasing mothballs, opt for those made with paradichlorobenzene.

The symptoms of naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene toxicity differ as well. Naphthalene ingestion primarily affects the gastrointestinal system, resulting in vomiting and reduced appetite. However, it doesn’t end there. Naphthalene also harms red blood cells, potentially causing anemia, brown mucous membranes, weakness, lethargy, and seizures. Cataracts and liver damage are also possible. While naphthalene can be absorbed through the skin and lungs, ingestion leads to the most severe issues.

Pets ingesting paradichlorobenzene may also vomit initially but tend to exhibit symptoms related to nervous system dysfunction afterward, including disorientation, tremors, difficulty walking, drooling, depression, and seizures. Cataracts and liver damage may also occur, with rare cases of red blood cell damage and anemia. Skin contact with paradichlorobenzene may result in a burning sensation and local irritation.

The fumes from both naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene can irritate the nose, eyes, and lungs. Pets exposed to mothball fumes may experience red, runny eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, and/or coughing.

Cats are more sensitive to mothballs than dogs, and other species can also become ill after exposure. Veterinarians have reported several cases of birds displaying symptoms like lethargy, weakness, and difficulty breathing after inhaling mothball fumes, with at least one bird fatality attributed to this cause.

What to Do if Your Pet is Poisoned by Mothballs

To safeguard pets from naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene, the best course of action is to keep them away from mothballs, especially birds, which should be kept far from these products. Despite meticulous efforts, pets may still encounter mothballs. In such instances, what steps should a responsible pet owner take?

Consuming just one naphthalene mothball can severely affect the health of cats and small dogs, underscoring the urgency of the situation. If there’s suspicion that your pet has ingested a mothball or been exposed through other means, contacting your veterinarian immediately is paramount. If ingestion occurred within the last couple of hours, your veterinarian may suggest inducing vomiting to expel the mothball.

Depending on your pet’s condition and proximity to the clinic, your veterinarian might advise either inducing vomiting at home or bringing your pet in for the procedure. Regardless, unless it’s confirmed by you and your vet that your pet is free from naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene, additional treatment will be necessary. This could involve gastric lavage (stomach washing), administering activated charcoal, or providing fluid therapy and medications to alleviate vomiting, seizures, and damage to the liver and gastrointestinal tract. If blood work indicates anemia, your pet may require a blood transfusion and medications to safeguard red blood cells.

What Kind of Mothball Did Your Pet Ingest?

Determining the type of mothball your pet ingested is crucial as treatment can vary depending on whether it contains naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene. If you’re uncertain about the chemical composition of the mothball your pet may have consumed, a simple method can assist you and your veterinarian in identifying the type.

Here’s a handy trick:

  • Combine 3-4 tablespoons of table salt with half a cup of lukewarm water.
  • Stir thoroughly, adding more salt if needed until saturation is reached.
  • Introduce a representative mothball into the solution.

Naphthalene mothballs will float, whereas paradichlorobenzene mothballs will sink. This quick test can help determine the appropriate course of action for your pet’s treatment.

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