Paint and Varnish Poison Alert for Animals

Paint and Varnish Poison Alert for Animals

What are Paints and Varnishes?

Paints, varnishes, and stains are available in a variety of formulations, many of which are dangerous to dogs and cats.

Water-based paints include latex, acrylic, tempera, and poster paints. Oil-based paints are often used where more permanent coverage is needed. Varnishes and stains are wood sealers or pigments made from a combination of resins, oils, and solvents.


Why are Paints and Varnishes Harmful to Animals?

Pets are curious by nature. They may walk on freshly painted or varnished areas, and chew or lick paint/varnish and accessories. If paint or varnish gets on your pet's skin, fur or paws, small amounts can be swallowed during grooming. Vapors may be inhaled if pets are in poorly ventilated areas with recently painted or open containers of paint or varnish.

painted wooden cage

Lead paint is the biggest health risk to pets. Lead paint has been banned in the United States since 1978 but is not regulated in all countries. Old buildings, paint products from unregulated countries and some oil-based artist paints may contain lead. Ingestion of lead paint can cause gastrointestinal irritation and neurological effects and can affect red blood cell formation. Poisoning most commonly occurs when pets chew lead-containing surfaces or swallow spilled paint chips. While single ingestion of lead paint can lead to poisoning, repeated ingestion of dry paint is more likely to have serious consequences. Pets are often the gatekeepers of lead exposure in the home. If a pet is diagnosed with lead poisoning.

In most cases, water-based paints are unlikely to cause gastrointestinal distress or skin irritation. Some latex paints contain low concentrations of ethylene glycol (antifreeze). Ingestion of large quantities of these paints can cause gastrointestinal distress, neurological symptoms, and even kidney failure.

Oil-based paints and varnishes contain solvents that can be inhaled into the lungs and cause respiratory problems. Vomiting and diarrhea are also often associated with the ingestion of oil-based paints.

All paints and varnishes can emit vapors that can cause respiratory and eye irritation in poorly ventilated areas.


How Toxic are Paints and Varnishes for Animals?

It is unlikely that a little taste or a touch of paint will cause serious symptoms. Unless the paint contains heavy metals, it is rare for pets to ingest so much undiluted paint that they become seriously poisoned. A piece of lead-based paint the size of a thumbnail contains 50-200 mg of lead. This is enough to cause poisoning in dogs weighing up to 20 pounds. A dog as large as a Labrador retriever can easily become poisoned if it eats several shards of paint. Pregnant and young animals are at high risk of lead poisoning.

What are the Signs of Paint Poisoning in Animals?

The symptoms of poisoning depend on the type of paint or varnish ingested. The most common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and loss of appetite. If the paint or varnish is inhaled into the lungs, the pet may experience rapid or labored breathing and purple or blue gums.

If paint containing very large quantities of ethylene glycol is ingested, pets may experience lethargy, lack of coordination, and tremors. However, the concentration of ethylene glycol in this type of paint is usually very low, and toxic levels are rarely ingested.

Pets that have ingested lead-based paint may experience vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, drunken walking, tremors, convulsions, blindness, weakness, pale gums, increased heart rate, and breathing difficulties.

a dog is vomitting

Is There an Antidote for Pet Poisoning?

For most paints and varnishes ingested, there is no antidote, nor is there a need for one. In the case of lead poisoning from ingestion of paint, a drug called a chelating agent binds the lead and allows it to be eliminated from the body. In the rare case of ethylene glycol poisoning caused by swallowing large amounts of paint, kidney damage can be prevented if treated early with a drug called fomepizole or ethanol.


How Should Animals Exposed to Paint or Poisoned Animals be Treated?

Treatment of paint exposure depends on the type and amount of paint ingested.

It is not recommended to induce vomiting after ingesting paint or varnish. Vomiting increases the likelihood that paint will enter the lungs and cause breathing difficulties.

Pets suffering from vomiting and diarrhea are often treated with subcutaneous fluids, anti-nausea medications, probiotics, and gastrointestinal protectants. Severe gastrointestinal or respiratory symptoms may require hospitalization with IV fluids, antibiotics, and acidifiers.

Rarely, ingestion of paint in sufficient quantities to cause ethylene glycol poisoning requires hospitalization. Treatment often includes intravenous fluids, ethanol or fomepizole, glucose supplementation, and monitoring of blood tests to evaluate renal function.

Treatment for lead poisoning depends on the symptoms that develop. IV fluids, anti-nausea medications, gastrointestinal blockers, muscle relaxants, and seizure suppressants may be used. Medications that bind to lead and cause it to be eliminated from the body (chelating agents) are often necessary.


Can Pet Paint Poisoning be Cured?

Full recovery is expected after exposure to most paints and varnishes. Pets that have ingested lead poisoning or paints containing ethylene glycol may experience more serious complications. Even in these cases, there is a good chance of a full recovery if treatment is given in time. If treatment is delayed, it can cause long-term organ damage and even death.


How Can Paint and Varnish Poisoning be Prevented?

Paint and varnish products should be sealed and stored out of reach of pets. Do not leave paint or varnish, or wet paint or varnish coated items, in areas where pets are not present.

Curious pets may search for containers or painting supplies. It is common for pets to nibble on sealed containers, brushes, and other painting supplies. Remember that pets can get on counters and drop things off counters and tables.

Do not assume that pets will not eat paint just because it tastes bad. If paint or varnish is spilled, confine all pets to another area of the house until the product is cleaned up. Ensure that the area where the paint/varnish was used is well ventilated and odor free before returning the pet to that area. Be especially careful with curious young animals, especially cats, who may jump or climb to high places. Dust and chips of lead-based paint may appear during home renovations, but these animals cannot resist it.


To prevent lead poisoning from paint, adequate care must be taken in the home environment. In older homes, ensure that loose paint, paint, paint chips, and paint dust are removed from areas that pets come in contact with. Home testing kits are available to test for the presence of lead paint.

If lead-based paint is detected, a certified risk assessment should be considered to determine whether it is most appropriate to leave the appropriate paint in place or to remove the lead-based paint completely. Removal of lead-based paint should not be attempted without proper training and protection.

 If you have a hamster, please buy it a wooden hamster cage without painting and varnish. It can provide a healthy environment for your cute pets.



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