Pulmonary Injury and Waterproofing Sprays

Kia Benson, DVM
Associate Veterinarian, Clinical Toxicology
Pet Poison Helpline

Commonly associated in many people’s minds with preparing for winter weather, waterproofing sprays are actually used year-round to help surfaces repel water and dirt. Shoes, boots, leather products, camping equipment, and patio furniture are all items that may need protection from the elements.

Waterproofing sprays – also known as leather protectors or fabric protectors – can contain potentially toxic hydrocarbons which pose a dangerous hazard to ourselves and our animal companions. Yet this hazard is unfamiliar to most people.

Chemical Pneumonitis

A type of lung (pulmonary) injury known as chemical pneumonitis or hydrocarbon pneumonitis can result from incorrect use of waterproofing sprays. When sprayed indoors or in poorly ventilated areas, animal companions and humans are more apt to inhale the spray. After breathing in the spray, the hydrocarbons in these products interfere with oxygen exchange in the lungs and acute lung injury can result.

Signs of chemical pneumonitis primarily show as respiratory discomfort and can include difficulty breathing, fast breathing, breathing with greater effort, wheezing, and coughing. Nausea, vomiting, and lethargy are also possible. Signs develop within minutes to hours after exposure. Delays as long as 24 hours have been noted. Birds of all breeds and sizes, and smaller animals such as cats and small dogs can be at greater risk.

As with all exposures to potential toxins, signs can be mild or serious depending on the amount/dose of product used, the length of time the patient was exposed, and the overall health status of the patient (e.g. presence or absence of pre-existing respiratory medical issues). In additional to clinical signs, x-rays can show changes consistent with pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs).

Symptoms from mild exposures may be able to be alleviated by removal of the animal from the area of spraying to an area with fresh air. Moderate or more severe cases will need to be seen by a veterinarian, and may need to be hospitalized in an ICU setting. Oxygen, fluids, respiratory medications like bronchodilators, and steroids to reduce inflammation all may be needed. Severe cases can require mechanical ventilation, and hospitalization may be prolonged for those patients. Affected patients can recover; however, chemical pneumonitis has resulted in animal deaths.

Chemical pneumonitis in animal companions can best be prevented by using waterproofing sprays either outdoors or in a well-ventilated area from which pets have been excluded.

The information in this blog is not a substitute for consultation with a veterinarian. If your animal companion has been exposed to a waterproofing spray and is having difficulty breathing, please take it immediately to a veterinarian. They can call Pet Poison Helpline to discuss the specific toxins and concerns involved.