How to Poison Proof Your Utility Room

Renee DiPietro, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist and
Ahna Brutlag, DVM, MS, DABT, DABVT
Director, Veterinary Services & Senior Veterinary Toxicologist 

Download our Spot the Pet Poisons in your Home infographic here.Mouse and rat poison

The utility room is an area of the home intended for the storage of many household items and products. It is also very often the laundry room of the home. It can often become the “junk drawer” of the house and for that reason can contain a variety of substance and items that could be toxic or harmful to your pets if exposure were to occur.  Armed with the knowledge of what items may be dangerous to your pets, you can organize the room in such a way that keeps hazards are out of your pets reach.

Keeping dangerous items up high (if you have dogs but not cats) can be an easy prevention action. Adding locked or difficult to open cabinets can help to minimize exposures. Preventing access to the room all together may seem extreme but can sometime be the best and easiest answer

Common dangers for pets found in Utility/Laundry rooms include:

Laundry Products: Products such as laundry detergent, softener, bleach, and dryer sheets all have potential to cause significant irritation to your pet’s skin, eyes, oral, respiratory, and GI tracts. Some products may also have the potential to cause corrosive injury to these physiological systems.

In addition to possible toxic potential, dryer sheets can pose a risk for a foreign body obstruction in the GI tract if ingested. Injury from laundry products is not always immediately evident but those products with a more basic pH can cause serious and at times life threatening injury that may not be seen until several hours or more after exposure.

Laundry pods can also be harmful in more than one way. In addition to having GI irritant potential, the fluid inside of them is under pressure and when bitten into the contents often burst with force into the pet’s mouth which can cause inhalation/aspiration to occur. When this happens chemical pneumonia, which can be life threatening, can occur.

Light Bulbs: Light bulbs pose an injury hazard to your pet from sharp glass if they are bitten into or broken and walked over.

Fluorescent bulbs can also contain small amounts of mercury. Although the amount that your pet could be exposed to from a broken bulb or two is not anticipated to cause significant health risks these types of exposures are best avoided. If your dog ingests some of a broken light bulb call your veterinarian to discuss the risk of injury from the broken glass.

Some LED lights may also contain small amounts of heavy metals.

When cleaning up broken bulbs consult:

Cleaning supplies: Cleaning supplies can contain a variety of ingredients with a range of toxicity potentials. Some common ingredients include bleach, ammonia, quaternary ammoniums, and other substances. Like laundry products some of these cleaners can cause GI distress whole others have corrosive injury potential. Depending on the chemical other toxic effects may also be possible.

When stored in utility rooms these products are often in their concentrated forms making toxic potential more significant then when diluted for use in the home. Keep these items tightly closed and locked away where the containers cannot be knocked over or chewed open by a pet.

Batteries: Batteries come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their application. Several types of household batteries pose significant corrosive injury risks. Some also contain heavy metals that can be toxic if ingested.  Additionally, when batteries are fully, or partially ingested, foreign body obstruction can occur.

When batteries are punctured and ingested there is very real potential for life threatening corrosive injury. The damage from the battery contents can be so severe that there can be perforations to the GI tract and trachea. When punctures of batteries occur, we take these exposures very seriously.

Commonly used Alkaline Dry cell batteries (AA, AAA, C, D,1.5 vol and others) are found in most homes. They can be punctured or ingested (most commonly by dogs) or pets can be exposed to leaking fluid from old or corrosive batteries.

Disc or Button Batteries: These types of batteries are commonly used in small household items such as watches, cameras, or hearing aids. They can have different ingredients including Silver oxide, zinc, mercury, and cadmium. Their small round appearance may give the impression of benignity but they can pose insidious hazards when ingested as their small, flat shape can promote lodging in the folds of the GI tract where they can corrode over time causing electrochemical burns that lead to perforation injury and possibly massive hemorrhage. For this reason it is imperative that treatment to remove the battery from the GI tract be initiated swiftly. Symptoms can appear long after you assume your pet has passed these little objects.

Rechargeable batteries: These batteries are used commonly for electronics as well as scooters, wheelchairs and other mobility devices. These can contain lead, lithium, nickel, cadmium all of which may have toxic potential for your pet when ingested.

Each battery exposure is an individual scenario, but we take them all seriously given their potential for harm to pets.  Battery ingestion is almost always an emergency.  If you are aware of a recent battery exposure rec gently flushing your pet’s mouth for as long as tolerated up to 15 minutes or offering water with broth. The next step is to immediately seek veterinary attention or call Pet Poison Helpline® for assessment and recommendations.

Insecticides:  Although many insecticides may be more commonly stored in out buildings, some household type insecticides (example ant or roach killer spray or bait stations) may be kept indoors in the utility room.  Most indoor insecticides are in low concentration and contain ingredients that in general have a wider margin of safety such as Fipronil or pyrethroids. Ingestion of most of these products is likely to cause GI irritation and less likely to cause systemic toxicity.  The plastic from bait stations when ingested can also pose a risk for GI irritation and foreign body obstruction (blockage in the GI tract).

Regardless of their general over all potential for less severe toxicity, the GI irritation caused by these products may at times become persistent requiring DVM evaluation and care. An additional hazard with aerosol spray cans that these products may be housed in is that if the can is bitten into by a pet, the contents under pressure can be blasted into the respiratory tract causing irritation and possible aspiration.

Rodenticides: People may store rodenticides in their utility rooms or place them there to keep rodents out of the area. The three most common types of rodenticides (anticoagulants, bromethalin, and Vit D 3 can cause internal bleeding, neurotoxicity, or kidney failure, respectively. Other, less common types such as strychnine or zinc phosphide, can although pose a risk for severe toxicity. Using a protective bait station may help reduce pet exposures, although large dogs may be able to break into “pet resistant” bait stations.

Keep your pets safe by ensuring that you place the product (blocks, pellets, worms, etc.) where your pets cannot access it. Store your rodenticides in a secure cabinet or closet. Better yet store these items outside in a locked shed if at all possible or choose less toxic options.  There are non-toxic rodenticides currently on the market.

The utility room is a valuable space in your home.  A little safety planning to protect your pets from what you store here can go a long way to keeping your animal companions happy and healthy.

Even with the best planning and intentions our pets will occasionally be exposed to toxic substances. If you suspect your pet has been exposed to something harmful call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline® immediately as time is of the essence. It is not always safe to induce vomiting or administer other home remedies. Seek counsel before taking action.