By Heather Handley, DVM
Staff Veterinarian at Pet Poison Helpline
Most soaps and detergents contain chemicals called ionic and anionic surfactants. When a small amount of such products are ingested, it is possible for pets to respond to the unpleasant taste or to have mild, self-limiting gastrointestinal upset (drooling, vomiting, and diarrhea).
However, a new danger seems to be presenting. It was first noticed that young children were developing serious respiratory issues after biting into the highly concentrated, pre-packaged laundry detergent pods (some that look like candy and come in brightly colored packages).
Not surprisingly, Pet Poison Helpline has noticed some severe clinical sings in dogs and cats exposed to these pods as well. Of the cases reported to the Pet Poison Helpline over the past 2 years, 72.19% of pets developed clinical signs. In order of prevalence, 84.4% of symptomatic cases experienced vomiting, 21.48% experienced cough, 17% experienced lethargy, and 13.3% experienced dyspnea, wheezing, or other respiratory irritation.
The reason for the increased severity between pets exposed to laundry pods and pets simply licking product off the floor or off their fur is thought to be due to the way the product is formulated in the pod. When a pet bites into a pod, the product is both highly concentrated and under pressure from the bite. Therefore, when the pod is punctured, the detergents are forcefully expelled and may be easily aspirated or swallowed, often in large amounts. Theoretically, ingestion of multiple packets also pose a risk for a foreign body obstruction and erosive lesions from prolonged contact in the gut.
When these exposures occur, it is important to dilute the exposed site as much as possible—rinse the mouth, skin, or eyes until the slick, “soapy” feel is gone. Any persistent vomiting or respiratory signs should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. Respiratory patients should be evaluated for aspiration. There is no antidote for laundry pod exposure and any persistent clinical signs should be treated with symptomatic and supportive care. Consultation with Pet Poison Helpline is recommended following the ingestion of pod contents or severely symptomatic patients.