I know A was yesterday, but I have a bit of alliteration for you today! Bleach and batteries are very basic (alkaline), and both cause burns. Since they are treated similarly and tend to cause the same signs, I will touch on each individually and then go on to discuss signs and treatments. Bleach is first! For batteries, skip down to the bottom of the page.
Where can bleach be found?
There are products containing sodium hypochlorite in almost every household. So many products contain bleach. Everything from soaps, detergents, cleansers, to other disinfectant products contain this caustic chemical. There are even some hand lotions and other beauty products that have it.
Why is bleach toxic?
Undiluted, it tends to have a pH between 12-13 (which is very alkaline). Both alkaline and acidic materials can cause burns. The difference is that an acid will burn immediately, where an alkaline burn might not show up for up to 12 hours.
It is important to distinguish which type of bleach a pet has ingested! If you have a mop bucket with a gallon of water, and you pour in 1 tbsp of household cleaner, this is most likely too dilute to cause severe problems if a pet happens to have a lick. If a pet chews into the bottle of Clorox, this could be a far bigger problem.
What about my household cleaner?
Most cleaning products contain smaller amounts of bleach. These low concentrations mean that it is dilute. While many cleaners are irritating enough to cause vomiting, not all of them will cause burns. (Other signs may vary depending on the other ingredients in the cleaner).
One particular risk associated with bleach is that it is one of those substances that has a higher risk of being inhaled when an animal vomits. On top of the fact that it burns tissues, this makes it something we do not want to bring back up by inducing vomiting.
There is a difference between alkaline batteries and button batteries!
For the ease of discussion, I am going to cover alkaline batteries, and leave the lithium ion batteries for a separate post (maybe for L!). Alkaline batteries are the standard AA, AAA, C, D, and some 9V batteries. Rechargeable batteries are not part of this group!
The most common exposure I’ve witnessed in regards to batteries is when an animal chews open a remote control. Once they reach the batteries inside, they chew into those too!
Why are batteries bad?
The concern with batteries is two-fold. One is the “battery acid” inside, which is a substance with a high pH, much like bleach. The second is the case itself. Alkaline batteries have zinc on the negative side of the battery. Zinc can cause life-threatening anemia if ingested and allowed to sit in the GI tract for an extended period of time. I will go into zinc toxicity in-depth in approximately 24 days, so let’s focus on the more common exposure to the fluid inside.
Not all punctured batteries will result in burns, but the chances are pretty high. Unlike bleach, the fluid is NOT dilute, and your pet’s mouth is coming into direct contact with an extremely caustic material. Similarly, because of the corrosive nature of batteries, we do not want to induce vomiting in these guys.
Signs and Symptoms
Both bleach and batteries cause extremely similar signs. Generally this are localized to the mouth and GI tract:
- Burns or ulcers in the mouth (these can be red or white)
- Heavy drooling
- Difficulty chewing, eating, or swallowing
- Blood in the vomit
- Bloody diarrhea
- Black, tarry stools (the color comes from digested blood)
- Lack of appetite
- Prolonged burns to the stomach can lead to stomach perforation – this is life-threatening
As we discussed before, alkaline materials cause burns on a delayed basis. So, these signs might not be immediately apparent.
Always call a poison control center or a local vet for treatment recommendations. Depending on the health status of your pet, standard treatments may need to be changed. However, it is possible in some situations after a mild exposure to a dilute bleach, your vet may have you try and monitor and treat at home with the following:
- Administration of small amounts of milk.
- Milk does a great job of diluting and neutralizing these corrosive materials.
- Dogs and cats are both lactose intolerant! Too much milk is likely to give them bad diarrhea, so stick to the amount recommended by your vet. Don’t overdo!
- Keeping an eye out for:
- Redness in the mouth. Make sure to check the roof of the mouth and under the tongue, the gums, and the back of the throat!
- Inability to eat, or pain while eating
- Lack of appetite
- Blood in the vomit or stool
- Over-the-counter famotidine.
- Famotidine (or plain Pepcid AC) CAN be obtained over-the-counter and given at home as a mild stomach protectant. However, famotidine is often not enough by itself to provide as much protection as is needed for these types of burns.
- There is also the concern for drug interactions, and not all animals may be able to take it. ALWAYS speak to a vet before giving any medications over-the-counter to your pet.
What can the vet do for my pet?
In cases of severe burns where an animal is already showing one or more of the above signs or batteries are involved, you may need to head into the clinic. Be prepared for several treatments to get your fuzzy friend feeling healthy again:
- IV fluids to combat any dehydration from vomiting and not eating/drinking.
- Flushing out the mouth to get rid of excess chemicals.
- Prescription stomach and esophageal protectants like carafate.
- Medications to stop any vomiting and stimulate the appetite.
- Pain medications.
- Contrary to a lot of what you will find on the internet, there is really no “good” pain medication to give an animal at home. While dogs may tolerate small doses of aspirin, it is just not very effective and can cause damage on a long-term basis. All the other medications cause ulceration of the stomach and kidney failure. Just don’t do it!
Only your vet can determine the severity of an exposure. I know that cost is a real concern for most people, but resist the temptation to try and handle it yourself. Sometimes doing the wrong thing can make a situation worse in the long-run, and your pet is worth the cost of care.
Luckily, it’s easy to keep your pets away from both of these substances. Lock everything away! I mean it!
- All cleaning supplies should go in a cabinet above the sink/washer/drier, or in the garage if it is kept closed and locked (still put it on a high shelf!).
- Put remotes, game console controllers, toys with batteries, alarms, etc. in their proper place.
- Drawers, chests, closets, anything with a top or door is usually pretty good at keeping them from chewing up the electronics.
- Don’t throw away used batteries (you shouldn’t be doing this anyway – think of the environment). Animals LOVE the trash can.
- Check your local community for recycling options. Many cities and counties now offer battery recycling, and they will tell you where to drop them off!
- Rinse out used cleaning bottles before recycling them.
- Empty bottles are just as fun to chew, and the remains of whatever was still inside may be enough to poison your pet!