One of our frequent enquiries is about pets who have come into contact with a detergent. Detergents are often stored next to the washing machine or in cupboards below the work surface and are used so regularly in the household that is no surprise that cats and dogs occasionally may be exposed to them.

For cats, they often come into contact with detergents by either walking into already spilt liquids on the floor or by accidentally having some liquid detergent spilt on them. Their first response is always to groom and therefore they end up ingesting detergent. Dogs also groom, but they are also quite skilled when it comes to opening boxes or even getting the laundry pods out of the washing machine and puncturing them.

Different types of detergent:

  • laundry liquid and powder
  • floor or general purpose cleaners
  • hand washing soaps
  • washing up liquid
  • bubble or foam bath
  • carpet shampoo
  • dishwasher products
  • toilet freshener
  • fabric conditioner
  • hair shampoo and conditioner

Why are detergents dangerous to our pets?

Detergents contain a mixture of ingredients including surfactants (anionic, non-ionic or cationic).

Even though detergents are absorbed from the gut after being eaten, they are considered low toxicity. They can be irritant, but the main concern is when the foam or bubbles get into the lungs (inhaled) or when the amount ingested is significant, particularly if it is concentrated.

Usually, the first sign you see will be drooling or salivating. You may notice some foaming or frothing at the mouth followed by retching and then vomiting. Dogs are more likely to vomit than cats and stomach pain and diarrhoea are also possible.  These signs can start very quickly – sometimes within a few minutes.

If vomiting occurs the foam or detergent particles are inhaled and this can cause aspiration pneumonia. We have a number of severe cases every year.  The signs relating to the lungs will not start until a few hours after exposure.

Oral irritation (inside of the mouth and back of the throat) is common and can be painful. Also, any detergents on the skin can lead to skin reactions and hair loss.

Cats are generally more sensitive to detergent exposure.  Because of their grooming habits, they are more likely than dogs to suffer from respiratory complications and skin reactions.

Animal PoisonLine’s Top Tips about detergents:

1) Seek advice immediately if your pet has come into contact with a detergent

2) Prevent exposure by keeping detergents in locked or high cupboards and make access difficult (tightly closed lids and boxes)

3) If you see your pet has detergent on their coat try and prevent licking

4) Keep your animal calm – the stomach will act like a washing machine if your pet runs around, producing foam which can cause vomiting


If you are worried your pet has eaten anything they should not have, give Animal PoisonLine a call on 01202 509000 and one of our advisors will be able to assess the risk and advise you whether you need to take your pet to the vet.