Some of the nicest things about the holidays are the smells, wouldn't you agree? Whether it's the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree, cookies baking in the oven, or a crackling wood fire – the smells make this time of year is so enjoyable.
DAY 10: Liquid Potpourri
Liquid potpourri is a substance that can create or help to mimic some of those wonderful holiday smells. And while these oily liquids can fill a house with a sensory overload of wonderful aromas without all the 'hassle' of baking cookies, lighting a fire, or cutting down a pine tree, they also pose a very real, and potentially very significant, hazard to your pets - especially your cats.
Liquid potpourris typically contain two substances that can be toxic to your pets - essential oils and cationic detergents. Whether or not they're specifically listed on the label, they're almost always present, albeit in varying concentrations.
While the essential oil component of the liquid potpourris can cause problems for your pets (depending on the type and concentration of the essential oil), typically it’s the cationic detergents that cause the bigger problems.
The cationic detergents present in liquid potpourri can cause severe ulceration and chemical burns to the surfaces within your pet's mouth and along their digestive tract. They can cause similar problems if they come into contact with their skin or their eyes, too.
As you might imagine, burns within your pet’s mouth, or anywhere along their digestive tract, can be extremely painful. This pain often causes affected pets to go off their food, and this, in turn, can lead to a whole other set of problems. Of particular concern, especially if your cat is overweight or obese, is the development of hepatic lipidosis.
If the concentration of the detergents within the potpourri is high enough, and the burns sustained severe enough, your pet could wind up with a perforated ulcer, or hole, in their esophagus. This carries a very poor prognosis for survival, sometimes even in spite of appropriate and timely treatment.
Oral exposure to liquid potpourri is no small matter for pets!
Similarly, if liquid potpourri comes into contact with your pet’s eyes, it can lead to a loss of vision. Whereas the burns they can suffer if they get these cationic detergents on their skin can require multiple surgeries for skin grafting, and they can lead to serious infections, too.
Hopefully you are now thoroughly aware of the potential dangers that liquid potpourri poses to your pets. As you can see, these are not trivial problems. Now let's talk about what to do 'in the event of' and then we’ll move onto my favorite topic – prevention.
Liquid potpourri exposure
In cases of known or suspected exposure, the peace of mind and advice you will receive from a phone call to the toxicology experts at either The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center or the Pet Poison Helpline is always worth the time and money. As with many types of toxicities, prompt action and correct advice is of the utmost importance in improving your pet's chances for a good outcome – as well as your chances for the lowest veterinary bill possible. Please don’t take a “wait-and-see” approach!
*Disclaimer: It’s important to note that the general treatment suggestions provided below are only applicable if your pet is currently medically stable and acting normally. You must use your discretion. If your pet is collapsed, mentally inappropriate, having seizures, or otherwise already medically compromised you should NOT attempt any at-home first aid measures. In these cases it is vitally important that you bring your pet for IMMEDIATE veterinary evaluation and care.
If you notice an oily spot on your pet or realize the distinct smell of potpourri on them, they should be immediately bathed (moderately warm water and a good grease-cutting soap, such as Dawn dish soap) to prevent further exposure and irritation of their skin or further ingestion from self-grooming. Pay careful attention to and thoroughly bathe all of their paws as well, as cats often will have walked through these spills and are likely to have a copious amount of the liquid on their paws and between their toes. Be sure to rinse and dry them well after the bath to prevent them from getting a chill.
If you suspect that your pet has ingested any of the liquid DO NOT try to make them vomit - this is one of the toxicities where vomiting induction can cause more harm than good (hence the reason why you should never induce vomiting in your pets without first speaking with a veterinarian). Rather, in these cases it is best to try to get your pet to drink some water or milk to dilute and buffer the ingested cationic detergents. If they won't readily drink water or milk, feeding them some ice cream, cottage cheese, or yogurt can also do the trick.
If your pet has gotten any of the liquid potpourri solution splashed in their eye, its important to flush and dilute out the product as quickly as possible. With both cats and dogs, the easiest way to accomplish this is to use a bottle of sterile saline eye. Carefully flush the affected eye(s) for 15-20 minutes or as long as your pet will tolerate. This is not the end of treatment though, this is just first-aid.
Following this flushing, your pet still needs to be brought for immediate veterinary evaluation and further treatment. Only a veterinarian can evaluate your pet's eyes for evidence of corneal ulceration and damage that would warrant specific medical therapy. Under NO circumstances should you apply any topical medications to your pet's eyes following exposure to liquid potpourri until a veterinarian has evaluated their eyes.
Prevention is easy and important
- Use liquid potpourri and essential oils with extreme care in any households where there are cats, or better still... don't use them at all.
- Safely and securely store containers of these products well out of reach of your pets and be sure to wipe clean the sides of the containers after each use.
- Promptly and completely clean up any spills of liquid potpourri and essential oil preparations. Blot them up with dry paper towels and then clean the area well with a good grease cutting dish detergent, such as Dawn.
- Don't leave dishes of liquid potpourri out on coffee tables and other surfaces that cats can easily reach. As you should now be aware, these fragrant liquids pose a very serious hazard, whether or not they are being actively warmed (the potpourri that is, not the cats).
- The liquid potpourri isn't the only hazard in an oil burner - the tiny candle at the base can trigger a house fire if knocked over by a curious or overly affectionate cat. Be sure all candles, big or small, are extinguished before leaving the house or going to bed.
- If you want a good smell in the house but are now (hopefully) deterred from using liquid potpourri in households with cats, try a plug in diffuser or try one of these recipes for mulled wine or mulled cider. A pot of either of these libations simmering on the stove or in a slow cooker will make any household smell better - both because of the fragrant ingredients and because after a few glasses of either – if you decide to add some alcohol to the cider, that is – no smell will bother you! Just be careful to keep your cats off the counter and stovetop when any burners are on, and keep them away from the alcohol, too!
Enjoy the holiday season and stay safe!
Liquid Potpourri is Day 10.
Just to be safe check out all the other "naughty" days in the 12 Days of Christmas Pet Hazards series.