Is Dettol Toxic to Cats? A Veterinarian Explains

Is Dettol toxic to cats? 

Dettol is toxic to cats, the active ingredient is chloroxylenol, a phenol that is a common ingredient in antiseptics, creosote, germicides, cleaners, and disinfectants. Phenols are locally corrosive and cause necrosis of the skin, mucous membranes, and esophagus, central nervous system stimulant and depressant, kidney and liver damage.

The major sites of metabolism are the gastrointestinal tract, lungs, liver and kidneys. Cats lack UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT) enzymes, including UGT1A6 and UGT1A9 necessary to metabolize phenols. Their accumulation in the liver and kidneys results in liver damage and renal tubular necrosis.

Clinical signs of Dettol toxicity

Clinical signs of phenol toxicity include necrosis of the cutaneous, oral, and gastric ulceration, CNS stimulation including tremors, incoordination, cardiovascular depression, weakness, jaundice (yellow gums), and seizures.

What is Dettol? 

Dettol is a popular antiseptic and disinfectant that is used to clean minor wounds as well as disinfect hard surfaces (floors, kitchen benches, bathrooms).

  • Brand name: Dettol
  • Manufacturer: Reckitt Benckiser
  • Generic alternatives: Yes
  • Toxicity: Toxic to cats
  • Severity: Severe
  • Toxic principle: Chloroxylenol (phenol)

How does Dettol poisoning occur? 

Dettol toxicity can occur when a well-meaning cat owner applies it to the skin to treat a minor abrasion or if the cat comes into contact with a recently disinfected surface and licks his or her coat. Other modes of toxicity include absorption through the skin and inhalation.

One cat owner recounted her experience with Dettol toxicity when she used an all-in-one Dettol spray on her sofa.

Dettol toxicity in a cat
Image credit, Hannah Butcher, Facebook.

What does Dettol look like?

The most widely known Dettol product is its antibacterial disinfectant which is a light brown (similar to tea without milk in it) until it is diluted with water when it turns milky white and has a tarry smell.

Other Dettol products:

  • Antibacterial laundry sanitizer
  • Multipurpose disinfectant spray
  • Antibacterial disinfectant surface cleaning wipes
  • Antibacterial handwash
  • Fabric sanitizer
  • Floor cleaning wipes
  • Hand and surface antibacterial wipes

What to do if your cat has been exposed to Dettol

  • Dermal: Remove the cat’s collar, wet the coat with warm water, and apply glycerol, followed by liquid dish soap (Fairy Liquid, Dawn, Morning Fresh), and rinse well. If you cannot safely bathe the cat, wrap it in a towel and immediately go to the vet.
  • Oral: Administer demulcents (milk or eggs), which are substances that relieve irritation to the mucous membranes in the mouth by forming a protective film and transport the cat to the veterinarian.
  • Ocular: Rinse the eyes with isothermic isotonic saline.

As soon as you have finished emergency treatment, take the cat straight to a veterinarian.

Treatment

There is no specific antidote for phenol toxicity. Treatment is aimed at managing symptoms as well as flushing the toxin out of the body. This may include the following:

  • Activated charcoal and saline cathartics to reduce further absorption
  • Intravenous fluid therapy to help flush the toxin from the body
  • Oxygen therapy for cats suffering breathing difficulty due to inhalation

Is Dettol an antiseptic or a disinfectant? 

Dettol is both an antiseptic and a disinfectant. Antiseptics and disinfectants both kill microorganisms, but their uses differ. Antiseptics are applied to the body to clean skin wounds and prepare the skin for surgery, and disinfectants are used on non-living things such as litter trays, and countertops.

Other phenol-containing products

Any product that turns white in water contains phenols. This includes Pine-o-Cleen and Pinesol. Other products like cosmetics, paints, polishes, adhesives, lacquers, and solvents contain phenols.

Alternatives to Dettol in cat households

When used with care, household bleach can be used to disinfect the home.

Disinfection:

Safe use of bleach includes physically cleaning the surface with hot water and detergent before disinfection as organic matter deactivates it. Where possible, remove cats to another part of the home while disinfecting. Always use cold water when diluting bleach and dilute at a rate of 1 part bleach to 32 parts water. Wipe the area with the bleach solution and allow to sit for ten minutes rinse thoroughly with clean water. Bleach can irritate the skin, airways, and eyes, so always use it in a well-ventilated area and use household gloves.

Antiseptic: 

Betadine (provolone-iodine) and its generic equivalents are safe to use on cats and humans to treat minor wounds and lacerations.

3 ways to clean your cat’s minor wounds

Saline solution

  • Saline solution is available over the counter at most pharmacies. This is a great product to have on hand to flush debris and hair out of minor wounds.

Disinfectant solutions

  • Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic available over the counter at human pharmacies. This product should be diluted 1:1 with saline or water. It comes in liquid

Hydrogen peroxide

  • Its is not recommended to use hydrogen peroxide on wounds as it is actually cytotoxic, meaning that it will damage the tissue and delay healing.

Frequently asked questions

Can you use Lysol if you have a cat?

  • Lysol is not safe for cats and some formulations contain phenols. It is not recommended for use on surfaces that cats come in contact with.

Can dettol kill cats?

  • Yes, Dettol can cause severe toxicity that can result in death of cats.

How do you disinfect cat furniture?

  • Diluted bleach and vinegar are pet safe cleaners you may use. There are also pre-made commercial cleaners that are specifically labeled to be used around cats.

How do I deep clean my cat’s house?

  • It is recommended to use dilutions of bleach or vinegar for cleaning. Rescue is also an amazing product commonly used in veterinary hospitals to help kill any germs on surfaces frequented by pets.

Authors

  • Dr Paula Simons, Veterinarian

    Dr Paula Simons graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 2019. She is currently working at 'Cornell University Veterinary Specialists' (CUVS) in Connecticut as an Emergency and Critical Care veterinarian resident (see her work profile). CUVS is a 24/7 Emergency and Critical Care Facility certified by the Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Society, indicating the highest level of patient care.

  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio