Antiseptics Which Are Safe And Toxic For Cats


Antiseptics dangerous to cats   How are they dangerous?   Antiseptics safe to use on cats   Cat wound treatment   When to see a veterinarian

antiseptics safe for cats
Image hmmlargeart, Flickr

Antiseptics are substances which inhibit the growth of bacteria.

It is easy to assume that anything that is safe to use on humans is okay for cats too, but this is not the case. Cats lack the necessary liver enzymes to break down many products which are safe to use in humans. As well as that, people don’t lick the product off their skin the way cats do during grooming.

Phenols, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and alcohol are NOT safe for use on cats.

Natural products:

People often make the mistake of believing if something is natural, it is safe. Almost daily I see people recommending tea tree oil for use on cats, particularly young kittens but this stuff can be deadly to cats. We need to remember that products which are put on the skin, as well as wounds, are still absorbed into the body.

How are antiseptics dangerous to cats?

  • Toxicity by ingestion of an antiseptic on the coat.
  • Ulcers and burns to the tongue when licking antiseptics.
  • Damage to the tissue.
  • Embolism (hydrogen peroxide).

Why are these antiseptics dangerous to cats?

Hydrogen peroxide (damage to tissues and embolism)

Hydrogen peroxide is made up of two hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms (H2O2). When it comes into contact with an open wound it is known to produce bubbles. This occurs because blood and other living cells contain an enzyme called catalase, when hydrogen peroxide comes into contact with catalase it converts hydrogen peroxide into water (H2O) and oxygen gas (O) producing the charcteristic bubbles. Not only are bacteria damaged during this process but healthy tissue is damaged also.

When applied to deep cuts, hydrogen peroxide can cause an embolism (blockage of an artery) when the oxygen produced by the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide enters a nearby blood vessel.

Tea tree oil (damage to tissues and toxicity)

Also known as melaleuca, tea tree oil is a popular antiseptic with antibacterial and antifungal properties.   There are a number of toxic components in tea tree oil including linalool, ocimene, alpha-terpinene, 1,8-cineole, terpinolene, camphene. 1,8 cineole is reported to be the major contributor to adverse reactions.

Some reports say that it is safe to if it is diluted to 0.1-1%, but should only be put on parts of the cat he is unable to lick. Even then, I wouldn’t risk it when there are safer alternatives.

Phenols (damage to tissues and toxicity)

These coal-tar derivatives are commonly found in antiseptics, disinfectants, and household cleaners. They turn white when water is added. Common products include Dettol, Lysol, and Pine-o-Clean. Phenols are extremely toxic to cats, who are less efficient at excreting phenols.

These products are corrosive to the skin and mucus membranes, resulting in cell necrosis. Accumulation of phenols in the body, through the skin or via the skin causes liver and kidney damage.

Rubbing alcohol (damage to tissues)

The application can cause burning and inflammation and damage to the cells can slow down the healing process.

Antiseptics safe to use on cats

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Products containing either chlorhexidine diacetate or iodine are safe to use on cats.

Product Instructions
Chlorhexidine (brand names Peridex, ChlorhexiDerm, Avaguard) Comes in 1% or 2% strength. Dilute 2% at a ratio of 2 tablespoons per 1 gallon of water.
Iodine (Betadine) Should be diluted to the colour of weak tea.
Saltwater Add 1 tablespoon to 250ml water.

Avoid contact with the eyes when using antiseptics, these are for external use only.

Cat wound treatment

Irrigate (flush) wounds with a saline solution to remove debris before you apply antiseptic.

To stop bleeding, use clean gauze or a sanitary towel and apply gentle pressure to the wound. Once bleeding has stopped, rinse the wound with clean water and then apply the antiseptic solution. To do this, gently dip some cotton balls in the antiseptic solution and then gently dab onto the affected area. Don’t make it soaking wet.

When to see a veterinarian

Always see a veterinarian if the following occurs:

  • If redness, oozing and inflammation develop.
  • Puncture wounds or long, deep wounds.
  • Wounds which are longer than 1 inch (2.5 cm).
  • Wounds which are bleeding heavily.
  • If your cat has a fever.
  • If your cat is in pain.
  • Any minor wounds which aren’t showing signs of healing within 24 hours.