Charity International Cat Care (ICC) is making pet owners aware of the dangers disinfectants can pose to cats as part of its Keeping Cats Safe campaign.

Drooling, redness and ulceration on the tongue of a cat, 12 hours after licking a patio treated with a cleaner containing benzalkonium chloride.

Cat owners are being urged to think before they clean their patios, as many cleaners contain benzalkonium chloride – a chemical that can be toxic to cats, with many exposed pets potentially suffering severe reactions that can even occasionally cause death.

Benzalkonium chloride is a cationic detergent that can be found in many household disinfectants, including commonly used antibacterial sprays and patio cleaners.

Cationic detergents are irritants and can cause adverse effects in cats that have licked or walked over treated surfaces and then groomed or cleaned their paws and ingested the chemical. These effects are often seen several hours after exposure and typically include drooling, a red and inflamed tongue and a high temperature. The mouth may be extremely painful and cats can stop eating. There may also be redness and irritation of the skin. In severe cases of exposure, especially without the correct veterinary treatment, the cat can die.

The Veterinary Poisons Information Service, which provides a 24-hour telephone emergency service for veterinary professionals who suspect acute poisoning, reported receiving an average of 70 telephone calls each year about cats being poisoned as a result of exposure to benzalkonium chloride, and another 35 per year for other disinfectants.

To keep cats safe, ICC recommends all disinfectants be kept well out of the way of any areas cats can access, as the greatest risk is when cats are exposed to concentrated solutions of the disinfectants. Cats should also be kept off treated surfaces until completely dry and, where concentrated disinfectants (such as patio or floor cleaners) are used, the area should be thoroughly rinsed and allowed to dry before cats have access.

This is particularly important if treated areas become wet again (that is, from rainfall, wet paws or even a cat licking the surface) as the product may still be present. To be completely safe, the charity has advice on several alternative methods of cleaning on its website.

ICC also advises if a cat comes into contact with a disinfectant it be washed off straight away and to seek immediate veterinary advice, as the quicker treatment is received, the more positive the outcome.

Benzalkonium chloride and other cationic detergents are widely used disinfectants around the house. Although cases of poisoning are relatively uncommon, they can be severe and care should always be taken when using these products.

For more information about the risks of disinfectants, visit

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