Can carpet chemicals harm your cat?

posted: 05/15/12
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Be sure you pick household cleaning products that won't harm your feline friend.
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Cat owners sometimes hear that pets have been sickened or poisoned by chemicals in carpeting. Such reports are worrisome because unlike plants, whose toxic properties are better-known or more easily researched, carpets lack warning labels or ingredient lists. Even if no conclusive proof cites carpet chemicals as a singular cause of feline illnesses, owners should know there could be harmful contents in that new stain-resistant wall-to-wall or armchair. Because cats groom themselves so frequently, they may ingest such ingredients by licking themselves after walking around their homes. Keeping them safe means sorting the myths from the real dangers.

Harmful Carpet Chemicals: Reality or Rumor?

The most common worry about cats and carpeting stems from fears about fumes given off by formaldehyde, which hasn't been used in carpets sold in the U.S. for more than a decade. But a 2008 study by The Environmental Working Group found that pets are exposed to other industrial chemicals from both pretreated carpets and other synthetic household materials. The report discovered that the cats and dogs in the study were contaminated by 48 of the 70 industrial chemicals tested, and 43 chemicals were at levels higher than those typically found in people. Scientists believe animals are exposed to toxins in new furniture, carpeting or other items that may be treated with stain-proofing chemicals, called perfluorochemicals (PFCs).

These substances gradually wear off the carpet, leaving microscopic amounts throughout a home. Animals absorbed these chemicals into their bloodstreams and brains.

While chemical rug dyes or glues affixing carpet to matting can be harmful to pets, fire-repellant chemicals pose the most serious threat to cats. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, called PBDEs, are found in plastic computer parts, furniture, mattresses, TV sets and textiles. Dust from PBDEs has been linked to feline hyperthyroidism, which impacts a cat's organs, and can result in kidney failure.


Signs of hyperthyroidism include increased activity and appetite, weight loss, dull coat and increased heart rate. If you're getting new carpeting or furniture, find out if it's been treated with a flame retardant -- and if you can't keep your cat away from it, be vigilant in watching for symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

Cat-Friendly Solutions

Besides removing cat hazards from your home, a switch to natural, non-toxic household cleaning products can also help reduce the chance of toxic chemical ingestion. Try white vinegar or one of those "green" cleaners made from plant extracts. Stabilized chlorine dioxide, an odorless disinfectant, destroys bacteria and viruses, and won't generate toxic byproducts either. Baking soda is safer than chemical cleansers, but if a cat eats it, he may suffer a chemical imbalance. Rinse away all baking soda residues to keep your cat healthy.

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