Paint and Varnish Poison Alert for Dogs and Cats | VCA Animal Hospitals (2023)

What are paints and varnishes?Paint and Varnish Poison Alert for Dogs and Cats | VCA Animal Hospitals (1)

Paints, varnishes, and stains are available in a wide variety of formulations, many of which are dangerous to dogs and cats.

Water-based paints include latex, acrylic, tempera, and poster paints. Oil-based paints are typically used where more durable coverage is required. Varnish and stains are wood sealants or pigments made from a combination of resins, oils, and solvents.

Why are paints and varnishes dangerous to dogs and cats?

Pets are naturally curious. They may walk through freshly painted or varnished areas and chew on or lick paint/varnish and supplies. If paint or varnish gets on the pet's skin, fur, or paws, small amounts can be ingested while self-grooming. Inhalation of fumes may occur when pets are enclosed in poorly ventilated areas that have been recently painted/varnished or contain open containers of paint or varnish.

Lead-based paint is the most serious health concern in pets. Lead-based paints have been banned in the United States since 1978, but they are not regulated in all countries. Older buildings, painted products from non-regulated countries, and some oil-based artists' paints may contain led. Ingestion of lead-based paint can cause gastrointestinal irritation, neurologic effects, and interfere with red blood cell production. Poisoning most commonly occurs when pets chew on surfaces containing lead-based paint or ingest flakes or chips of peeling paint. While a single ingestion of lead-based paint can result in poisoning, repeatedly ingesting dried paint is more likely to result in serious effects. Pets are often sentinels for lead exposure in the home. If a pet is diagnosed with lead poisoning, the humans in the household should likely be tested as well.

In most cases, water-based paints are unlikely to cause more than gastrointestinal upset or skin irritation. Some latex paints contain low concentrations of ethylene glycol (anti-freeze). Ingestion of very large amounts of these paints can cause gastrointestinal upset, neurologic signs and even kidney failure.

Oil-based paints and varnishes contain solvents that can be inhaled into the lungs and cause difficulty breathing. Vomiting and diarrhea are also commonly associated with the ingestion of oil-based paints.

All paints and varnishes have the potential to release fumes which can cause respiratory and eye irritation when present in poorly ventilated areas.

How much paint or varnish is poisonous to dogs and cats?

A small taste or touch of paint is unlikely to cause significant symptoms. Unless the paint contains heavy metals, it is rare that a pet would drink enough undiluted paint to cause serious poisoning. A chip of lead-based paint that is the size of a thumbnail can contain 50-200mg of lead. This is enough to cause poisoning in dogs that weight up to 20 pounds. Eating several chips of paint can easily poison a dog the size of a Labrador Retriever. Pregnant animals or young animals are at a greater risk for lead poisoning.

What do I do if my dog or cat eats paint/varnish or inhales paint/varnish fumes?

If you suspect that your pet has been exposed to paint or varnish, contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline, a 24/7 animal poison control center at 1-800-213-6680 immediately for treatment recommendations.

Never attempt to induce vomiting or administer medications to your pet unless specifically instructed to do so by your veterinarian. Attempting to induce vomiting may cause paint/varnish to be inhaled into the lungs, resulting in much more serious complications.

Rinsing your pet’s mouth with lukewarm water, encouraging your pet to drink water, or offering a small snack may be helpful to dilute the paint or varnish in the stomach and reduce the risk of stomach upset.

Paint/varnish on the skin or fur can be washed off with mild liquid dish soap or carefully trimmed with clippers. Scissors should not be used, because you risk cutting the skin. Never use paint thinners, mineral spirits, or other products on the skin without consulting your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline first. These products can cause severe skin irritation and pain. In most cases, leaving some paint on the fur is preferred to causing further injury.

What are the signs of paint poisoning in a dog or cat?

Signs of toxicity depend upon the type of paint or varnish ingested. The most common signs are vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and lack of appetite. If paint or varnish is aspirated into the lungs, pets may develop fast or labored breathing and a purple or blue color to the gums.

With very large ingestions of ethylene glycol-containing paints, pets may develop lethargy, incoordination, and tremors They may also stop eating, drink more or less than usual, and have increased or decreased urination. However, the ethylene glycol concentrations of these types of paints is typically quite low and ingesting a toxic amount would be rare.

Pets that ingest lead-based paints may have vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, a drunken gait, tremors, seizures, blindness, weakness, pale gums, increased heart rate, and difficulty breathing.

How will my veterinarian diagnose paint poisoning?

Most cases are diagnosed in pets that have the expected signs and a known or suspected exposure to paint or varnish. Chest radiographs may be needed to look for evidence of paint or varnish aspiration into the lungs. Abdominal radiographs to look for lead in the stomach and intestines may be recommended. Blood work may be performed to evaluate kidney function, assess red blood cells, or determine lead levels.

Is there an antidote for paint toxicity in pets?

An antidote for most paint and varnish ingestion is not available or necessary. If lead poisoning occurs due to paint ingestion, drugs called chelating agents can be used to bind the lead and allow it to be removed from the body. In the rare case that enough paint was ingested to cause ethylene glycol poisoning, early treatment with a drug called fomepizole or ethanol can prevent damage to the kidneys.

How should an animal with paint exposure or poisoning be treated?

Treatment for paint exposure depends upon the type and amount of paint ingested.

Induction of vomiting following ingestion of paint and/or varnish is not recommended. Vomiting increases the chance that paint can be inhaled into the lungs and cause difficulty breathing.

Pets that develop vomiting or diarrhea are often treated with fluids under the skin, anti-nausea medication, probiotics, or gastrointestinal protectants. If severe gastrointestinal or respiratory signs occur, hospitalization with intravenous (IV) fluids, antibiotics, and/or oxygen supplements may be necessary.

In the rare case that enough paint was ingested to cause ethylene glycol poisoning, hospitalization will be needed. Treatments often include intravenous fluids, ethanol or fomepizole, dextrose supplementation, and monitoring of blood work to assess kidney function.

Treatment for lead poisoning depends upon the signs that develop. Intravenous fluids, anti-nausea medication, gastrointestinal protectants, muscle relaxants and medications to control seizures may be used. Drugs to bind lead and allow its removal from the body (chelating agents) are often necessary.

Can pets recover from paint poisoning?

Full recovery is expected following most paint or varnish exposures. Pets that develop lead poisoning or ingest ethylene glycol- containing paint may develop more serious complications. Even in these cases, the outlook for full recovery is good with early treatment. Delayed treatment can cause long-term organ damage and even death.

How can paint or varnish poisoning be prevented?

Store paint and varnish products in closed containers out of the pet’s reach. Do not leave paint/varnish or items coated with wet paint/varnish where unattended pets are present. Curious pets may explore containers and painting supplies. It is not uncommon for pets to chew through closed containers or chew on paint brushes and other painting supplies. Keep in mind that pets can get on counters or knock items off counters and tables. Do not assume a pet will avoid eating the paint/varnish just because it has a bad taste. If paint or varnish is spilled, confine all pets in another area of the home until the product has been cleaned up. Assure the area where the paint/varnish was used is well ventilated and odor-free prior to allowing pets back into the area. Pay close attention to curious young animals and especially cats who can jump and climb on higher surfaces. Home remodeling may expose lead-based paint dust and chips that these animals find irresistible to ingest.

Prevention of lead poisoning from paint requires careful attention to the home environment. In older homes, be sure to remove any loose paint, paint, chips or paint dust from areas to which the pet will be exposed. Home test kits to assess for lead paint are available. If lead paint is detected, consider a certified risk assessment to determine whether properly maintaining the paint in place or complete removal of the lead-based paint is most appropriate. Removal of lead-based paint should not be attempted without proper training and protection.

Paint and Varnish Poison Alert for Dogs and Cats | VCA Animal Hospitals (2)

Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center based out of Minneapolis, MN is available 24/7 for pet owners and veterinary professionals that require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The staff provides treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline’s fee of $65 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at


Is varnish smell harmful to dogs? ›

Signs of toxicity depend upon the type of paint or varnish ingested. The most common signs are vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and lack of appetite. If paint or varnish is aspirated into the lungs, pets may develop fast or labored breathing and a purple or blue color to the gums.

Is varnish smell harmful to cats? ›

Chemical poisons

The fumes from products such as varnish and paint remover can also be dangerous, so do not have the cat in the room when you are using them, and wait until the fumes have dispersed before letting the cat back in.

Can paint fumes affect cats? ›

A major source of indoor air pollution is the VOCs from conventional paints, but are paint fumes harmful to cats? Indeed, they can be. Paint fumes can irritate your cat's eyes, nose, and respiratory system. Your cat could even become nauseous, dizzy, or have an allergic skin reaction!

Can paint fumes make dogs sick? ›

The biggest danger of paint fumes for pets is lung inflammation. If your pet's immune system is weak and the fumes are strong, the animal may develop pneumonia. The fumes from the solvents can irritate their respiratory system, and most often it begins with coughing or hacking.

Is wood varnish smell toxic? ›

Many varnish products contain benzene, a highly flammable carcinogen. It also emits a strong odor with intense fumes that cause drowsiness, headaches, skin irritation, and dizziness. High exposure can even cause unconsciousness and respiratory distress.

Is dried varnish toxic? ›

The resins and solvents used in varnish are toxic if ingested. Many varnish products contain benzene, which is a known carcinogen that is highly flammable. The solvents in varnish are extremely pungent, and the fumes can cause drowsiness, headaches, skin irritation and dizziness.

Is wood varnish toxic to cats? ›

The biggest risk from wood preservative to animals are the toxic fumes from wet paint. But even dry, wood preservative paint can be harmful to your outdoor pets should if ingested.

What happens if you smell varnish? ›

The signs and symptoms of Varnish Poisoning may include: Burning and associated pain in the mouth, throat, and food-pipe; this may affect the nose, ears, and eyes. Throat inflammation may cause difficulty in swallowing, breathing. Respiratory difficulties, which may be severe if the chemical is inhaled.

What varnish is pet safe? ›

Protek Wood Protector is a water-based timber paint with added wax and acrylic. It contains no turpentine, white spirit or heavy metals. It's marketed as "ideal for animal areas such as chicken coups, stables, kennels and catteries".

How long are paint fumes harmful to pets? ›

After your paint project is complete, keep your pets out of the area for 24 to 48 hours to make sure your walls are dry. Keep the windows open and fans blowing.

Can cats be in a house that is being painted? ›

Keep in mind, though, that even zero- and low-VOC paint products can contain chemicals harmful to pets. As a general rule, if you're having your interior painted, get your pets out of there.

How long until paint fumes are toxic? ›

Short-term exposure of several hours or letting it sit overnight is not toxic for most people. And even among those with increased sensitivity, most would have to be exposed to paint fumes for up to a month or more to have any significant health effects.

Is the smell of paint toxic to animals? ›

Paint fumes can harm animals as well

Just as the chemicals called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that evaporate from conventional paint as it dries can cause problems for humans, so they are also harmful to household pets.

How much paint is toxic to dogs? ›

There's really no specific amount or “toxic dose” of paint that's harmful, since your pet's size and weight matters, and there are many ingredients and variables to take into account. A small taste or touch of paint will probably not cause significant symptoms.

How long do you have to stay out of a room after painting? ›

Avoid freshly painted rooms for 2 to 3 days, whenever possible. Keep young children and individuals with breathing problems from freshly painted rooms. Leave painted areas if you experience eye watering, headaches, dizziness, or breathing problems.

What are the dangers of varnish? ›

Delayed injury may occur, including a hole forming in the throat, esophagus, or stomach. This can lead to severe bleeding and infection. Surgical procedures may be needed to treat these complications. If varnish gets in the eye, ulcers may develop in the cornea, the clear part of the eye.

How long does it take for varnish fumes to dissipate? ›

In a well ventilated area, the smell should be significantly diminished within a week. After 2 weeks it should be undetectable.

What varnish is non toxic? ›

For varnish, there is a non toxic varnish, such as a natural linseed oil varnish, This is the best natural solution for all your varnishing needs. It is made of regionally cultivated linseed oil and lead free drying agents.

Is varnish a hazardous chemical? ›

Harmful in contact with skin. Irritating to skin. May cause severe irritation to eyes. Dangerous for the environment: May cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.

Is varnish a hazardous material? ›

INHALATION Vapour from this chemical can be hazardous when inhaled. Vapour may irritate respiratory system or lungs. INGESTION Liquid irritates mucous membranes and may cause abdominal pain if swallowed. SKIN CONTACT Acts as a defatting agent on skin.

Can smelling varnish make you sick? ›

Lacquer is a clear or colored coating (called a varnish) that is often used to give wooden surfaces a glossy look. Lacquer is dangerous to swallow. Breathing in the fumes for a long period is also harmful.

Is polyurethane varnish toxic? ›

This leads to a frequently asked question; do polyurethane products that come into contact with humans present any kind of health risk? The short answer is that no, polyurethane is not toxic. It is actually a safe and sustainable option when compared to many alternative materials.

Is acrylic paint varnish toxic? ›

The downside of acrylic resin varnishes is that they are toxic if inhaled, so you will need to apply the varnish in a well-ventilated area. To thin the varnish and to clean your brushes afterwards, you'll need to use mineral spirits. Acrylic polymer varnishes, on the other hand, are non-toxic.

Is it OK to paint with a dog in the house? ›

It's not safe for your pets to be around fresh paint as the fumes can be too strong for them. Even after painting is complete, it's a good idea to keep them out of the way until the strong odor diminishes. The use of fans may help for faster ventilation.

Does old varnish contain lead? ›

Lead can also be found in varnish, stain, or even some wallpaper preparations.

What happens if you inhale varnish spray? ›

Dangers of Inhaling Spray Paint Fumes

Since the toxic chemical goes into the blood, the adverse impact reaches all organs including heart, liver, and kidneys, as well as into bone marrow. The long-term effects of huffing, sniffing, and bagging include high blood pressure and heart rhythm disruption.

How do you get the smell of paint varnish out? ›

Baking soda

Baking soda is magic. It naturally absorbs smells, so it's helpful in places like your fridge. If you want to use it to cut down on paint smells, pour it onto several plates and scatter them throughout the room. Leave it overnight and then throw it away in the morning.

Does varnish have high VOC? ›

Because varnishes use petroleum-derived and synthetic solvents that emit high levels of VOCs during application, varnishes are not considered environmentally preferable, but they are the most durable floor finish.

Does varnish contain formaldehyde? ›

Conversion varnishes, widely used to provide a decorative and protective finish on kitchen cabinets, form strong, water-resistant, attractive coatings. Also referred to as acid- catalyzed varnishes, these coatings contain amino cross- linking agents, such as melamine formaldehyde or urea formaldehyde.

Is marine varnish toxic? ›

It is nontoxic and water based providing a broad spectrum of use, from boats, decks, outdoor art and projects, furniture, to children's playground equipment. May also be used indoors for protection against the sun's UV rays.

What happens if you inhale paint fumes for too long? ›

Breathing solvent paint fumes for too long can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea. This can happen in a poorly ventilated space or when large areas are being painted or stained. These paints can even be deadly if they are inhaled on purpose, or "huffed", to get high.

Is paint toxic after it dries? ›

It is difficult to determine precisely how long a specific paint will off-gas harmful fumes, but most sources agree that a fresh coat of paint will continue to emit VOCs into the air even after it appears completely dry.

Are paint fumes cancerous? ›

Things such as furniture, paints, and surface coatings can be dangerous to your health due to pollutant chemicals. These cancer-causing chemicals are known as volatile organic compounds (or VOCs); they are emitted at normal room temperature from thousands of everyday products and materials found in your home.

What paint is non-toxic for cats? ›

Acrylic paint is considered non-toxic (they do not contain volatile organic compounds) when used as intended. Most acrylic paints brands are water-based, making them safe for cats to be around.

How long can dogs smell paint? ›

As you know, dogs are very smell-driven, strong paint will certainly draw their attention towards the newly painted room. And if by mistake, dog sniffs it, he will start licking it which is very harmful for pups, of course. But the smell of the paint lasts from 1 to 3 days, if the room is kept ventilated day and night.

What to do with pets while painting? ›

General guide to painting with pets in the house
  1. Ideally keep pets out of the room you are decorating and ventilate the room until all paint smells have dispersed (keep windows open).
  2. Always choose the lowest VOC paints you can find. ...
  3. Keep open tins of paint away from pets.
Oct 31, 2019

What are the side effects of inhaling toxic fumes? ›

A small chemical exposure can cause tearing eyes and burning of the eyes, nose, throat, chest and skin. It may cause headache, sweating, blurred vision, stomach aches and diarrhea. It is common for even mild symptoms from a harmful chemical to make people feel anxious.

Is it OK to be around paint fumes? ›

Most paints are very safe. However, exposure to paint and its fumes has the potential to cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and throat. This can often go away through cleaning the affected area or going out into fresh air.

How do I get rid of toxic fumes in my house? ›

What you can do to detox your new home
  1. Replace the furnace filter after construction is finished. ...
  2. Run the furnace fan (or ERV/HRV if you have one) at all times. ...
  3. Bake off the toxins. ...
  4. Open windows. ...
  5. Run the bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans. ...
  6. Consider an air purifier.
Mar 19, 2019

What fumes are toxic to dogs? ›

Inhaled poisons include aerosol sprays, carbon monoxide, gases, and other fumes inhaled into your pet's lungs. Bleaches, detergents, and disinfectants are the most likely household chemicals to cause a problem. Therefore, keep pets away from these chemicals by securing them before, during, and after cleaning time.

What paint is non-toxic to animals? ›

Best pet-safe paint

Crow and Dr. Murithi agreed that The Real Milk Paint is one of the best pet-safe paints out there.

Are all paint fumes toxic? ›

The take-home message from all this research is that paint is potentially toxic—especially for “vulnerable” groups such as pregnant women, young children and the elderly. VOC levels are usually much higher indoors than out, especially if those indoor areas are not well ventilated.

Can a dog recover from poisoning? ›

Typically, mild cases of poisoning have high recovery rates. In severe poisoning cases or cases where treatment was delayed the chance of recovery is extremely low. When pets do recover from severe poisoning there can also be long-term damage to their overall health.

How long does it take for a dog to show signs of poisoning? ›

Affected dogs show signs 30 minutes to 4 hours after ingesting the poison. Initially affected dogs become anxious and have an elevated body temperature. Panting is usually seen. Progressively they become worse and staggery.

How can you tell if paint is toxic? ›

Well-maintained paint, even if it contains lead, is not an immediate danger to your health (unless it's on a high-risk surface).
Signs of damaged paint (lead paint hazards) include:
  1. Peeling.
  2. Chipping.
  3. Chalking.
  4. Cracking.
  5. Dampness.
  6. Bubbling.
  7. Teeth marks.
Apr 6, 2022

Can I sleep in my house while its being painted? ›

You can even sleep in the room the same day that it is painted. It still has an odor though, that typically lasts a day after the painting is complete. Zero-VOC paint is odorless and does not emit toxic chemicals. Latex paints have fewer VOCs than some other types of paint.

Is it OK to sleep in house after painting? ›

While the paint may feel dry 2 to 8 hours after painting, toxic chemicals could be released for up to two weeks. Ensure the room is properly ventilated – windows open, fans on – and avoid sleeping in the room for about two weeks if possible.

Can you sleep in your house while painting? ›

Any paint with a "Green Seal" logo of any kind has few enough VOC's that it is harmless to sleep in the room the same day the paint is applied. However, the paint is not odorless and will smell for at least 24 hours after painting. Typically the smell will lessen in 2-3 days if you keep the room well ventilated.

What odors are toxic to dogs? ›

Many liquid potpourri products and essential oils, including oil of cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), wintergreen, and ylang ylang, are poisonous to dogs. Both ingestion and skin exposure can be toxic.

Is the smell of polyurethane toxic to dogs? ›

No, polyurethane is not toxic. Compared to other varnishes, polyurethane is safer and more sustainable. However, uncured polyurethane is not safe and can cause irritation with respiratory problems.

What flavor do dogs hate? ›

At the top of the list? Citrus. Most dogs can't stand the taste and smell of oranges, lemons, and grapefruit. Here's why — plus, how to use their dislike of citrus to your advantage.

Do dogs see TV? ›

Dogs absolutely can see TV, and many seem to enjoy it. There are a number of features about television shows that dogs find attractive. Some of these are visual, such as motion, while others relate to the sounds coming from the TV. Dog eyes are very different from human eyes, so they see things on TV differently.

What smell do dogs hate to stop peeing? ›

Citrus. The citrus smell is arguably the best dog repellent there is. You do not have to do a lot. Simply peel an orange or a lemon next to your dog and you will observe it leaving the spot immediately.

Can breathing in polyurethane fumes make you sick? ›

► Inhaling Urethane can irritate the nose and throat. ► Very high exposure can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness and passing out.

Is polyurethane varnish toxic when dry? ›

This leads to a frequently asked question; do polyurethane products that come into contact with humans present any kind of health risk? The short answer is that no, polyurethane is not toxic. It is actually a safe and sustainable option when compared to many alternative materials.

How long are polyurethane fumes toxic? ›

For oil-based polyurethane, it can take up to 24-48 hours for the finish to dry and up to 72 hours for the fumes to dissipate completely. Therefore, it is recommended that you stay out of your home for at least 72 hours after applying an oil-based polyurethane finish.

What is the most toxic thing to give a dog? ›

Some of the more hazardous edible items include:
  • Onions.
  • Salt.
  • Tobacco products (including e-cigarettes and their refills)
  • Xylitol (a sweetener found in products such as some sugar-free chewing gum, sugar-free candy, cough syrup, mouthwash, and toothpaste)
  • Yeast products (like raw bread dough)
Feb 28, 2023

Can the smell of nail polish harm dogs? ›

The fumes are potentially harmful. Also, nail polish can become glued to the hair. Paint, varnish, lacquers, sealants, stains: All of these are caustic to the skin, mucous membranes, and gastrointestinal tract. The fumes are potentially harmful.

What fumes are toxic to cats? ›

A variety of inhaled substances can have adverse affects on cats. In general, these substances are the same things that would cause problems for people. Carbon monoxide, smoke, fumes from bleach and other cleaning products, sprayed insecticides, etc. are some of the toxic substances that can be inhaled.

How long does it take for varnish to stop smelling? ›

In a well ventilated area, the smell should be significantly diminished within a week. After 2 weeks it should be undetectable.


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