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Whether during Fourth of July fireworks or other warm weather events, summer is a prime time for people to wear glow-in-the-dark necklaces or play with glow sticks. Some pet owners are even tempted to attach a piece of glow jewelry or a glow stick to their pet’s leash, collar or neck during nighttime festivities or forget and leave these novelty items lying around the house.
Pets, especially cats, can easily become attracted to these alluring items and will bat them around and play with them until they decide to bite into the liquid-filled "toy." That's when owners become concerned about poisoning. In 2011, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center received 315 calls about ingestion of glow jewelry. About 82 percent of the time, these calls involved curious cats.
Glow sticks and the like are filled with an oily liquid known as dibutyl phthalate. Thankfully, in the quantities contained in glow sticks, this substance is more of an irritant than a toxin. Exposure to it, however, can still be very unpleasant for pets.
That’s because this substance typically has a very bitter taste. Since dogs and cats, unlike humans, cannot spit it out if they happen to bite or lick some of it, they begin to drool uncontrollably. Your normally mild-mannered cat may become agitated to the point of aggression or may even vomit. Some animals may try to run away or hide in the closet or under the bed. All of these behaviors can be very alarming to pet owners!
Fortunately, the compound is not poisonous. The biggest concern is that it simply tastes really bad, but there is another risk. Some of the larger glow sticks can also contain a small glass vial that, when snapped to activate, makes the stick light up. Although pets usually stop biting or chewing the glow sticks as soon as they taste the bitter substance, it is good to be aware that your pet may have ingested some fragments if she actually does break the stick. In that case, the recommendation is to bulk up the diet with bread, canned pumpkin, etc., and watch for signs of bloody vomiting or blood in the stool.
If your pet only seems afflicted with a bad taste in her mouth, offer her something she enjoys and will readily consume: Milk, canned food, treats and tuna are all good choices. You may need to coax her to eat or drink if she is profusely drooling. Once your pet has calmed down, you can use a very wet washcloth on the tongue to help rinse and remove the taste from her mouth and get her to eat. After she stops drooling, turn off the lights and see if she is glowing anywhere on her body. If she is still lighting up like a firefly, wash the affected areas thoroughly with shampoo and water. Otherwise, if the remaining substance is not removed, the whole drooling episode can start again when she grooms herself.
Of course, if you have any concerns about your pet's health, you should always check with your veterinarian.
Dr. Tina Wismer is the medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois.
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