Around this time of year, glow sticks are a cause for concern. Sold during Bonfire Night and Halloween celebrations, these tubes made of pliable soft plastic (easily chewed through by a playful dog or cat) contain a liquid that glows in the dark.

Although the chemicals inside these items are of low toxicity, they are irritant and can cause pain. The main component of this oily liquid is dibutyl phthalate, which has a highly unpleasant taste and even a small amount in a cat or dog’s mouth will cause immediate hypersalivation, frothing and foaming, along with possible hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour. The liquid can also cause irritation to the skin and eyes.

Where ingestion has occurred, we would recommend oral fluids. If the chemicals have entered the eye, irrigate thoroughly with water or saline, stain with fluorescein and treat supportively. For dermal exposure the skin should be washed with warm soapy water and a topical steroid cream used to treat any irritation if required.

Another hazard related to this time of year is fireworks. VPIS receives on average 10 cases a year of dogs ingesting fireworks, usually occurring between October and January.

Fireworks can contain a wide variety of different chemicals but in most cases the exact composition of ingested fireworks is unknown. The 6 main components are:

  • Fuel – charcoal (known as black powder) is the most commonly used
  • Oxidising agents – usually nitrates, chlorate or perchlorate
  • Reducing agents – most common are sulphur and charcoal
  • Metals can be added to act as regulators in order to control the speed of the reactions.
  • Colouring agents
  • Binders – dextrin (a type of starch) is mostly commonly used

For Fun Snaps and sparklers clinical effects tend to be limited to gastrointestinal upset; other types of fireworks may cause vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal discomfort and ataxia, although most animals remain asymptomatic.

However the presence of components such as phosphorus, barium and arsenic can cause more serious toxicity (for details on a phosphorus toxicity case, click here).

For more halloween/ bonfire night hazards in cats, visit the ICC’s Keeping Cats Safe campaign website here