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Ask the Vet: Help, My Dog Ate Mothballs

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Dog Ate Mothballs

If your dog ate mothballs, you may be wondering whether they are toxic to dogs. Dogs as opportunistic beings will eat the most unusual things and mothballs may be tempting because they look like little balls that may be fun to eat. Mothballs are also often placed in secretive areas such as closets and drawers, causing dogs to likely ingest them when dog owners are not around. In such a case, are mothballs toxic to dogs? What to do if your dog ate mothballs? Veterinarian Dr. Crnec provides information about mothball toxicity in dogs. If your ingested mothballs recently, scroll down to the section "help my dog ate mothballs!" so to know what to do.

moth ball

What are Mothballs?

Mothballs are a special type of pesticides used to both kill and repel moths and other insects from clothes and other fabric. Off-label, mothballs can also be used against other animals such as snakes and mice.

In most cases, mothballs come in a solid form and act by releasing a repellent and potentially lethal vapor. Sometimes, this product can be found in other forms such as cakes, cubes, scales, flakes and powders. Regardless of the form, the active ingredient is stored in a protective, sealed container.

The active ingredient in mothballs is some type of a powerful insecticide. In the past, mothballs used to contain naphthalene. Today, due to the naphthalene’s extreme toxicity and flammability, most modern mothballs are made of paradichlorbenzene (PDB).

Mothball Toxicity in Dogs

Help, my dog ate mothballs, are mothballs toxic to dogs? Mothballs are toxic to dogs simply because they contain a powerful insecticide. While cats are more sensitive to the mothballs’ toxic effects, dogs are more likely to ingest something as unpalatable as a mothball. It is no secret that dogs are not very picky eaters and will eat just about anything.

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Old-fashioned mothballs or mothballs containing naphthalene are more toxic than modern mothballs containing PDB – about twice as toxic. However, if ingested in the right amount, all types of mothballs can cause illness. The toxic effects vary from self-limiting vomiting and lethargy, through transient anemia and tremors, to potentially life-threatening kidney and liver issues.

How many mothballs are toxic to dogs? In some cases, even one mothball can be enough to cause poisoning. To be more accurate, the toxic dose depends on several factors:

  • The size of the mothball
  • The size of the dog
  • The type of chemical the mothball contains
  • The chemical’s concentration
  • The presence of co-existing health issues (anemia, liver damage)

What signs and symptoms are likely to be seen in mothball poisoning in dogs? Dog owners may firstly notice a mothball smell in their dog's breath. The clinical picture of mothballs poisoning includes gastro-intestinal signs and symptoms such as: vomiting, loss of appetite, excessive drooling, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

In more severe cases, poisoned dogs may show signs of liver damage, kidney damage and eye damage (in the form of cataracts). Other symptoms include general weakness or lethargy, labored breathing, pale or brown gums, shaking, tremors and seizures, trouble walking, disorientation, cerebral swelling and even coma.

It should be noted that once ingested, mothballs tend to dissolve really slowly. Therefore, the signs and symptoms can be delayed for as much as several days.

Help, My Dog Ate Mothballs!

What to do in a case of accidental mothball ingestion? If you suspect or saw your dog eating a mothball, you need to act fast and either contact your vet or call Pet Poison Helpline at 800-213-6680. Once professional help has been received, do as instructed. Do not give anything orally and do not induce vomiting unless instructed to do so.

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Before heading to the vet’s office, it is advisable to place the mothball package or the remaining mothballs in a plastic bag and take them with you. That way, the vet will be able to identify the poison (naphthalene or PDB) and hopefully determine the ingested amount.

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At the Vet's Office 

How is mothball poisoning diagnosed? The initial point in the diagnostic process is the history of exposure to mothballs. Then, the vet will examine the dog and perform blood work to determine the severity of the case. If necessary, the vet will take an x-ray to see if there are any mothballs present in the stomach or intestines.

How is mothball poisoning treated? Sadly, when it comes to mothball toxicity, there is no specific antidote. Therefore, when treating a mothball-poisoned dog, there are 2 equally important but non-specific steps: the first step is decontamination and the second step is providing suitable supportive care.

The goals of the first step are to get rid of the poison and eliminate the risk of further poisoning. The goals of the second step are to reverse the toxic effects, speed up the recovery period and make it more comfortable.

If the dog ate a mothball but there are no clinical signs yet (within 2 hours of the ingestion), the vet will try to induce vomiting and consequently prevent absorption of the harmful chemical. The effects of the harmful chemical can be additionally reduced by administering activated charcoal.

If the dog ate a mothball and there are clinical signs already, the vet will initiate a treatment based on the symptoms. Usually, the treatment includes:

  • Intravenous administration of fluids (to prevent potential kidney damage)
  • Administration of anti-vomiting medication
  • Administration of anti-seizure medication
  • Administration of liver protective medication
  • Performing blood transfusion (in severe cases to deal with the anemia).

What is the outcome of mothball poisoning? The prognosis for dogs intoxicated with naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene is favorable especially if the treatment is initiated promptly and if the patient had no previous conditions (liver diseases, anemia) that may complicate the final outcome.

In most cases, intoxicated dogs should be carefully and closely monitored until all clinical signs resolve and all blood parameters (complete blood count and biochemistry profile) return to normal.

Is Mothball Poisoning in Dogs Preventable?

Luckily, the answer is yes. All you need to do is keep the mothballs out of your dog’s reach. Accidental ingestion can be prevented by storing the mothballs in airtight, closed containers. Another way of preventing accidents is by following the manufacturer’s label instructions. Last but not least, you can use other, safer and non-chemical fabric storing methods.

If in spite of your efforts, if your dog manages to swallow a mothball or two, it is of paramount importance to immediately contact your trusted vet or an emergency clinic. As with any other types of poisoning, a promptly initiated treatment increases the chances of a better outcome.

The final verdict? As long as mothballs are both stored and used properly, they are completely safe for households with dogs.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

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