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Mothball Toxicity in Pets

mothballs, mothball toxicity in pets, pet health, pet toxins, autumn pet toxins, fall pet toxins, Naphthalene, Paradichlorobenzene, Camphor, pet emergency, Twin Cities emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

As the seasons change, many people take on the tedious task of switching out their wardrobes from summer clothes to winter – or vice versa. While this chore may seem harmless, it can be the cause of a very serious pet danger: mothball toxicity. For pet owners who store their clothes with mothballs, it’s important to take extra caution when switching out clothes and packing up items for storage. Keep reading to learn more about this hazardous pesticide and why pet owners may wish to stop using them!

First off, what are mothballs? 

Mothballs are small balls that release an insecticide vapor to kill and repel moths, larvae, and eggs, as well as other insects. Most often, mothballs are placed with clothing and blankets in air-tight sealed containers to prevent fabric damage caused by clothes moths.

If you don’t use mothballs, no need to start now! But for those who choose to use them, know exactly what type of mothballs you are purchasing. Read those labels carefully and educate yourself on how to safely use them. When misused, mothballs can be very harmful to both animals and humans!

Note: It is NOT recommended to use mothballs to repel snakes and rodents. This method is highly unsafe for pets and the environment. 

mothballs, mothball toxicity in pets, pet health, pet toxins, autumn pet toxins, fall pet toxins, Naphthalene, Paradichlorobenzene, Camphor, pet emergency, Twin Cities emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

Why are mothballs toxic?  

The insecticide in the mothball causes the toxicity. Typically, poisoning occurs when an animal eats the mothball; however, long-term exposure to mothball fumes can also be toxic. The most common types of insecticides used in mothballs are the following: 

1. Naphthalene 

Though old-fashioned, naphthalene mothballs can still be found. They are the most toxic type of mothball, as ingestion of only a small amount can cause symptoms. Most commonly, pets who eat naphthalene balls experience stomach upset. However, high doses can cause low red blood cell counts, liver or kidney failure, and neurologic signs such as tremors, seizures, and loss of balance. 

2. Paradichlorobenzene (PDB) 

PDB is the most common type of insecticide found in mothballs. While less toxic to pets, if eaten, PDB mothballs can still cause gastrointestinal upset, as well as neurologic signs and liver or kidney failure, though less commonly than in naphthalene mothballs.

3. Camphor 

While camphor mothballs are sold, they are not as common in the United States. Mothballs containing camphor can also cause gastrointestinal upset. If your pet eats a large quantity of camphor mothballs, seizures are possible.  

Common Signs of toxicity may include: 

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mothball-scented breath
  • Pale or brown gums
  • Yellow gums
  • Yellow eyes
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Labored or rapid breathing
  • Walking off balance
  • Tremors
  • Seizures 

Because mothballs dissolve slowly, signs of toxicity can be delayed by hours to days.  

mothballs, mothball toxicity in pets, pet health, pet toxins, autumn pet toxins, fall pet toxins, Naphthalene, Paradichlorobenzene, Camphor, pet emergency, Twin Cities emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota

If you are concerned your pet has eaten a mothball or has been exposed to mothball fumes, contact your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital. They may recommend calling a pet poison center or seeking immediate veterinary care. Unfortunately, there is no antidote for mothball toxicity, but prompt treatment decreases the risk of severe poisoning. Treatment and prognosis vary, depending on the type of mothball and the amount eaten.

To prevent mothball toxicity, store mothballs out of your pet’s reach and in airtight containers. Always follow the product’s labels and guidelines. Keep in mind that mothballs should never be placed in an unsecured area, such as a closet or yard. This is extremely dangerous and only increases the chance of a pet eating a mothball. The best prevention is to stop using mothballs and to switch to a safer, non-chemical method instead! 

Latasha Sikes, DVM, emergency veterinarian, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Oakdale emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet


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