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Safety Check: Tips for Avoiding Poisonous Potions

Germs and animal shelters just don't mix—the better you are at killing the single-celled organisms lurking in your midst, the better chance you have of keeping the more complex and cuddly living beings in your shelter healthy.

But toxic chemicals and fumes don't mix too well with the shelter environment either, so it's important that animal caretakers be aware of which potions might be poisonous. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Disinfectants containing phenol are extremely toxic to cats. Although it is found in nature in animal wastes and organic matter, phenol is mainly a manmade chemical, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Found in disinfectants such as Lysol and Pine-Sol, phenol may be ingested by a cat after he walks through a disinfectant and then starts grooming himself. While quaternary ammonium products are popular in the shelter, a few contain phenol; check the labels carefully to ensure you're not using one of these solutions.

2. Be careful when using both ammonia and bleach products in your shelter. Mixing ammonia and bleach together produces chloramine gas, which can cause coughing, loss of voice, feelings of burning and suffocation, and even death. While the dangers of using ammonia and bleach together are fairly common knowledge, it never hurts to remind employees, especially since shelters sometimes disinfect with ammonia and then later again with bleach.

3. Always take the time to rinse well after using bleach and quaternary ammonium products; if not rinsed well from dishes, residue from these products can result in mouth ulcers.

4. The introduction of a new bleach product called Ultra Clorox sparked much debate last year, after a mass e-mailing warned those who work with animals to avoid the disinfectant "at all costs" because it contains lye, also known as sodium hydroxide. Since then, many have dismissed the warning because sodium hydroxide was present in the original Clorox solution and is in fact an element of all household bleach products. But Ultra Clorox is much more concentrated; the labeling recommends using 25 percent less in laundry loads. Therefore, amounts used in shelters need to be adjusted, says Becky Rhoades, DVM, interim executive director of the Kauai Humane Society in Hanapepe, Hawaii. Recommended dilution has long been one part bleach to 32 parts water (e.g., a mix of two ounces of bleach for every gallon of water), but with Ultra Clorox, dilution should be one part bleach to 43 parts water.

A Correction on Dilution Solutions

A careful reader in New Mexico has alerted us to a mistake in the July-August 2001 issue of Animal Sheltering. In a discussion of recommended dilutions for bleach products, we gave the correct rates—1 part bleach to 32 parts water for regular bleach and 1 part bleach to 43 parts water for the more concentrated products such as Ultra Clorox—but failed to recognize that there are, in fact, 128 ounces in a gallon.

"It casually implies that a 1:32 bleach solution is 2 ounces of bleach raised to 1 gallon with water," writes Anthony Guillen, facilities manager at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society. "It's actually 4 ounces."

Guillen is right: The recommended dilution rate of 1 part bleach to 32 parts water is equivalent to four ounces per gallon. Animal Sheltering editors regret the error and are grateful to Guillen for taking the time to let us know.

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