Is paint toxic to your cat and dog?

Next time your are giving your house a face lift, be sure to keep your dog and cat away from the paint you are using.

Melissa planned her two-week vacation to be home with her two Akitas, Benny and Juno, and to have time to redecorate her newly purchased house. The young attorney started by repainting the living room, and was so enthusiastic about how lovely the new paint colors looked that she did every other room in her home.

On the last night of her holiday, she called me in tears. Both her dogs had lost almost all their hair. They were literally bald.

Melissa had used an oil-based paint on her kitchen cupboards, latex flat paint on the walls and latex enamel on all the moldings. She assumed that by ventilating the rooms as she painted, any fumes would dissipate and by the time the paint was dried, she and the dogs would not be breathing in anything dangerous. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

The problem with paint

Paints are made up of four elements.

1. The first is resin, which helps the product adhere to the surface and provides durability.

2. Next is the pigment that provides color and helps hide imperfections in the walls.

3. Additives create applicability, so the paint can be brushed on with ease.

4. The last element is solvents. These are the most prominent ingredients in the mix. They act as carriers to dissolve and disperse all the other components. Paints are classified by the solvents they contain, otherwise known as the percentage of VOC (volatile organic chemicals). Oil-based paints contain 40% to 60% of these toxic chemicals as opposed to waterbased latex paints that contain 5% to 10%.

A study done by Johns Hopkins University indicated that more than 300 toxic chemicals and 150 carcinogens may be present in one can of paint. Some of these toxins could be ammonia, benzene, ethanol, formaldehyde, glycols, kerosene and plastics. Chemicals like toluene, a known carcinogen, can damage the heart and kidneys.

Safer alternatives

It’s now possible to purchase low or no VOC paints. However, it’s important to know that the “low to no” factor only refers to the solvents in the paint. Three other areas of concern are the pigments, biocides and fungicides. Depending on what the pigments are made from, they can create toxic long-lasting fumes. Biocides and fungicides prolong the shelf life of paint but can cause fatigue, headaches, sore throats and chronic illness. It’s important to check ingredient labels for these additives.

Some companies (such as Anna Sova) have created organic paints with naturally occurring pigments that are completely safe to breathe in and will not out-gas chemicals. One way to know if the pigments used in a paint are safe is to check online for a company website. Usually, you can access technical or material safety data sheets through the company’s website. If not, call the company and they should be able to e-mail or fax you the desired information. If they are not willing to share this with you, consider excluding them from your choices. You should be able to know what you are using in your home.

Melissa chose to repaint some of the rooms in her house with milk paints, since these are completely non-toxic. However, milk paints are not desirable for damper areas of the house, such as bathrooms and kitchens. In those rooms, Melissa chose to use Yolo Colorhouse paints because of the wide variety of colors they offer and the company’s commitment to environmental concerns.

Shortly after Melissa repainted her home, I received a frantic phone call from a friend with a litter of Newfoundland puppies who were vomiting and acting despondent. She sent me a video of the puppies by e-mail. When I opened it, the first thing I noticed was a very colorful handmade whelping box painted in blue and yellow. I called my friend immediately to ask what paint she had used. The whelping box was one her husband had constructed years ago, but the couple had repainted it several weeks before the puppies were born with an oil-based paint for durability. My friend thought that by the time the puppies were born, the odors would have dissipated from the paint.

She took the puppies to the veterinarian to be checked and also treated them with the homeopathic remedy Arsenicum album. When they returned from the vet’s office, the puppies were moved to another area of the house and the painted whelping box was taken away. The puppies slowly recovered once removed from the toxic environment. My friend has since redone the whole room with non-toxic paints and a new whelping box was constructed from untreated wood and left unpainted.

Changing your physical environment can be inspiring for the soul. But it’s important to do your homework before running out to the store to buy paint. A little internet research or a few well-placed phone calls can help you steer clear of bringing in toxins that can do anything from instigate a cough to damage internal organs.

We live in an age where more companies are providing greener choices. It’s up to us to take the time to know what we are looking for, and choose what works best for our homes and families, both human and animal!


Anna Sova,
Mythic Paint,
Yolo Colorhouse,