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Yes, mothballs are toxic to dogs and all species. Mothballs contain one of three insecticides that include naphthalene, camphor, or paradichlorobenzene (PDB) as an active ingredient. All animals and humans are at risk of mothball poisoning upon ingestion, although dogs are at higher risk of poisoning due to their inquisitive nature.
Mothballs dissolve slowly after consumption, and it can take hours to days before the signs of toxicity show up. However, if you suspect your dog has ingested a mothball, you need to get it to the veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment and to avoid long-term harm to your dog.
The active ingredients in mothballs aren't fatal to dogs and other animals as a general rule, but mothball poisoning with PDB can lead to kidney and liver damage if not treated quickly. The signs of mothball poisoning are easy to spot, and an investigation of your home can quickly determine what your dog got into.
Read on to learn more as we answer the question, "are mothballs toxic to dogs?" and how to handle a case of mothball poisoning.
- Why Are Mothballs Dangerous to Dogs?
- What Happens When Your Dog Eats Mothballs?
- Signs of Toxicity
- What to do if Your Dog Eats a Mothball
- Final Notes
Why Are Mothballs Dangerous to Dogs?
The active ingredients in mothballs are designed to kill insects through ingestion or contact. The most common ingredients, naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene (PDB) are broad-spectrum in terms of how they work. That is, their ability to eliminate insects is not restricted to insects alone. They're designed to kill moths and bugs on contact with the ball, inhaling fumes, absorbing through contact, and ingestion.1, 2
Another active ingredient used in mothballs is camphor, and it can also make a dog sick. The difference comes in the fact that camphor's toxicity is milder than naphthalene and PDB.
A mothball contains enough poison to kill bugs, but it's not enough to seriously affect a dog if it's only ingested a small amount. A dog that's consumed a large amount is at higher risk of suffering a serious case of mothball poisoning that can lead to kidney or liver damage or death.3
They will make a dog sick and require veterinary care to cure the effects of mothball poisoning. Prompt intervention is key to bringing your dog back to their happy, tail wagging selves.
Naphthalene was first introduced to the market in the 1940s and has been in regular use since then. It's not understood how it kills moths, but the working theory is the smell is strong enough to act as a repellent, and strong enough to kill moths that consume or come into contact with the chemical. It is primarily used for mothballs and toilet deodorant cakes.1
Paradichlorobenzene was first formulated in 1942 and was specifically created to kill clothes moths. It works by breaking down into a vapor or gas that kills moths when inhaled or ingested. The chemical is broken down by the body to create compounds that kill cells in the liver and other organs. It's also used for mothballs and toilet deodorant cakes.4
Camphor is a product that's derived from distilling the bark of the camphor tree. It works by suffocating moths when they come into contact with its fumes. Camphor is found in a variety of medicinal products that use natural ingredients to deliver pain relief.4
What Happens When Your Dog Eats Mothballs?
The signs and symptoms of mothball poisoning differ between PDB, naphthalene, and camphor. Naphthalene attacks the digestive system first, while PDB affects the nervous system. Camphor acts in a similar fashion to PDB in that it disrupts the nervous system, upsets the stomach, and can result in seizures.
Inhalation of mothball fumes is another issue that can cause your dog to exhibit signs of distress. Dogs that inhale mothball fumes can show signs of irritation in the form of red and runny eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and coughing.
Signs of Toxicity
The signs of toxicity for PDB, naphthalene, and camphor are similar, but not always. Some of the potential signs of mothball toxicity include:2
- Breath smells of mothballs
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of balance/coordination
- Brown mucous membranes
Early intervention is essential to a positive outcome. If you don't get your dog treated, it can suffer damage to its internal organs that results in chronic conditions that shorten its life or result in death.
What to do if Your Dog Eats a Mothball
In the event that your dog eats a mothball, you need to get veterinary care for it as soon as possible. As previously mentioned, it can take time for the symptoms to become obvious. If you notice your dog has ingested a mothball(s), call the pet poison hotline (888) 426-4435, or the emergency vet.
Mothball toxicity by weight and insecticide
Naphthalene can cause hemolytic anemia in dogs at 0.6 grams of naphthalene per pound. That means smaller dogs are more likely to experience naphthalene toxicity than a larger dog. You can find out how much naphthalene is contained in a single mothball by checking the ingredients list on the packaging. Manufacturers list the amount of active ingredient in a mothball on the back of the package.5
Paradichlorobenzene has no minimum amount before it starts harming your dog's internal organs. A low dose of PDB is capable of harming your dog regardless of their body weight. The same goes for camphor. You should begin emergency intervention if you suspect your dog has ingested mothballs that contain any of these insecticides.
Even though PDB has no threshold before it causes harm, it's actually safer to have around the house than mothballs with naphthalene. That's because naphthalene is almost two times more toxic than PDB in the same amounts. A dog can eat a larger quantity of PDB mothballs and still have good odds for a better outcome than if it had ingested the same amount of naphthalene mothballs.
Ultimately, there is no safe amount of mothballs a pet can consume and escape unharmed. When looking at the question of "are mothballs poisonous to dogs?", they're all poisonous. Never second-guess what's causing your dog to act sick, especially if you find they've gotten into a cache of mothballs. Seek emergency help as soon as you can to give your dog the best chance at recovery.
Following up with the vet
Schedule a follow-up visit with the vet after the initial emergency has been treated and the symptoms are gone. Naphthalene can cause kidney and/or liver damage that may not be immediately apparent. Your dog needs to have regular blood panels to find out if there is damage to these organs, how badly they're damaged, and a plan of action to maintain your dog's quality of life.
The signs of kidney damage in dogs include:
- Increase in drinking water
- Foul breath
- Increase in urination
- Lack of appetite
The signs of liver damage in dogs include:
- Loss of appetite
Stop using mothballs and remove them from the home for safety
The best way to prevent your dog from ingesting mothballs is to stop using them and get them out of your home. This eliminates the risk of ingestion and an emergency trip to the vet. There are effective alternatives to keeping moths out of your clothes that leave your clothes smelling fresh and usable from season to season.
Make sure to wash your clothes before storing them to eliminate moth eggs, larvae, and adults before storing. Use airtight containers that moths and other pests can't get into, and use moth traps that use attractants and trap the moths inside with a sticky substance.
In summary, mothballs are toxic to dogs. The severity of the poisoning depends on the type of insecticide used in the mothball, the weight of your dog, and the amount of poison that's been ingested. In the event you suspect your dog has eaten mothballs, you should call the pet poison hotline and your veterinarian's office for help. They'll guide you on the steps you need to take to help your dog before you bring them to the clinic for help.
Always take action when it looks like your dog has gotten into mothballs. Not doing so can cause severe organ damage to the kidneys and liver or result in death. The sooner you seek help, the better the odds of a good outcome for your dog.
At Dutch, we're here to help you manage your pet's health for the short and long-term from the comfort of your home. Our licensed veterinarians can diagnose your pet's health condition and prescribe the appropriate medication for the care and health of your pet. We can deliver medication to your home, saving you time and effort. Meanwhile, your pet gets the care it needs with the least amount of stress.
Napthalene Mothballs: Emerging and Recurring Issues and their Relevance to Environmental Health, Daniel L. Sudakin, MD, MPH, David L. Stone, Ph. D., and Laura Power, MS, National Library of Medicine, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3850774/
Mothball Toxicity in Pets, Latasha Sikes, DVM, Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, https://aercmn.com/mothball-toxicity-in-pets/
Mothballs, Pet Poison Helpline, https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/mothballs/
Paradichlorobenzene, December 2010, National Pesticide Information Center, Oregon State University, http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PDBgen.html
“Mothballs.” American College of Veterinary Pharmacists, 25 Apr. 2023, www.vetmeds.org/pet-poison-control-list/mothballs/#!form/PPCDonations.