Hydrogen Peroxide For Pets: Why It Does More Harm than Good

Hydrogen Peroxide For Pets: Why It Does More Harm than Good

Hydrogen peroxide is a common household disinfectant that historically, many pet owners have used in emergency situations to induce vomiting after their pet ingests toxins. While its accessibility in the household, and ability to be administered immediately after intoxication, makes it a tempting go-to for immediate action, the evidence and veterinary science clearly argue against its use for treating pet poisoning. Understanding the risks associated with hydrogen peroxide can help pet owners make safer choices for their animals' health.

The Reality of Hydrogen Peroxide as an Emetic (i.e. a substance that causes vomiting) 

While the intention behind using hydrogen peroxide is to quickly expel ingested toxins before they absorb into the animal's system, the actual outcomes both in terms of effectiveness and injury to the patient often do not justify its use. In fact the way that hydrogen peroxide causes vomiting is by burning and damaging tissue, causing pain and encouraging the body to eliminate the hydrogen peroxide- much like food poisoning- an extremely unpleasant experience for those that have suffered with a bout previously. 

Here’s a breakdown of why hydrogen peroxide for pets is not the safe remedy many think it is.

Painful and Damaging Effects on the Gastrointestinal Tract

Hydrogen peroxide for pets is not just ineffective; it's harmful. Research has shown that administering hydrogen peroxide, especially at the 3% concentration commonly available in households, can cause significant harm to the gastroesophageal tract of animals. For example, in cats administration of hydrogen peroxide is not recommended by veterinarians due to the common, severe side effects that occurs when given to cats- namely, the corrosive nature of hydrogen peroxide can cause such severe burns to the esophagus that permanent scarring can occur. This scarring can narrow the esophagus, leading to long-term feeding problems and chronic pain.

In dogs, the situation isn't much better. Although hydrogen peroxide does not as consistently cause burns and esophageal stricture as it does in cats, a study published in the, Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care revealed disturbing findings revealing the dangers of hydrogen peroxide. In the study, healthy dogs were administered hydrogen peroxide to allow the researchers to evaluate the level of tissue injury in dogs. These pets subjected to “appropriately dosed oral 3% hydrogen peroxide experienced burns, ulcers, bleeding, and even necrotic tissue in their upper gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach and intestine). The physical damage inflicted by hydrogen peroxide not only causes immediate pain but can lead to significant health complications down the line, including potential lung infections (with aspiration pneumonia) and long-term digestive issues.

**Resource- Niedzwecki, A. H., B. P. Book, K. M. Lewis, J. S. Estep and J. Hagan (2017). “Effects of oral 3% hydrogen peroxide used as an emetic on the gastroduodenal mucosa of healthy dogs.” J Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio) 27(2): 178-184.


Hydrogen peroxide is not truly effective 

Hydrogen peroxide is Ineffective in Toxin Removal. The primary goal of inducing vomiting in cases of poisoning is to remove the toxin before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. However, studies indicate that hydrogen peroxide is strikingly ineffective at achieving this. According to research in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, hydrogen peroxide only successfully induces vomiting about 60% of the time. Moreover, when emesis does occur, only about 45% of the toxin was expelled. These findings are very similar to other veterinary and human studies questioning whether inducing vomiting is effective at eliminating toxins. This level of inefficiency means that the very real risks of using hydrogen peroxide significantly outweigh the partial benefits.

**Resource- Khan, S. A., M. K. McLean, M. Slater, S. Hansen and S. Zawistowski (2012). “Effectiveness and adverse effects of the use of apomorphine and 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to induce emesis in dogs.” Journal of the American veterinary medical association 241(9): 1179-1184.


Limitations in Treating Ingested Toxins

Another critical limitation of hydrogen peroxide for pets—or any emetic method, for that matter—is its inability to remove toxins that have moved past the stomach into the intestines. Once a toxin enters the intestinal tract, the chance to remove it via vomiting has passed, and the effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide plummets to zero. This limitation is crucial in timing the intervention; if too much time has elapsed after ingestion, inducing vomiting will not help and may only cause unnecessary suffering and delay administration of activated charcoal.


Other characteristics of hydrogen peroxide for pets that make it a poor vomit-inducing tool:

  • Shelf life- while hydrogen peroxide has a 3 year shelf life if unopened, after it is opened its shelf life drops to 1-3 months as it quickly changes to Oxygen (the bubbles that come out when opened) and water- reducing effectiveness significantly 
  • Some believe making them vomit before activated charcoal administration is helpful, however multiple studies show no benefit to making animals vomit before administration of an activated charcoal, as there is no benefit, and it delays the administration of charcoal, and makes it more difficult to administer charcoal.
  • Some medications such as Cannabis and Antihistamines are antiemetic in nature (prevents vomiting), so use of hydrogen peroxide would be even less effective than the very poor effectiveness numbers noted above. 

A Better Alternative: ReadyRESCUE™

Given the serious risks and limited effectiveness of hydrogen peroxide for pets, it's fortunate that veterinary science has progressed to offer safer and more effective solutions. One such innovation is ReadyRESCUE™, a product designed to decontaminate both the stomach and intestines. Unlike hydrogen peroxide, ReadyRESCUE™ provides a quick, easy to administer, comprehensive approach to toxin removal that can handle a wider range of poisoning scenarios without the harmful side effects associated with corrosive agents like hydrogen peroxide.


Hydrogen Peroxide pet Administration Was Acceptable In An Emergency, Before There was a Safer, More Effective Alternative

The use of hydrogen peroxide for pets as an emergency treatment for poisoning is a practice that needs to be reevaluated in light of current veterinary knowledge and the availability of safer alternatives like ReadyRESCUE™. The painful and potentially dangerous effects of hydrogen peroxide, combined with its inefficacy in thoroughly removing toxins, present a compelling case against its use.

As pet owners, the safety and wellbeing of our animals are paramount. Relying on outdated methods can lead to unnecessary risks and suffering. It’s essential to consult with a veterinarian after giving ReadyRESCUE™. They can provide guidance on whether your pet need to be seen immediately, or monitored at home. Medical knowledge and treatment options are always evolving as science progresses, and the safest and most effective course of action will often involve modern and scientifically supported treatments rather than outdated remedies like hydrogen peroxide. This approach not only ensures the health of your pet but also your peace of mind, knowing you are providing the best care possible in a time of need.

Addendum I - List of scientific articles that show that the use of charcoal reduces the amount of toxin adsorbed over inducing vomiting

Tenenbein, M., Cohen, S., & Sitar, D. S. (1987). Efficacy of ipecac-induced emesis, orogastric lavage, and activated charcoal for acute drug overdose. Annals of emergency medicine, 16(8), 838-841.

Underhill, T. J., Greene, M. K., & Dove, A. F. (1990). A comparison of the efficacy of gastric lavage, ipecacuanha and activated charcoal in the emergency management of paracetamol overdose. Emergency Medicine Journal, 7(3), 148-154.

Addendum II - References showing that prehospital administration of Activated Charcoal is safe

Villarreal, J., C. A. Kahn, J. V. Dunford, E. Patel and R. F. Clark (2015). "A retrospective review of the prehospital use of activated charcoal." Am J Emerg Med 33(1): 56-59.

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