Home Painting and Pets: Safety Tips and Tricks

Before you grab a brush, read this.
By: Helen Anne Travis
Home painting safety

Painting your interior walls is a relatively cheap and quick way to transform your home, but it could also mean big problems for your pet. Even the safest paints can cause a bellyache or skin irritations if your pet accidentally gets into them. Then there’s the added concern your pet could make a mess by walking through the paint, or worse, escape through an open window or door.

Here’s how to protect your pet while you’re painting your home. Plus, to make sure your hard work isn’t in vain, tips to protect your walls from your pets once the paint dries.

Don’t Mix Pets and Paint

“The best way to keep your pet safe when painting your home is to remove it from the house,” says Victor Tirondola, CEO and owner of Manor Works Painting in Virginia.

You can board them while the work is being done, or lend them to a trusted friend or pet sitter for the day. If removing the pet from the home isn’t an option, keep them in a secured room far from the action. If they can go outside, set them in the backyard with plenty of water, food, shade and someone to keep an eye on them.

Keeping the painting area free of animals will prevent curious pets from getting into the paint and supplies. It will also ensure your pet doesn’t go missing if a forgetful painter accidentally leaves a door open.

After your project is complete, keep your pet out of the area for 24 to 48 hours to make sure your walls are dry, says Dr. Carol Osborne, an integrative veterinarian at Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.

Throughout the entire process, keep a close eye on your pet. Call your vet immediately if you notice any unusual behavior like tremors, loss of coordination or difficulty breathing, all of which could be signs of paint toxicity, says Osborne. Additional signs include vomiting, diarrhea, depression and lethargy.

Be Prepared

Whenever you’re doing anything that could potentially affect your pet it’s always a good idea to have the numbers of your veterinarian, an emergency medical center and the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center handy, Osborne says. Make sure you can also easily access the names and ingredient lists for the paints. Call you vet or emergency clinic immediately if you suspect your pet has gotten into the paint.

Don’t induce vomiting unless your veterinarian advises you to do so, Osborne says, as it could make the situation worse by causing ulcers or aspiration pneumonia.

Depending on the severity of the paint toxicity, your veterinarian might prescribe fluids, oxygen support and/or medications to help with gastrointestinal upset and kidney function. Your pet may have to be hospitalized.

Clean Up As You Go

Put away the paint cans, rollers, tarps, brushes and anything else in your painting kit when you’re done for the day. Even clean brushes and rollers could pose as potential choking hazards, Osborne says.

“Make sure all items that cannot be used again are properly discarded and secured in an outside garbage can, not in an indoor trash can which your pet can easily access,” adds Tirondola.

Not only will cleaning up the paint supplies keep your pet safe, it will also prevent them from accidentally walking through your workspace and tracking painted paw prints through the house.

Know Your Paints

Tirondola recommends hiring a painter certified to work with lead-based paints if your home was built before 1978, as exposure to lead paint dust can cause serious health problems for you and your pet. In pets, signs of lead paint exposure include depression, lethargy and difficulty walking, says Osborne. Call your vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.

Other potentially problematic paints include those containing polyurethane, formaldehyde, ammonia, acetone, fungicides and biocides, all of which are toxic, says Tirondola.

Depending on the pet’s age, size and the amount of toxins ingested, signs your pet may have consumed any these ingredients include vomiting and diarrhea, Osborne says. In general, cats and dogs will exhibit similar symptoms and she advises calling the vet immediately if you notice any type of unusual behavior during a painting project.

Paints may also contain ethylene glycol, an ingredient found in antifreeze, says Osborne. Just a teaspoon of concentrated ethylene glycol can be lethal to pets, she adds, causing irreversible kidney and liver failure.

Tirondola says good paint products for pet owners are those labeled “No VOC,” or volatile organic compounds (solvents that get released into the air as the paint dries). VOCs can cause acute symptoms in pets and people, including headaches and dizziness.

“The long-term effects are less certain, but according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, some VOCs are suspected carcinogens,” he adds.

Tirondola recommends the Benjamin Moore Natural and Sherwin-Williams Harmony lines, but it is important to do your research nonetheless. Paints that claim to have a VOC-free base might still use a VOC pigment, he says, and might also contain any of the harmful ingredients listed above.

“Low-VOC and no-VOC latex products are less toxic but by no means non-toxic,” he says.

How to Pet-Proof Your Walls

After all that hard work, you’ll want to keep your walls as clean as possible, and Tirondola says that the higher the sheen of the finish of a paint, the more durable it is.

Semi-gloss paints, often used on trims, are the easiest no-VOC product to clean, he adds. For walls, eggshell-colored paints, which are washable and available in no-VOC lines, is a great option. The only problem with semi-gloss paint is that it is shiny and may highlight imperfections in your walls, he says. A matte finish is a great option as it can be washed and is better at masking imperfections, he says, however, this finish is only available in low-VOC products.

If your pet does mess scuff or dirty up your walls, Harriet Jones, a cleaning supervisor at Go Cleaners London, recommends blotting the stained area with a mix of one liter of water and ¼ cup of white vinegar.

Lauren Haynes, a home organizing expert at Star Domestic Cleaners in London, adds that the key to keeping your walls tidy is to clean up any stains immediately. “The older the stain is, the harder it is to clean,” she says.