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Are Oil Paints Toxic to Cats?

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I’m a big fan of cat art and even though I’m certainly not going to sell any of my fancy feline artwork for millions of dollars anytime soon it’s still fun to paint pictures of my cat.

While it’s easy for my cat to hold a pose as long as I give her a comfy bed, is it safe for cats to be in the same room as oil paints?

In other words, are oil paints toxic to cats? Because they produce more volatile organic compounds or VOCs when they dry than acrylic paints, oil paints aren’t as safe for cats to be around. Some colors may also contain toxic compounds so you should make sure to check the label carefully. 

But let’s dig a little deeper into the world of oil paints and how they can impact our feline friends.

Make Sure You Always Read The Label

Okay, it might sound pretty simple but the label is always going to the best place to check when dealing with paint of any kind. Paints that contain toxic compounds or carcinogens are required to place that clearly on their label. But if you’re dealing with very oil paints, the labels may not be up to modern standards. Considering that oil paint has a shelf life of 30 to 40 years it’s certainly possible to pick up some very old paint. Luckily, most paints these days are environmentally friendly and non-toxic.

Pay Extra Attention To Certain Colors

While it should always be noted on the label, there are also certain colors that traditionally contain hazardous compounds. The big ones to watch out for are cadmium, cobalt, manganese, chromium, and lead. Each of these compounds is associated with a specific color so it’s important to be aware of them.

For example, you’ll see things like “lead white”, “cobalt blue” or “cadmium yellow”. But more and more manufacturers are introducing cadmium-free versions of classic colors for both oil and acrylic paints so it’s becoming less common. The same is true for other harmful compounds and lead has been removed from paint for several decades.

Are Oil Paints More Dangerous For Cats Than Acrylic?

If you’re painting with cats in your home, should you go with acrylic or oil paints?

While they can be pretty similar, most acrylic paints are considered non-toxic for cats and the big differences lies in the emission of VOCs. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are released when paints dry. Because of the solvents used in oil paints, they end up releasing more VOCs than acrylic.

These VOCs are responsible for that fresh paint smell along with the headaches (and other symptoms) that some people get from it. Acrylics on the other hand,  aren’t composed of the same solvents in most cases (since they’re water based) which means they typically release fewer VOCs.

The other big factor is that unlike acrylic paints, oil paints typically require the use of paint thinner and other solvents to properly clean your brushes. While there will always be exceptions it’s fair to say that oil painting requires more chemicals and compounds that release additional VOCs.

While the differences may not be significant for most humans, when we consider our tiny feline friends, it probably makes more sense to go with acrylic paints over oil if you live with cats.

What To Do If Your Cat Ingests Oil Paint?

If your cat ingests anything that’s toxic or even potentially toxic your first step should be to consult your veterinarian or the poison control hotline. While there are quite a few options, I’d recommend the 24-hour poison control hotline from the ASPCA. While most poison control hotlines can’t prescribe the needed medications, they can still help you understand what you need to do and how urgently you need to get your pet seen by a veterinarian.

The good thing is, it’s unlikely that there’s anything in oil paints that would lead your cat to actually want to eat it. So the most probable routes of ingestion come from grooming after coming in contact with oil paint.

Still, ingesting oil paint is not something to take lightly and according to veterinarian Dr. Scott “the paint can be toxic if ingested. In a cat, it will not take much to injure the liver and kidneys.” That’s because your cat’s kidneys (and eventually liver) aren’t ready to metabolize the solvents used in oil paints.

While smaller amounts may not have a powerful impact on your cat’s liver and kidneys, the oil can still act as a lubricate that will quickly lead to diarrhea and other gastointestinal upset.

Regardless of the amount, it’s always best to play it safe and consult an expert by calling your veterinarian or a trusted poison control hotline like the ASPCA.

See Also: Kidney Disease In Cats – When To Euthanize?

What About Paint Water?

Cats are a bit weird about water and seem like they’re always eager to find that previously unknown source of water around the house. Whether that’s the drippping kitchen sink or that glass of water you left on the counter cats will try just about any water source once…even if it’s used to rinse your paint brushes!

So what should you do if your cat drinks some paint water?

Even though the water might dilute the paint and decrease the amount your cat actually ingests you’d want to follow the exact same steps we already discussed and consult your veterinarian or a poison control hotline as soon as possible.

How To Remove Oil Paint From Your Cat

As I’ve already mentioned, your cat is most likely to ingest oil paint while grooming. Sometimes your curious cat just can’t resist getting up close to your latest oil painting and ends up with paint on their nose or feet.

So how do you get oil paint off your cat without making the problem worse by using paint thinners? Well, it’s not exactly easy. The first problem is that while water will help a little, it isn’t going to remove everything. That’s because the oil within the paint will repel the water. So while some of the paint may be removed with just water it’s not going to remove everything.

Your best option is going to be some basic dish soap that’s is designed to cut grease and oils. Dish soap (unless it’s got some special additives) is generally safe for cats and a nice bath with dish soap is a common treatment for flea-infested kittens.

But takes things slowly and focus on the specific areas that have oil paint on them. You don’t want to commit to an entire bath just to remove a little paint off the paw!

Closing Thoughts

While oil paints are generally safe for cats they do give off more VOCs during the drying process than acrylic paints which makes them a little less ideal for cats. If you’rere going to go with oil paints for your next masterpiece, make sure you use non-toxic paints that don’t contain compounds that are not only harmful to your cat but also you!

Read Next: Is Baking Soda Safe for Cats?