Is Your Petrol Car Killing Your Pets?

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Many studies have been done to demonstrate the health consequences of breathing in the fumes from internal combustion engines, and yet some people still resist the call to move across to a battery electric vehicle (BEV). But what if your car was killing your fur baby? Or, at least, damaging their health?

According to Science Direct: “Conventional cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) are still a major source of air pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), black carbon (BC) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5; particles with an aerodynamic diameter <2.5 μm) (Hausberger, 2010). … Direct emissions of ICE cars have an effect on public health as well as on crops, buildings and the natural environment. From an environmental point of view, the replacement of ICE cars with electric vehicles (EV) may be beneficial for the climate because of the possible reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2 (Thiel et al., 2010, Van Vliet et al., 2011). On the other hand, EV’s are also not 100% clean. When EV’s are charged, the electricity required is produced by a wide range of different power plants (e.g. nuclear, gas, coal, …), which may also be sources of air pollution.”

My recent conversations with a vet in Whyalla made me realise that the toxic gases and particulate matter emitted by ICE vehicles not only affect us, but also our treasured furry companions.

Pet MD describes the effect of exposure to petroleum products on cats and other small animals: “When a cat is exposed to refined petroleum oil products, or ingests products of this type, it can result in a severe and disease-like physical reaction, which is referred to as petroleum hydrocarbon toxicosis.

“Petroleum products that commonly poison small animals are fuels, solvents, lubricants, and waxes, as well as some pesticides and paints that have a petroleum base. Petroleum products like benzene and turpentine are more likely to be inhaled into the lungs, causing chemical pneumonitis, a life-threatening condition in which the petroleum product spreads all over the surface of the lungs, causing inflammation. Products that have an aromatic, ring-like chemical structure, such as benzene, are most likely to cause systemic toxicity (throughout the body).”

Your Pets
Who’s a happy catty, Figaro? Photo by Majella Waterworth.

Further, wag walking describes the effect on dogs: “Poisoning with petroleum products can be a serious problem for dogs. Petroleum products contain hydrocarbons, chemicals that are made primarily from a carbon and hydrogen group, which are toxic to dogs as well as humans. Dogs are commonly exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons since many products commonly found in households and garages contain some type of distilled petroleum, including engine oil, gasoline, paint solvents, wood stain and lighter fluid among others. If these products are stored incorrectly, they may leak and end up on a dog’s coat, where they will often be ingested during washing. Outdoor dogs can also be exposed through environmental contamination from a spill or a leaky storage tank. Toxicity can vary among groups of hydrocarbons, depending on the thickness and volatility of the liquid. Very light, non-viscous compounds like gasoline and kerosene can be inhaled easily and are highly toxic to the lungs, blood, and nervous system. Some other hydrocarbons are less toxic, but in large amounts, they can still be very dangerous. Hydrocarbons can cause irritation on the skin and in the mouth if ingested. They may induce vomiting and subsequent aspiration. Ingested petroleum products can cause lethargy, weight loss, and oily faeces up to two weeks after the incident.

“Inhalation of petroleum products (through fumes or aspiration) can damage the lungs and limit the oxygen exchange that takes place in the alveoli. CNS symptoms may be present with any type of significant toxicity. Mild exposure usually doesn’t cause permanent damage, but high doses, especially through inhalation, can be fatal.”

Your pets
Mandy, my third border collie. Photo by Majella Waterworth.

To keep our precious companions well, we need to make sure all such products are stored safely and securely. As our household has transitioned from ICE equipment to battery electric, we have found that we have less and less petroleum products around the house. No more bottles of oil for the car, not more tins of petrol for the mower. Though, the cat does miss sleeping on a warm bonnet! Thankfully, the cats and dogs that have enriched our lives over the years do not appear to have suffered from petroleum hydrocarbon toxicosis. Though, one wonders if they would have lived longer, richer lives were it not for the pollution emitted by our choice of drivetrain.

Dr. Andrew Melville-Smith explains on his website: “ICE cars use a lot of toxic chemicals that can be detrimental to our pets. Petroleum can cause skin irritation and poisoning if ingested. Radiator fluid containing ethylene glycol is attractive to dogs and if ingested causes kidney failure.

“ICE vehicle exhaust gas emissions contain a cocktail of toxins that are poisonous to our pets and the environment we live in Carbon dioxide (CO2); Nitrogen oxides (NO2) is released from burning fuels and contributes to smog; Carbon Monoxide (CO) is highly toxic to animals; Sulfur dioxide (SO2) forms corrosive acids; Hydrocarbon’s (HC) from fuel; Benzene(C6H6) from unburnt fuel causes cancer and Particulates — soot from exhaust damages lungs.”

My niece has had horses for years. I asked for her comments. She tells me that the smell of petrol means that horses are not likely to injest the fuel. However, when a horse is transported via a float towed by a diesel or petrol vehicle, there is the possibility of inhalation and subsequent effects. Floats are generally well ventilated for this reason. She hasn’t observed any ill effects. Don’t want a dead horse floating!

Your Pets
Whyalla vet makes a horse call. Photo courtesy of Dr. Andrew Melville-Smith.

Driving an EV will save money that could be better spent than on vet bills. If you won’t do it for the planet, and you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your pet. Some electric vehicles even have puppy mode, to keep your pet cool if left in the car, and you can even watch them through the internal camera and the app on your phone.

Dr. Melville-Smith concludes: “The time is right to protect our patients and our environment by switching to zero emission electric vehicles. It has been an interesting journey away from our traditional vehicle suppliers, Toyota, and Honda, who no longer make products relevant to our transport needs, to the new electric vehicle manufacturers, Tesla and BYD.”


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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 737 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth