Glowing in the dark

Dibutyl phthalate, also known as n-butyl phthalate, is a nearly colorless oily liquid found in many manufactured products. In addition to being used as a plasticizer and insect repellent, it is the primary luminescent component in various glow-in-the-dark products.

Veterinarians at the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) have consulted on more than 135 cases involving cats biting into glow-in-the-dark items containing dibutyl phthalate. These items — such as necklaces, bracelets, and glow sticks —are commonly sold at fairs, carnivals, novelty stores, and skating arenas.

Almost all cats that bite into glow-in-the-dark jewelry exhibit a sudden onset of profuse salivation. Nearly 50% of cats exhibit various neurologic signs, primarily hyperactivity and aggressive behavior.

Although the signs seem severe to the owner, complete recovery, with or without treatment, generally occurs within minutes. No long-term effects or deaths related to dibutyl phthalate ingestion have been reported to the NAPCC (ASPCA NAPCC: Unpublished data, 1999). The extremely unpleasant taste of dibutyl phthalate probably limits the exposure in most of these cases to minute quantities of the chemical, and most, if not all, of the signs are likely behavioral responses to the unpleasant taste.

To treat cats that have ingested small amounts of dibutyl phthalate, immediately feed small quantities of milk, canned cat food, tuna juice, or other highly palatable food to dilute the chemical in the mouth and provide a more agreeable taste. Wash drops of the chemical off the skin or coat with soap and water to prevent a recurrence of signs after grooming. In the event of ocular exposure, flush the cat’s eyes with copious amounts of water.

Reference: POISINDEX editorial staff: Dibutyl phthalate (Toxicologic Managements). POISINDEX System, Vol. 100 (B.H. Rumack et al., eds.). MICROMEDEX, Englewood, Colo., expires 6/99. Marcy E. Rosendale, DVM ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center 1717 S. Philo Road, Suite 36 Urbana, Illinois