Petroleum hydrocarbon toxicity

Petroleum distillate toxicity • acetone • gasoline • kerosene • propane • xylene • motor oil • toluene

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  • Of all the petroleum products, pets are most likely to come in contact with refined petroleum products. These can be either aliphatic hydrocarbons or aromatic hydrocarbons. They can also come in contact with mineral oil, mineral spirits and motor oil.
  • Aliphatic hydrocarbons include methane, propane, butane, and gasoline. Petroleum distillates found in some insecticides are also included.
  • Aromatic hydrocarbons include benzene, toluene and xylene. These are most commonly found in lacquers, glue, paint thinner, some plastics and quick-drying paint. Kerosene contains both aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • There are too many different petroleum products to list individually but there are some generalizations that can be useful. Petroleum products with high boiling points, such as mineral oil, are considered relatively non-toxic. Gasoline, benzene, etc. have low boiling points, are more readily aspirated and are therefore more likely to cause toxicity. In addition, products with a high aromatic content, such as benzene and xylene, readily cause systemic affects
  • The most common method of toxicity is ingestion and subsequent aspiration. The most common effect of exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons is chemical pneumonitis.
  • Toxicity varies from product to product. For some, as little as 1 milliliter can cause aspiration pneumonia (gasoline, kerosene). Methane and propane have lower toxicities. Prolonged exposure to more than 60 ppm in the air of aromatic hydrocarbons can lead to bone marrow suppression.


Clinical signs

  • Following ingestion, an affected animal may drool, shake his head and paw at the muzzle. Oral ulcers may develop.
  • Coughing, gagging, cyanosis and varying degrees of respiratory difficulty may develop. These respiratory signs are typically progressive over the first 1-2 days and slowing resolve over the next 3-10 days.
  • Ingestion of petroleum products may result in anorexia, vomiting, abdominal pain and/or diarrhea depending on the amount ingested and the type of hydrocarbon. Some dogs develop a fever a 3 to 4 hours after exposure.
  • Some affected animals may show signs of ataxia, confusion, depression or coma.
  • Myocardial sensitization may result in tachycardia or arrhythmias.
  • Dermal exposure may result in the development of blisters, skin inflammation and chemical burns.
  • Animals with known exposure and no clinical signs within the first 24 hours are unlikely to develop clinical signs.

Differential diagnosis



  • The prognosis is good if the animal remains asymptomatic for up to 24 hours. If extensive lung damage has occurred or the animal is comatose, the prognosis is guarded to poor.

Expected response to treatment

  • Resolution of clinical signs.

Reasons for treatment failure

  • Inappropriate or delayed therapy.
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