Talcum powder, made from the mineral talc, is the primary ingredient in baby powder, many adult topical powders and some pet grooming products. If inhaled or swallowed, talcum powder can poison a cat. Meanwhile, some studies link talcum powder and cancer, although the tests were inconclusive at the time of publication.
Talcum powder is a product made from a mineral called talc; it's mostly magnesium, silicon and oxygen. In its natural form, talc may contain asbestos, although home-use talcum powders have been asbestos-free since the 1970s. Talcum powder is a base ingredient of baby and adult body powders, and it's in some pet products including shampoos and grooming powders. Although it's effective at absorbing moisture and reducing rash caused by friction, talcum has some health risks when inhaled or swallowed.
Talcum Powder Poisoning
The National Institutes of Health's Medline Plus website notes that talcum powder poisoning can occur if the powder is inhaled or swallowed. The website lists many symptoms of talcum powder poisoning, with breathing problems the most common. Specific problems include difficulty breathing, rapid or shallow breathing, coughing and lung failure. Other signs include bladder and kidney malfunction, irritation of the eyes and throat, lethargy, fever, twitching, skin blisters, diarrhea and vomiting, convulsions and coma.
Talcum Powder and Cancer
The American Cancer Society says some concerns about cancer stem from talcum powders containing asbestos, a known carcinogen. Since those products are off the market, attention has shifted to asbestos-free talcum powder. ACS notes studies showing some lab animals exposed to asbestos-free talc developed tumors, and others did not. Other studies showed a 30 percent increase in ovarian cancer in women who used talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product.
Some groomers sprinkle talcum powder on long-haired cats to help untangle matted fur. However, alternatives are in order since inhaling or swallowing the powder is linked to breathing problems, nervous system problems, cancers, skin reactions and other issues. Since cats routinely clean themselves, it's worth considering what comes into contact with their fur, skin and paws, including talcum powder products or litter. Alternatives including clipping or separating mats apart by hand and avoiding pet products with talcum powder.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Sarah Whitman's work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, websites and informational booklets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in nutrition, and her projects feature nutrition and cooking, whole foods, supplements and organics. She also specializes in companion animal health, encouraging the use of whole foods, supplements and other holistic approaches to pet care.