Never Do This to Protect Your Dog From COVID-19

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

hand sanitizer on dog paws

Story at-a-glance -

  • Recently, the FDA tweeted a warning to pet owners to avoid using hand sanitizer on dogs; this is a dangerous problem that developed in response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus
  • If you’re concerned about your dog’s exposure to the virus, while there’s probably little reason to be, the safest option is to simply bathe her using a gentle, non-toxic shampoo designed for pets
  • People are spending more time cleaning and sanitizing their homes these days; if chemical agents are used, it’s likely that the air in the home and a variety of surfaces are adding to the toxic load of everyone in the household, including pets
  • To keep both two- and four-legged family members safe and healthy, consider replacing chemical household cleaners with a few simple, inexpensive, and nontoxic agents

In the first few months after the arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus here in the U.S., as I'm sure you're painfully aware, certain common household supplies became nearly impossible to find, for example, toilet paper. However, now that most of the original hot items are thankfully once again available, it seems some people are using them not only inappropriately, but in ways that can be dangerous for their pets.

Please Never, Ever Put Hand Sanitizer on Your Pet!

Recently, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine posted a warning tweet about hand sanitizers:

"Attention Pet Owners: Do not use hand sanitizer to clean your pet's paws. It can cause poisoning if absorbed through the skin. Hand sanitizer products can make your dog sick if eaten."1

And according to an article in This Dog's Life, it's bigger than just a "sanitized paws" problem, which would be bad enough:

"While people continue to race to the stores to stock up on hand sanitizers to protect themselves from COVID-19, some are using the disinfectant on their dogs — putting it on their paws, rubbing it in their coats and even applying to their face — to try and keep them safe. These good intentions are actually poisonous to our four-legged friend."2

Sometimes, uninformed good intentions can lead to unintended disastrous consequences.

"If a hand sanitizer is applied directly to dog's skin near open wounds, cuts, scrapes or an irritated surface, this can aggravate a current problem, causing pain and discomfort and could potentially result in an allergic reaction," veterinarian Dr. Tamara Johnson told This Dog's Life. "It also dries out the skin and can predispose to additional skin conditions."

According to Johnson, potentially problematic ingredients found in hand sanitizers, antibacterial wipes, and antibacterial soaps and body washes include:

  • Ethanol, which can lead to alcohol poisoning in pets
  • Benzalkonium chloride, which is often found in alcohol-free products, can cause excessive drooling and ulcers of the lips and tongue
  • Triclosan, which may cause skin cancer after long-term use, may contribute to antibiotic resistance, and has been reported alter hormone regulation in animals
  • Methanol, a wood alcohol, which has been reported to cause severe problems in humans and is very toxic (it hasn't yet been studied in dogs, but why take the chance?)

If Your Dog Needs Sanitizing, a Bath Is the Way to Go

There's very little reason for dog parents to be concerned their pet will either contract SARS-CoV-2 or transmit the virus, and I say "very little" rather than "no" reason simply because this is a novel coronavirus and there's much yet to be learned about its behavior.

You can find the most recent CDC information and guidance for people with pets, dated May 15, 2020, here, and the most recent American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) information, dated June 11, 2020, here.

In my opinion, good old soap and water (or in the case of pets, dog or cat shampoo) are the best way to protect you and all your two- and four-legged family members from SARS-CoV-2 and most communicable pathogens. I don't recommend routine use of chemical products like hand sanitizers and antimicrobial agents. They should be used only in situations in which there's no soap and water available — and never on pets for any reason.

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Is Your Cleaning Routine Risking Your Pet's Health?

Since the first reports of the novel coronavirus broke earlier in the year, the Pet Poison Helpline has seen a 100% increase in phone traffic from people concerned about their pet's exposure to common household cleaning products. Unfortunately, potentially toxic chemicals are being used on a more frequent basis in more households, and unintended consequences are inevitable.

For example, if your pet walks through a spilled chemical cleaning agent, it will be absorbed into her paw pads. When she licks her paws (as all animals do) and ingests the substance, it can lead to stomach irritation, diarrhea, vomiting and worse.

If you're a cleanliness-minded pet parent, you might not realize most commercial cleaning products also pollute the air inside your home by off-gassing toxic fumes that can be very hazardous, not to mention irritating, to everyone in the household. And the more cleaning you do, the greater the buildup of toxins in the indoor air. Common symptoms of irritation from cleaning product fumes include eye irritation and breathing problems.

If your dog licks the floor occasionally, he's ingesting small amounts of whatever floor cleaner you use. Your pets also walk around on the floor, lie on it, and lick their fur and paws. Does your dog drink out of the toilet?

Toilet bowl cleaners are among the most toxic for pets, especially the kind that clip to the edge of the toilet or sit in the tank, because their purpose is to deliver a constant level of chemicals to the toilet water. These caustic agents can burn your dog's mouth and throat, at a minimum.

Traditional cleaning agents can contain toxins such as bleach, ammonia, chlorine, phenol, isopropyl alcohol, and formaldehyde, all of which are potentially harmful to your pet. Symptoms of ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, seizures, coma, and in severe cases, death. If your pet gets a caustic substance on his body, it can cause a rash or a burn on his skin.

Many popular cleaners these days also contain antibacterial substances that are not only unnecessary but can actually help bacteria mutate and become resistant to killing agents. If you use harsh chemical cleaners on anything more than doorknobs, make sure to do a second pass with just plain water to remove residues and invest in a good air purifier to protect and preserve your pet's lung health, as well as yours.

Nontoxic, Inexpensive Household Cleaners

Replacing chemical household cleaners with a few simple, inexpensive, and nontoxic agents will lighten the toxic load of everyone under your roof, including your pet.

Kitchens and bathrooms — For cleaning and disinfecting kitchen and bathroom surfaces, dust with baking soda, then wipe with a moist cloth or sponge. For tough grime, add some salt and scrub it away.

To tackle grease, mildew, or other stains, spray the area with either lemon juice or water. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then scrub with a stiff cleaning brush.

If you need to disinfect a surface, an effective homemade solution is a mixture of 2 cups water, 3 tablespoons of liquid soap, and about 25 drops of tea tree oil, which is naturally antimicrobial.

Unclogging a drain — If you have a sink or tub clogged with pet hair or other gunk, it's a good idea to avoid caustic chemicals and drain cleaners as much as possible. I recommend pouring half a cup of baking soda in the drain, followed by 2 cups of boiling water.

If you have a really tough clog, you can follow the baking soda with a half-cup of vinegar. Close or cover the drain tightly while the soda-vinegar mixture is bubbling up and breaking up the clog. Once the fizzing stops, flush the drain with a gallon of boiling water.

This is by no means a complete list of all the ways you can reduce or even eliminate the chemical cleaners in your home, but it's an excellent start. You can learn more about some of my homemade recipes in this Facebook video.

Bare floors — If you have wood, ceramic, linoleum, or vinyl flooring, you can use a vinegar and water solution instead of a chemical floor cleaner. Since pets are so low to the ground, this is an especially important tip. I recommend adding one cup of vinegar to one gallon of warm water to mop the floor.

There's no need to saturate the floor while mopping. Go easy and let the vinegar and water mixture do all the work. And there's really no need to rinse, but if you find the floor has a dull appearance after it dries, you can mop again with straight club soda to add a nice shine.

To remove stains on your vinyl floor, dip a clean cloth in full-strength lemon juice and rub it into the stain.

Polishing wood furniture — Most store-bought furniture polish contains petroleum products that are toxic. Furniture polish sprays pollute the air with potentially hazardous chemicals that everyone in your home breathes into their lungs, including four-legged family members.

Instead, try a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice. Use 2 parts olive oil to 1-part lemon juice. Apply it to your furniture with a soft cloth, and then do a final polish with a second clean cloth.

You can also use coconut oil on wood furniture, but this doesn't work so well if your pets love the stuff and follow you around like mine do, licking it off as fast as I put it on!

Windows and mirrors — You don't need ammonia-based products to clean windows and mirrors around your home. Instead, use a mixture of 4 tablespoons lemon juice and half a gallon of water.

Also consider using clean lint-free cloth rather than paper products to wipe surfaces clean. Sometimes old, cotton t-shirts or cloth diapers also work really well for windows and other glass surfaces.