During the pandemic, many of us have been spending a lot of extra time disinfecting and sanitizing our homes and hands to help protect our families from the COVID-19 virus. Is this additional chemical exposure having an adverse effect on our dogs and cats?
For almost a year now, many of us have been using extra disinfectant and sanitizer in our homes and on our hands in order to help keep the COVID-19 virus at bay. But does this also mean we’re exposing our dogs and cats to an extra burden of toxic residues? Our animal companions do a lot of sniffing and licking as they go about their days, and studies show that dogs and especially cats have as high or even higher levels of toxic chemicals in their blood than their human counterparts in the same home. What alternative choices could you make to keep your entire family safe – both human and animal?
What are sanitizers and disinfectants actually made of?
Quaternary ammonium compounds are the primary chemical used in household disinfectants such as Lysol. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) grades Lysol Disinfectant Spray, Crisp Linen with an “F”, adding that the “top scoring factors” are the “potential for developmental/endocrine/reproductive effects, acute aquatic toxicity, and respiratory effects.”
Many animal parents spray these disinfectants into the air, and onto countertops, doorknobs, and trash cans. Versions of these products are used in mop buckets and toilet bowls. So it’s easy to envision how our dogs and cats can get these chemicals on their paws and into their mouths.
I have witnessed a rise in the use of allergy medications such as Apoquel and Cytopoint during the pandemic. How many of the “allergies” that animals are being diagnosed with are actually lung or skin irritations caused by the use of chemicals such those found in disinfectants?
In June 2020, researchers reported over 9,000 alcoholic hand sanitizer exposure cases in children, and recognized that even a small amount of alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning with symptoms of confusion, vomiting, drowsiness, and even respiratory arrest and death. Hand sanitizer usage has also actually increased antimicrobial resistance and the risk of viral disease. Unfortunately, the veterinary field rarely associates exposures such as these with problems in dogs and cats, but it’s certain that our animals are at as much risk as our children.
Some brands of hand sanitizers, along with homemade versions, contain a toxic version of alcohol called methanol. Despite expert recommendations against doing so, many people are making their own hand sanitizers. If you are one of them, be sure to choose a safe resource for which ingredients to use. Methanol must be avoided.
Possibly of greater concern than the ingestion of a toxic hand sanitizer is the increased susceptibility to resistant infections in environments where strong antibacterials are used repeatedly, leading to the development of “super bugs” such as MRSA or Clostridium difficile. This problem has been demonstrated in facilities where therapy dogs have contracted these organisms from resident patients in nursing facilities.
Triclosan used to be found in 75% of liquid hand soaps and some hand sanitizers. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and interferes with thyroid hormone. Overuse promotes antibiotic resistance, leading to the development of superbugs and untreatable infections, such as MRSA. Recently, triclosan has been banned from most, though not all, applications. However, we must deal with residues in the environment and watch for potentially toxic triclosan replacements in the marketplace.
Hand sanitizer usage has actually increased antimicrobial resistance and the risk of viral disease.
Remember, EPA-approved products, cleansers, sanitizers, soaps, shampoos, etc. do not need to have their ingredients listed on product labels. In fact, many are patent protected. Avoid brands that are not transparent with their ingredient lists.
So what’s the solution?
- Avoid toxic purchases: Read ingredient labels where provided, and visit websites for more information about toxins (e.g. ewg.org).
- Decrease dust: Vacuum and wet mop! Use steam cleaners. Clean your air duct systems.
- Wash hands — and paws — frequently: Just use natural soap and water! In 2005, an advisory panel to the FDA stated there is no evidence that antibacterial products are more effective than regular soap and water!
- Replace disinfectants and sanitizers with safer alternatives: For example, use high quality therapeutic-grade essential oils. The natural constituents in clove oil have been shown to kill bacteria and viruses. It has anti-cancer properties and in appropriate dosages is even safe when ingested. Clove can be used topically and can have positive effects on the respiratory tract. It is just one example of many essential oils or oil blends that can be used as safe and effective alternatives to the toxic chemicals that are currently being overused and are contributing to the pollution in our world.
- Follow public health guidelines for your area: You can help protect yourself, and reduce your need for constant disinfecting and sanitizing, by continuing to follow public health recommendations for your municipality, state and/or province. In spite of the pandemic fatigue we are all experiencing now, try to stay home as much as possible, except for work, school, groceries, or other essential tasks; limit your personal contacts, especially when it comes to guests coming into your home; and wear a mask while practicing social distancing when you are out and about.
The natural constituents in clove oil have been shown to kill bacteria and viruses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased our use of disinfectants and sanitizers in our homes, yet many of us have not taken into consideration how it might be affecting our dogs and cats. By taking alternative steps to keep your family and home virus-free, you can cut down on the use of these chemicals and help your dog or cat stay healthy.