Mask, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes. This has become the new checklist for whenever people leave the house in the time of coronavirus. Recently however, an ever-expanding list of almost 90 hand sanitizers have come under scrutiny for containing methanol, a type of wood alcohol that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin. But it's not just the type of hand sanitizer we're using, it's also how we're using it that's under scrutiny.
A new warning from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests that pet owners are using the solution to clean their dogs’ paws.
“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,” the FDA tweeted.
TODAY spoke with veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, the founder of Fear Free Happy Homes, a website dedicated to educating pet owners on safe practices in caring for their beloved animals.
The primary reason that Becker and other experts — including those at the FDA — agree hand sanitizer is potentially harmful as a cleaning agent on paws is because of its drying effects. As an alcohol-based product containing up to 95% alcohol, applying a hand sanitizer can actually be “strong enough to slough their foot pads,” Becker said.
“Especially now with COVID, people take them (dogs) out to basically do the New York Marathon, and so you get lots of issues with their foot pads and overheating and respiratory problems, he said. “What that sanitizer does is it can make it more likely to crack and to be more sensitive to having their foot pads burned when they're out on walks.”
Once the foot pad cracks, Becker added that dangerous materials like tar, feces and other debris can get trapped, leading to transmissible diseases such as leptospirosis.
A dog’s paw is as sensitive as a human hand, and drying out the foot pad can cause painful cracks similar to a cracked, dry heel. As a veterinarian, Becker said he often sees dogs with burned paws due to walking on hot concrete or asphalt. A good rule is if the ground is too warm to place your palm down, it is too hot for your dog to walk upon.
The other concern is that ingesting hand sanitizer can be especially harmful for pets. However, Becker says that due to the bitterness of the solution, dogs and other pets would likely be reviled by the taste after a single lick. Even ingesting that small amount can cause digestive issues including vomiting and diarrhea, Becker noted.
In the event that a dog or other pet has ingested too much hand sanitizer, they run the risk of ethyl alcohol poisoning and you should call your vet. According to PetMD, there are some symptoms to look for in your pet:
- Drowsiness, lack of coordination or unconsciousness
- Involuntary urination or defecation
- Increased excitement
- Slow reflexes
- Slowed breathing
How to wash your pet's paws
While Becker advised against washing dogs’ paws with hand sanitizer, he did suggest numerous alternatives also backed by PetMD.
“If you really thought about what was on your dog's feet, it'd probably freak you out because they're walking through their own feces, animal feces, stuff that's on the sidewalk in the city,” Becker said. “I like people to clean their pet's paws at least two to three times a week. If you're walking them in a place that's really dirty, it doesn't hurt to wash, to clean them every day.”
For his own pets, Becker uses Rescue Animal Health Disinfectant Wipes, which he says is an easy way to clean each paw when your dog comes into the house after a long walk.
For mud and debris that perhaps a wipe simply cannot handle, PetMD recommends washing the foot pads with a sink sprayer and some dog shampoo, checking for cuts and cleaning around the toes as important measures to keeping dogs healthy.
“I would just use any kind of mild hand soap or dish soap, it doesn't matter, but it should be really diluted. Like Dawn is a good example. Dawn is used a lot because it cuts grease and loosens the tar on their feet,” Becker said.
Becker said stores sell what he likened to a beer koozie which you can fill with soapy, diluted water and stick your pets’ paw in to clean them. In the wintertime, PetMD suggests dog booties as a preventive measure against snow and salt getting on the paws.
“You don't want to overreact and use hand sanitizer,” Becker said.