The One Danger of All Your COVID Cleaning You Haven't Thought About

You need to consider the risk to your pets the next time you're scrubbing your house of coronavirus.

While you've been doubling down with hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and heavy-duty cleaning products to kill COVID-19, a new casualty has arisen from the coronavirus pandemic that you likely hadn't considered: poisoning your pets. Veterinary toxicology specialists report a spike in calls from pet owners concerned about their dogs who have swallowed Lysol wipes or their cats who have gotten sick from licking disinfected floors. "We've had a 100 percent increase in the number of calls involving pets exposed to cleaning items, including hand sanitizer and bleach," says Ahna Brutlag, DVM, senior veterinary toxicologist and director of the Pet Poison Helpline.

Pet owners must be extra vigilant during the pandemic when using cleaners that contain ingredients toxic to animals, such as alcohol, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and chemical compounds that contain the word "phenol," says Barbara Hodges, DVM, director of advocacy and outreach for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. "If you are washing the floor and the phone rings and you pick it up and go sit on the couch to talk, your dog or cat could be playing with that water, knocking it over, [or] licking it," Hodges says.

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Many hand sanitizers in particular contain very high concentrations of alcohol. "If a pet were to ingest too much, they can develop alcohol poisoning," says Brutlag. "This is mainly an issue that occurs in dogs if they chew a bottle of hand sanitizer." But if your pet simply licks your hand after you've used hand sanitizer, that shouldn't be a problem, she says.

But the biggest danger may be with pets swallowing cleaning wipes, which typically happens when a wipe was used to clean up food spills, Brutlag says. "If ingested, the cleaning agents can cause severe irritation to the stomach," she says. Not only that, but "the fibrous material of the wipe may cause a blockage in the stomach or intestines that could require surgery to remove."

Additionally, some strong cleaning products, such as those for toilets, ovens, and drains, can also cause chemical burns to the mouth, stomach and eyes. Other highly dangerous products include rust removers, lime/calcium removers, paint strippers, and pool shock.

Brutlag warns that cats are especially sensitive to cleaning chemicals containing hydrogen peroxide, phenols, pine oils, and quaternary ammonium compounds. Toxicologists aren't sure why, but it may have something to do with cats' unique liver metabolism, she says.


To keep your pets safe, make sure they are not in the room you are cleaning. Discard paper towels that are wet with cleaner and keep used sanitizing wipes in covered trash cans that can't be reached by dogs.

"If your pet is accidentally exposed to a cleaning product, wipe it off immediately, if safe to do so, and offer your pet water to drink if the product was ingested," says Brutlag.

Call your veterinarian, the Pet Poison Helpline, or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, so an expert can determine if any at-home treatments should be tried or if your pet needs to go to a veterinary clinic.

Never induce vomiting after a cleaner has been swallowed without speaking to a veterinary professional, Brutlag warns, since some cleaners will cause more harm if vomited up. "It's dangerous to mix chemicals together so it may not be safe to give your pet something by mouth to induce vomiting because it could lead to a dangerous chemical reaction in the stomach," she explains.

For more helpful tips from the Pet Poison Helpline, watch here:

And for additional information on pets amid the pandemic, check out These Are the Pets Most Likely to Get Coronavirus.

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Jeff Csatari
Jeff Csatari is responsible for editing Galvanized Media books and magazines and for advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. Read more
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