Is Hand Sanitiser Poisonous to Pets?

Woman pouring hand sanitiser into her hand

Hand sanitiser has become one of the most commonly found items, from homes, cars, and handbags, to offices, bathrooms, and stores. While they are great at killing germs, there is much misinformation about hand sanitisers and their potential danger to our pets. From licking your hand after you've just used it, to ingesting the contents of an entire bottle, the danger to our pets varies. With our pets often getting into things they shouldn’t, it's best to know all the ins and outs of hand sanitiser and its dangers.

Is hand sanitiser toxic to cats and dogs?
Most hand sanitisers contain ethanol, a type of alcohol also known as ethyl alcohol and is found in alcoholic drinks, some rubbing alcohols, liquid medications like cough syrup, rotting/fermenting fruits, and raw rising yeast-containing bread dough. In order to kill germs a high level of ethanol is used, up to 95% in some cases. While hand sanitiser is typically unpalatable to pets, like other types of alcohol, when large amounts are ingested it can be toxic for them. For example, if a dog was to ingest the entire contents of a small bottle of hand sanitiser, it can have the same effect as if a shot of hard liquor was ingested - severe alcohol poisoning.
Hand sanitiser in a pump bottle

Will my pet die if they lick my hand after I've used hand sanitiser?

If your dog or cat licks your hands after you have used hand sanitiser, this is not cause for concern as they won’t have ingested nearly enough to cause side effects. There is also no need to worry about stroking your pet after using hand sanitiser, as even if they groom themselves immediately after it won't harm them. In either of these cases there would only be a trace amount of hand sanitiser on your hands, which does not pose any risks to our pets

If you are concerned, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said 20 seconds of washing your hands with soap and water is more effective than hand sanitiser at removing certain types of germs.

Cat licking fingers

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of hand sanitiser poisoning is very much the same as alcohol poisoning and is also dependent on the amount ingested. The more your dog or cat ingests the more severe their symptoms will be, and in extreme cases lead to death if not treated soon enough.

 

These signs and symptoms include:Hand sanitiser being tipped from a bottle into hands

  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling
  • Dehydration
  • Staggering or lack of coordination
  • Disorientation

 

Symptoms progress to include:

  • Weakness or collapse
  • Weak respirations
  • Drop in blood sugar
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Urinary incontinence

 

The more severe signs and symptoms are:

  • Seizures
  • Respiratory failure
  • Death

 

What to do if you think your pet has been poisoned

If you suspect your pet has hand sanitiser (or alcohol) poisoning or is showing any of the above signs and symptoms, see your vet immediately. Once you arrive, your vet will assess how severely they have been poisoned in order to determine the best treatment option. If you know what your pet has consumed, it’s always best to bring the packaging along so as your vet is better able to treat your pet.

 

In order to treat the poisoning, the following measures may be taken:

  • If the alcohol was consumed shortly before arriving at the vet, inducing vomiting may occur
  • Maintaining a normal body temperature 
  • Oxygen therapy will be given for patients with breathing difficulties
  • Intravenous fluids will be given to assist in normalising urine flow and to aid in eliminating the alcohol
  • Medication to control seizures

 

Most dogs and cats will recover from alcohol poisoning; however, recovery time will depend on how severe the intoxication is.

How to prevent hand sanitiser poisoning

The best thing you can do to avoid your pet being poisoned by hand sanitiser is to keep it out of reach of their paws.

Beagle looking into open kitchen draw


 

If you believe your pet is suffering from poisoning, contact your local vet immediately or your closest Animal Emergency Service hospital.

For more information about what is toxic to pets, visit our Pets and Poisons Guide.

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