Pet First Aid: Using Disinfectants

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In an attempt to reduce the risk of contracting Coronavirus, the government has very wisely advised us to practice high standards of hygiene. This involves disinfecting homes and using hand sanitising products. However, with pets in the home it is wise to know some of the potential risks of using certain products and to have some pet first aid skills.  Here is some information on using disinfectants safely.

Ways that pets become affected by disinfectants:

  1. Through direct ingestion – being licked off surfaces or drunk from containers carrying preparations
  2. Being licked off whilst grooming e.g. from feet, after having walked along disinfected surfaces (most likely in cats)
  3. Direct contact on the skin: walking or laying on a disinfected surface

Cationic surfactants are among the common disinfectants that are used in the house and outside on patios. Disinfectants belonging to this group include:

  • Benzalkonium chloride (BAC, alkyl dimethylbenzylammonium chloride)
  • Didecyldimethylammonium  (DDAC).


  • Hypersalivation (drooling)
  • High body temperature
  • Ulceration of the tongue
  • Inflammation of the skin

The effects may not be immediate so it can be difficult to diagnose the cause of illness. Treatment by a veterinarian is necessary and involves prescribing painkillers, rehydration to replace lost body fluids and artificial feeding if the mouth and tongue are badly affected.

Hand sanitisers are not toxic if licked off the skin. But they do carry a large proportion of alcohol (e.g. ethanol) as a base. Consequently, if your pet consumes large quantities it could be harmful to them so do keep them out of their reach.

What to do?

  • Make sure that you keep all preparations away from pets
  • Once the disinfectant has had the correct contact time, rinse residues of the chemical off the surface
  • During disinfection, keep animals out of the working area
  • As with any suspected poisoning, always call your vet and take the packet with details of its chemical composition with you.
  • Because many veterinary practices are on a skeleton staff at present it is worth knowing about the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS).  They have an emergency Animal Poisons Line for owners and, for a small fee, can provide immediate information on whether a product is poisonous or not.
  • The  Animal Poison Line number is 01202 509000. Click here for more details of this service.

Want to learn more about pet first aid and wish to become an accredited canine first aider?

Then click here for more details.

Caroline Clark

Caroline Clark

Caroline is a qualified registered veterinary nurse and has a professional teaching qualification. Caroline is also an animal behaviourist and runs a referral clinic in Yorkshire. She is a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors and one of only a small number of specialists to have achieved the status of Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist with the Animal Behaviour Training Council. Caroline recently appeared as the animal specialist on a 20 part, Channel Four TV series ‘Embarrassing Pets’ and has written articles for peer reviewed veterinary publications.

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