Why You Should Never Clean Your Dog’s Paws with Hand Sanitizer

You might use it to clean your hands, but you should think twice before attempting that for your pup.

Hand sanitizer has become a staple when leaving home these days, right alongside your wallet and keys because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In fact, people are using so much hand sanitizer, it has gotten to the point where the product—and especially how we are using the product—is doing more harm than good. The FDA released a warning about the use of dangerous alcohol-based hand sanitizers and has compiled a list of over 100 different products consumers should not use. While these alcohol-based hand sanitizers are harmful to humans, they can be even more harmful to our pets, including dogs. While there isn’t any evidence that dogs can pass COVID-19 to people and the virus cannot last long on a pup’s fur, pet owners are still using sanitizer on their dog’s paws which can unknowingly lead to major health problems—or even death. Don’t miss these other common mistakes every dog owner makes.

Why is hand sanitizer harmful to dogs?

Hand sanitizer contains an alcohol product called ethanol which is the reason why many hand sanitizers are on the “do not use” list. While ethanol is dangerous for a human to ingest, the consequences of toxicity can be heightened for animals due to their smaller size. As dogs tend to lick areas of their bodies when they feel uncomfortable, the sanitizer, even with its poor taste, will cause the dog to keep licking until the abnormal feeling is gone. See what else dogs shouldn’t put in their mouth with this list of 12 common foods that could be toxic for dogs.

“The symptoms of an animal who succumbs to alcohol intoxication are extremely similar to a human,” says Dr. Zac Pilossoph, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance’s consulting veterinarian. “Hand sanitizers are 60 percent or more in alcohol concentration, which is comparable to the most common forms of hard liquor on the market. If ingested, pets can develop a multitude of abnormalities, such as a severe drop in body temperature, respiratory rate, and blood sugar, as well as incoordination, neurological depression, coma, seizures, and (potentially) death.”

Hand sanitizers are also very drying, which is another way they can harm dogs—think of how cracked and dry human skin gets when using hand sanitizer! This is the case for dogs as well. Check out these dog illness symptoms so you know when your dog is not well.

“The high alcohol content of hand sanitizer causes cracking and even complete sloughing of the paw pads,” says Sarah Reidenbach, DVM, CEO of Ruthless Kindness 501c3. “This can lead to sensitive and painful paw pads, and can predispose them to long-term pain, infections, and more easily burned paws when they walk on hot surfaces.”

How should you clean your dog’s paws?

“You can instead use disinfectant wipes specifically for animals,” says Charli Burbidge, Zoologist and Pet Nutrition expert at Petz. “Their paws should be cleaned at least twice a week.” Speaking of paws, did you know that there’s a way to figure out if your dog is right or left handed?

If you don’t have disinfecting wipes on hand that are safe for animals, just plain old soap and water will do the trick effectively and safely.

“A small amount of shampoo or soap diluted in warm (not hot) water is gentle and harmless, and inactivates the virus that causes COVID-19,” says Reidenbach. “You can dip their feet in a bowl of soapy water, wipe their feet with a wet soapy cloth, or use your sink sprayer. Even in animal shelters, where we place a huge priority on preventing infectious disease, soap and water is our go-to for dirty dog feet.”

If your dog ingests hand sanitizer, you need to look out for signs of poisoning. Call your vet or the poison hotline, and look for symptoms such as drowsiness, lack of coordination, vomiting, slowed breathing, or diarrhea. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Phone Number is (888) 426-4435.


The Golden Retriever Dog is lying on the ground licking his paws.chendongshan/Getty Images

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Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is a former assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who writes about digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pickup lines and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.