Ask the Vet: My Dog Ate Hand Sanitizer

Dr. Ivana Crnec

If your dog ate sanitizer, you are likely worried about him and wondering whether he should see the vet. Let's face it: nowadays, hand sanitizers are in great use and the chances for dogs to lick some off our hands or get into a bottle of hand sanitizer are very high. What to do in such a case? Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares her knowledge on this topic.

With the current situation, people obsessively stock up on hand sanitizers. While it is true that hand sanitizers keep the germs at bay, it is also true that they pose a poisoning risk to our beloved canine companions. Yes…hand sanitizers are toxic to dogs. Here's what to do if your dog are hand sanitizer. 

A Matter of Ingredients 

Hand sanitizer toxicity is a real thing, but what are hand sanitizers made of? The main ingredient in most hand sanitizers is ethanol alcohol. To be powerful enough against most germs, hand sanitizers contain particularly high levels of ethanol alcohol (usually around 95 percent). These levels are enough to cause alcoholic poisoning in dogs.

Instead of ethanol alcohol, some hand sanitizers contain another type of alcohol – isopropanol alcohol.

Since both ingredients belong to the group of alcohols, it is safe to assume that their ingestion would have the same consequences.

So why are hand sanitizers are toxic to dogs? Basically speaking, hand sanitizers are made of the same ingredient as alcoholic beverages. However, humans are much more resistant to ethanol alcohol than dogs. In fact, dogs are extremely susceptible to ethanol alcohol poisoning.

In the liver, the ethanol alcohol metabolizes into acetaldehyde. Sadly, the liver cannot neutralize the acetaldehyde as it happens in humans and therefore intoxication occurs.

If your dog licked your hands after you have applied hand sanitizer, there is nothing to be worried about. However, anything more than a lick’s worth is definitely a cause for concern. 

This leads us to a very important question: how much hand sanitizer is considered to be too much? The exact answer depends on 3 factors: 1) the dog’s size and weight, 2) the dog’s age, 3) the dog’s overall health status. 

Symptoms of Ethanol Alcohol Poisoning in Dogs 

The onset of symptoms depends on whether the stomach was full or empty at the time of ingestion. If the dog ingests hand sanitizer on an empty stomach the symptoms will typically develop in 15 to 30 minutes. If it ingests hand sanitizer on a full stomach, the onset of clinical manifestation can be delayed for as much as 2 hours.

The clinical manifestation of alcohol poisoning includes the following signs and symptoms:

· Increased salivation

· Vomiting

· Incoordination

· Weakness

· Slow reflexes

· Lethargy

· Tremors

· Seizures

· Decreased respiratory rate

· Drop in blood sugar

·Drop in blood pressure

·Drop in body temperature

· Unreasonable excitement that progresses to depression

· Excessive and uncontrolled urination

· Alcohol smell (in the dog’s breath and vomit).

At The Vet's Office 

It goes without saying that a dog ingesting hand sanitizer can be a dangerous ordeal. Please consult with your vet at once or call the Pet Poison Hotline at the following number:(855) 764-7661. A $59 incident fee applies to all calls. 

At the vet's office, your vet will collect information such as your dog's medical history and the progression of symptoms you have observed. Your dog's history of ingesting hand sanitizer along with the physical examination are enough to set a conclusive diagnosis.

 In alcohol poisoning cases, blood tests (including complete blood count and full biochemistry profile) are particularly important. The blood sugar test will reveal low levels of glucose and the blood gas analysis will reveal acidosis.

When suspecting alcohol poisoning the vet is likely to perform a so-called "blood ethanol concentration test." This test determines the level of alcohol in the patient’s blood.

If possible, bringing the chewed hand sanitizer bottle to the vet’s office is highly recommended. If your vet knows what type of hand sanitizer caused the problem (and its concentration) he will be able to better determine the course of the treatment better.

Treatment of Hand Sanitizer Ingestion in Dogs

The exact course of the treatment depends on how much time has passed since the poison ingestion. If dealing with a recent ingestion it is advisable to induce vomiting. If the time for vomiting induction has passed, there are several steps that should be taken:

· Administration of intravenous fluids with added electrolytes and sugars – the intravenous fluids should prevent dehydration, while the electrolytes should balance out the imbalances.

· Giving activated charcoal – the activated charcoal absorbs the toxin from the stomach thus preventing further complications

· Providing respiratory support – patients experiencing breathing issues should be supplemented with oxygen

· Giving supportive care – to prevent further long-term complications patients are given antacids, stomach protectants and liver protectants.

To speed up the recovery process, patients should be placed in a calm and quiet environment. Patients that respond well to the therapy should start manifesting signs of improvement within 8 to 12 hours of the treatment initiation.

If the treatment is successful and the patient survives, the vet will recommend frequent follow-up appointments to monitor the liver function.

How much will it cost to treat a dog suffering from alcohol poisoning? In general, the cost of treating alcohol poisoning in dogs is between $1,200 and $4,000. Costs may vary based on locations and can sometime be considerably higher in the case of complications.

What's the prognosis for dog who ingested hand sanitizer? The prognosis for dogs with alcohol poisoning depends on 3 main factors:

· The amount of ingested hand sanitizer

· The dog’s weight and size (smaller dogs are more vulnerable)

· The promptness of the treatment.

As seen, ingestion of hand sanitizer in dogs can be a costly ordeal. It goes without saying that preventing hand sanitizer ingestion is definitely easier than treating alcohol poisoning.

Is it true that hand sanitizer has the same ingredient as antifreeze?

No. Hand sanitizers contain ethanol alcohol while antifreeze contains ethylene glycol. Ethylene glycol has a sweet taste which makes it more palatable and thus more likely to cause toxicity in dogs. Hand sanitizer is more unpalatable to dogs.

Can I pet my dog after applying hand sanitizer?

Not immediately. Keep in mind that the alcohol can be absorbed through the skin. Therefore, it is advisable to wait for your hands to dry off before petting your dog.

Can I use hand sanitizer on my dog?

No! Hand sanitizers must never be used on dogs because the critical ingredient can be absorbed through the skin and cause poisoning. Plus, there is a completely safe alternative – dog wet wipes.

Are there pet-friendly hand sanitizers?

Yes. Pet-friendly hand sanitizers are in fact alcohol-free. This makes them perfectly safe for dogs because they cannot cause toxicity. However, they are useless when it comes to protection since they are not effective against germs.

Which common household items contain ethanol alcohol?

Dangerous levels of ethanol alcohol can be found in many common household items such as aftershaves, air-fresheners, colognes, hairsprays, mouthwash liquids, glass and window cleaners, perfumes, insect repellents, disinfectants and spray paints. 

Although, most of the above listed hazards are unpalatable and unlikely to be ingested, it is advisable to keep them out of your dog’s reach. 

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

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