How do I disinfect my dog? What to Know

How often should I wash my dog?

If you have a dog (or any other pet that needs outdoor time), theres no need to put protective gear (i.e., face masks or paw coverings) on them when going outside, Dr. Sara Ochoa, a Texas-based veterinarian, tells CNBC Make It.

But since all animals can carry germs that make people sick, she says its never a bad idea to practice good pet hygiene and clean their paws after coming back from walks.

However, she adds, one of the biggest mistakes people make is using products that can be toxic for animals. Ochoa says shes treated several dogs with inflamed or infected skin after their owners used disinfectant wipes on them.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, you should avoid ingredients like alcohol, bleach, hydrogen peroxide or chemical compounds that contain the word “phenol.”

“A gentle baby shampoo and water will do the trick,” says Ochoa. “Just like hand-washing protocol for people, wash your pets paws for 20 seconds before rinsing off.” She also recommends applying coconut oil on their paws if you notice any itching or dryness.

As far as dog-bathing goes, its generally advised to do it at least once a month (although frequency may depend on the type of coat they have). When in doubt, use your judgement; if theyre dirty or start to smell, its probably time for a bath.

When to disinfect:

  • Pet items that touch poop or pee (such as your cat’s litter box): Disinfect as often as you would disinfect your toilet or bathroom.
  • If your pet or anyone in your household is more likely to get very sick from germs (such as people or pets with weakened immune systems; children under 5 years old and young pets; adults 65 and older and older pets; and pregnant people and pregnant pets): Clean and disinfect pet items more often.
  • If your pet is sick: Disinfect when you clean their items. It is also a good idea to clean and disinfect their items more often while they are sick.
  • If you have pet rodents or pet reptiles or amphibians (these pets are more likely than other pets to carry germs that can make people sick): Disinfect items every month, or more often if the items look dirty.
  • How to clean and disinfect pet items

    Most pet items have cleaning instructions on the packaging or tags. Follow the cleaning instructions.

    For pet items without cleaning instructions, you can use these methods:

  • Soft items, such as blankets, beds, clothes, plush toys, and rope toys:
    • Clean and disinfect using a washing machine and dryer.
  • Wash items with soap or detergent and warm water.
  • Scrub with a sponge or brush.
  • Rinse with water to remove any remaining dirt and soapy water.
  • Air dry or wipe with a clean towel.
  • Put dishwasher-safe items in a dishwasher. It’s okay to put pet items in the dishwasher with your dishes.
  • Add dishwasher detergent.
  • Use any wash setting. To disinfect, use the high temperature or sanitizing setting.
  • Dry using any dry setting or air dry. To disinfect, use the heat dry setting.
  • Put items in a washing machine. It’s okay to put pet items in the washing machine with your clothes.
  • Add laundry detergent. Detergents with no dyes and no fragrance may be a better choice if your pet has sensitive skin.
  • Use the appropriate cycle and water temperature based on the type of fabric.
  • Air dry or use a dryer. To disinfect, use a dryer at the highest heat setting for 30 minutes.
  • Clean and scrub with soapy water first to remove dirt.
    • Why? Cleaning using soapy water physically removes most germs and dirt from surfaces, so that the disinfectant can reach and kill the remaining germs on the surfaces.
  • Rinse with water to remove any remaining dirt and soapy water.
  • Prepare a diluted household bleach solution by mixing 2 oz (1/4 cup) bleach and 1 gallon water.
  • Disinfect the item by soaking it in the bleach solution for at least 10 minutes. If the item is too big to soak, wipe it with the bleach solution and leave the solution on for at least 10 minutes.
    • Why? This gives the bleach solution enough time to kill germs on the item.
  • Rinse with water to remove any remaining bleach solution.
    • Why? If you don’t, your pet may lick the bleach solution on the item, or the bleach solution may get on their skin. This can cause irritation and hurt your pet.
  • Let the item dry completely (air dry or wipe dry with a clean towel) before letting your pet use it.
  • Use EPA-registered disinfecting wipes or spray.
  • Follow the instructions exactly as written on the label.
  • Make sure to leave the disinfectant on for the time stated on the label.
    • Why? This gives the disinfectant enough time to kill germs on the item.
  • Let the disinfectant dry fully before letting your pets use it.
    • Why? Most disinfectants are toxic when wet but are safe when dry.
  • To be safer, you can wipe dry with a clean towel or wash the disinfectant away with water before letting your pet use it.
  • Some websites may recommend vinegar as a pet-safe way to clean or disinfect items.

    However, there is currently not enough research showing how well vinegar removes dirt (cleans) or kills germs (disinfects). Vinegar can kill some germs when it is on an item’s surface for a long enough time, but it does not kill all germs.

    This is why CDC recommends using soap or detergent for removing dirt and disinfectants for killing germs. Disinfectants are safe to use around your pets if you follow the safety tips below. Your veterinarian uses disinfectants to prevent the spread of diseases in animal clinics or hospitals too.

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