Pets, Humans and Disinfectants

Jan 13, 2020

Pet owners warned that Mrs Hinch’s favourite disinfectant could poison their pets!

It would have been fairer for the headline to warn that any disinfectant could poison your pets. The active ingredient of Zoflora is benzalkonium chloride, a quaternary ammonium compound (“quat”). Benzalkonium chloride kills bacteria and is used in many cleaning and disinfecting products, and also in some creams designed to be applied directly to the skin. Certain brands of sunscreen and even some nappy rash creams contain it.

This would suggest benzalkonium chloride isn’t all that toxic to humans. And it isn’t, so long as we don’t ingest it or get it in our eyes.

The instructions state that Zoflora is safe for use around pets when correctly diluted with 40 parts of water to one part of Zoflora. The manufacturers also advise pets should be kept off treated surfaces until they are dry. The unfortunate puppy may have been poisoned by Zoflora, but we don’t know if the disinfectant was made up at the recommended concentration, or if the floor was dry before the puppy came into contact with it.

When we purchase cleaning products we need to find a balance between what is effective and what is safe. We need to consider whether we’re at more risk from germs or from the chemicals we use to kill them. I tend to take a middle ground approach to this, using antibacterial agents in high risk areas. Yes, I would mop the bathroom and kitchen floors with diluted Zoflora or diluted floor cleaner. I would use an antibacterial spray on kitchen worktops that had been exposed to raw meat (before wiping with a damp cloth). However, in the bedrooms and living areas I would simply use polish or a damp cloth to remove dust.

The best approach with “germs” (bacteria, fungi, protozoans and viruses) is to try and kill just the bad ones. Bleach will certainly do the trick, but bleach is hazardous too, and can cause damage to coloured surfaces. By contrast, a small amount of a cleaning product containing “quats” won’t damage most surfaces and probably won’t harm people or animals if used as directed. There is no need to apply lashings of antibacterial product in every room in an attempt to sanitise the whole house. People are not meant to live in a sterile environment, and nor are pets. It pays to remember that some antibacterial agents are suspected of being hormone disrupters and/or carcinogens.

Not all humans have the same degree of sensitivity to chemicals, and the same applies to pets. The body doesn’t know the difference between a man-made chemical and a natural one. Some of the most severe allergies can be from natural products, such as peanut protein or bee venom. Zoflora contains essential oils, which often smell lovely and are generally harmless. Nevertheless, some people experience a bad reaction to certain natural oils. Some dogs also have allergic reactions. Perhaps the puppy from the news story got a swollen eye because of a natural compound in the Zoflora disinfectant. I guess we’ll never know.

Meanwhile, we do our best to keep our homes clean and safe. Protect your pets by ensuring they’re out of the way when you’re using chemicals. Take note when any of the humans and animals in the house suffer from skin rashes or wheezing – it could be they are sensitive to a cleaning product. There are many products available – experiment until you find the ones best for you and your family.