What are disinfectants?
Disinfectants are chemicals for use in the home to kill microorganisms. Such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, parasites, and fungi. They are an essential part of feline husbandry and help to keep cats and people safe from potentially dangerous pathogens.
When it comes to both cleaning our homes and decontaminating the environment (for example if there has been an outbreak of disease), there is no single product or method which can kill all microorganisms. Some may be susceptible to chemicals, others need heat to kill them (for example protozoal oocysts which are difficult to kill with bleach) or radiation (such as UV light).
Risks from using the wrong disinfectant include poisoning by ingestion, inhalation and chemical burns.
Cats come into contact with chemicals in the home and ingests them when they groom. Yet most households have potentially dangerous products not realising how toxic they can be to cats.
Pathogenic microorganisms can spread via direct contact. (coughing, sneezing, mating, grooming etc), and inanimate contact such as fomites. These are inanimate objects microorganisms are found on including food bowls, floors, walls, bedding, blankets, grooming equipment and door handles. It is the disinfection of fomites and the environment that can help to prevent or stop the spread of disease.
Many pathogens quickly die once outside the body, but some, such as parvovirus (responsible for panleukopenia) and ringworm can live for months or even years in the environment, calicivirus can survive for up to a month and cause infection in cats exposed to the virus in the environment.
- Shelters, boarding catteries, and veterinary surgeries have a greater need to disinfect than households as they have a high turnover of animals who are often stressed or sick (in the case of veterinary surgeries and shelters).
- If you have an outbreak of an infectious disease or parasite which can infect cats, humans or other pets, disinfecting the environment will be necessary.
- Disinfect litter trays weekly.
- If you have an immunocompromised cat or person living in the house.
- An outbreak of a contagious human disease (such as COVID-19).
What’s the difference between an antiseptic and a disinfectant?
Antiseptics are used on living tissue such as skin, disinfectants are used on non-living objects such as floors, walls, kitchen benches and litter trays. This article is about disinfectants, for antiseptics safe to use on cats, read here. Never use disinfectants on cats.
Different pathogens require different disinfectants, there is not one disinfectant which can kill all pathogens. Bleach (see below) is a good all-around disinfectant when used carefully, but even that has its limitations. If you are dealing with an outbreak always speak to your veterinarian about the most effective disinfectant.
There is no one method which will kill all potential pathogens. Bleach is a good all-rounder but will need higher concentrations to kill ringworm. If you are trying to treat or prevent an outbreak of a particular disease, speak to your veterinarian to find out the most effective disinfectant for your particular situation.
Parasitic worm eggs are resistant to bleach but can be killed with extreme heat from steam or fire.
Do not use
|Phenols (Dettol, Pine O Cleen, Pine-Sol)||Disinfectants which contain phenols are highly toxic to cats as they lack UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT) enzymes, including UGT1A6 and UGT1A9 necessary to metabolise phenols.|
Do not use any product which turns white in water.
|Essential oils||Many essential oils, especially tea tree oil are toxic to cats for the same reason as above (many essential oils contain phenols). Cats lack the necessary glucuronosyltransferase (UGT) enzymes necessary to metabolise the compounds.|
Use with caution
|Hypochlorites (chlorine)||A common chemical used in swimming pools, chlorine is relatively safe to use around cats in low doses. Chlorine gas is toxic to cats (and humans), as well as concentrated (>10%) chlorine, which can cause corrosive injury, hypernatremia, hyperchloremia, and/or metabolic acidosis . Most bleach products contain sodium hypochlorite (5-6%) and can be used to disinfect. The dilution differs depending on the pathogen, but most commonly is 1 part sodium hypochlorite to 32 parts water. Other hypochlorites include calcium hypochlorite and sodium dichloroisocyanurate.|
Caution: Fumes can be irritating so ensure ventilation is adequate. Don’t mix bleach with other chemicals.
Safe to use
These products are commonly for use in veterinary practices, catteries, and shelters. Some are available to buy online, from your veterinary surgery or local pet shop.
Caution: Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
|Ethanol||Between 70-90% concentration for 1 minute. Higher concentrations are more effective.|
Caution: Allow to dry before cats have access to the treated area.
|Heat and steam||Temperatures should reach 121°C (250°F) and 132°C (270°F), washing machines should be set to at least 60°C. Steam clean soft furnishings.|
Natural products have a place in the home. White vinegar is great to clean kitchen benches, where food is prepared. But when it comes to actual disinfecting, I use bleach (on hard surfaces) or the dishwasher for utensils which have come into contact with raw meat. Most natural cleaners will not be effective in killing pathogenic microorganisms in the event of an outbreak of disease which requires thorough decontamination in an environment such as a shelter or veterinary surgery or to clean litter trays.
Most natural cleaners will not be effective in killing pathogenic microorganisms in the event of an outbreak of disease which requires thorough decontamination in an environment such as a shelter or veterinary surgery or to clean litter trays.
|White vinegar||Aceatic acid (household vinegar) can work with a number of microbes, there is a lack of information regarding its effectiveness against viruses, particularly strains which affect cats.|
|Citric acid||Another great and natural household cleaner, citric acid like white vinegar is able to kill some pathogens but only easy to kill ones. It is not effective against pathogenic strains.|
|Hydrogen peroxide||With so many uses, hydrogen peroxide (6-7%) is a must in the home. I am not sure I would use it if I had a serious outbreak of disease, but it seems out of the natural disinfectants, this hydrogen peroxide does have antimicrobial effects against a number of organisms.|
How to disinfect
Disinfecting with hypochlorite (bleach)
Remove dirt from the area before you apply disinfectant organic matter (dirt, hair, food, feces, litter) will inactivate most disinfectants. Scrub with hot soapy water.
A dilution of 1:32 is for bleach, although this may vary depending on the pathogen. For ringworm, it is 1:10. Use cold water when mixing bleach as hot water decomposes the active ingredient, making the product ineffective.
Leave the bleach solution on the surface for ten minutes. Thoroughly rinse with clean water.
- Read the instructions: Always follow the manufacturers (or your veterinarian’s) instructions in regards to usage and dilution. Each product is different.
- Remove organic material: Clean the area with water and detergent before disinfecting. Remaining organic matter (dirt, hair, food, feces, litter) inactivates most disinfectants which makes them ineffective.
- Allow to dry or rinse off the product: Where instructed, allow disinfectants to dry before your cat is allowed to come into contact with them. Other types of disinfectant will need to be rinsed off. Always follow instructions to establish the contact time required.
- Cleaning soft furnishings: Soft furnishings such as bedding and blankets should also be disinfected if they can’t be disposed of. The best method is to wash small furnishings such as cat beds in the washing machine, on a hot cycle. Air dry in full sun or add a safe disinfectant to a mister and spray, allow drying before allowing your cat contact.
- Storage: Store disinfectants in a cool, dark and safe place out of reach of children and cats.
Are hand sanitisers toxic to cats?
A recent social media post claiming that hand sanitisers contain ethylene glycol, the same ingredient in antifreeze which is highly toxic to cats. This is not true, most hand sanitisers contain ethyl alcohol (ethanol), which is the same alcohol found in alcoholic beverages.
Ethanol is toxic to cats (and humans), but the risk of toxicity from hand sanitisers is low. Most of us apply a squirt to our hands and rub it in, by the time our hands are dry (within seconds), the ethanol has evaporated.
Toxicity could occur if the cat deliberately ingested hand sanitiser, but this is unlikely due to the taste. As always, take care and store hand sanitisers out of reach of cats, and if a spillage occurs, clean up immediately.
- Remove all cats from the room while disinfecting and where possible open windows as many disinfectants can cause irritation to the airways and eyes in closed rooms.
- Wear safety goggles and rubber gloves when disinfecting to protect the eyes and skin.
- Never mix disinfectants unless instructed to do so. Some can become extremely toxic when mixed.
- Allow floors and surfaces to dry completely before allowing your cat to come into contact with them.
- Remember too to replace cat products such as litter trays every year or so. As they become worn, small scratches develop which can be a great way for bacteria to reside.
Frequently asked questions
Is Dettol safe for cats?
No, Dettol contains phenol chloroxylenol which is toxic to cats.
Are Lysol wipes toxic to cats?
Yes, Lysol wipes contain phenol chloroxylenol.
Is Glen 20 safe to spray around cats?
Glen 20 spray contains ethanol which the cat may inhale if the product is used in close proximity to the cat and can also cause irritation to the eyes.
What cleaners are safe to use in a home with cats?
Natural products are preferable over commercial products, which include white wine vinegar, citric acid and bicarbonate of soda. For a full list of safe cleaning products to use around cats, click here.
What antiseptics are safe for cats?
Antiseptics are antimicrobial products which are applied to the skin, disinfectants are used to kill microbes on objects and surfaces. Betadine and chlorhexidine are both safe to use on cats.