David McCluggage, D.V.M., C.V.A.

Routine use of disinfectants to clean your dog's kennel, cups, and toys is both unnecessary and potentially harmful for your companion, yourself, and the environment. It is best to simply keep the environment clean, change water bowls two or three times daily, and keep the kennels clean with just a little soap and water.

Why? First, it is impossible to really disinfect the environment. Toys can't be disinfected, as the disinfectants won't work on porous material (chew toys, wood toys, ropes).

There are numerous scientific studies that have shown that soap and water will remove the vast majority of potential problems, and disinfecting will only help a little, at best.

In hospitals, for example, it has been shown that simply cleaning a countertop will remove roughly 95% of the bacteria, viruses and fungi. Adding a disinfectant will only remove an additional 2-3%. The same studies have shown that the countertop will return to the previous level of bacterial contamination within as little as four hours after disinfecting. The same is true if cleaned with soap and water - the surface will soon return to the same level of microbial content (note we say content, not contamination, since all surfaces have microbes).

In other words, it is not only impossible to sterilize your dog's environment, but you would have to apply the disinfectants several times daily to have any significant effect at all! Second, the bacteria in your dog's environment have mostly been seen by your dog already. They came from your dog's feet and mouth, the food he is eating, and from your hands. Your dog is already resistant to infection from these bacteria and viruses. The few new germs that he is exposed to will, in almost all cases, be a healthy stimulant to his immune system, providing immunity for future germs.

Disinfectants are poisons. Read the label. It will tell you that it is harmful if taken internally. Well, your dog does not wear shoes, so if you apply a disinfectant to the kennel, the floors, the food bowls and the toys, your dog will ingest small amounts of the disinfectant all the time. Your dog will absorb these toxins through his feet when walking around, through his tongue and mouth, and by inhaling them into his lungs. This can lead to lots of diseases over time. It is also harmful for you because you are being constantly exposed (through your skin and by breathing the vapors) to these poisons.

Finally, recent studies are showing that routine use of disinfectants are creating "super-bacteria" that are more deadly than ever, just like overuse of antibiotics has created bacteria that are resistant to all known antibiotics.

To sum it up, routine use of disinfectants won't remove much more of the germs than simple cleaning does. They are toxic to various organs in the body and are known carcinogens. And, finally, although they almost never prevent infections, they are likely to assure that the infection your dog gets is more deadly than the dog that is not exposed to disinfectants.

Disinfectants are so overused that even the conservative American Medical Association recently came out with a recommendation against the routine use of disinfectant soaps.

Make it nice and simple for you and your dog: Routine cleaning is great. Keep the cages, the cups, and the toys and feeding bowls clean.