I recently saw a question on Google that read like this: “Can you put rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) on a dog to make them stop licking?”  Are you kidding me? Then, I read how one woman uses isopropyl alcohol to mix the colors for edible frosting for a dog birthday party. Really? Well, after I did some poking around within the dog product industry, I suddenly realized that many people think that using isopropyl alcohol is ok.


When you look at Isopropyl Alcohol’s Material Safety Data Sheet you will see the following:

“Inhalation: If adverse effects occur, then remove to uncontaminated area. Give artificial respiration if not breathing. Get immediate medical attention. Skin Contact: Wash skin with soap and water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing and shoes. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organ damage.”

Scary, right?

This is not something that I would want to put on my dog’s skin, especially around where they breathe or any place they may lick.

Alcohol In Pet Products

Despite the warnings and the research, isopropyl alcohol has been sneaking its way into the cosmetic industry for years and now it has found a nice cozy bed in the pet care industry. The world of alcohol is vast and, scientifically, there are many different types of alcohols that serve their purpose in each specific industry where they are used.

Alcohol is used as a solvent (a substance in which another substance can dissolve to form a solution), an antiseptic, a humectant (a substance that helps retain moisture) and as a preservative.

But the scary part is alcohol delivers ingredients into the skin by breaking down its natural oils and anti-bacterial layer.

Here are a few types of alcohols that are found in the products we use for our pets (and ourselves).

Ethanol or Grain Neutral Spirits 

Alcohol comes in many forms and all are not created equal. When most people see alcohol on a label they think of drinking alcohol or spirits. This is the opposite of isopropyl alcohol. Drinking alcohol is what the industry calls undenatured ethanol or grain alcohol because most alcohol produced in North America is from corn. Natural alcohol can also be produced from other sources like fruits, sugar cane, potatoes and wheat.

Grain alcohol or ethanol is available in different proofs. A grain alcohol’s proof is its ratio of alcohol to water. For example, 190 proof is 95% ethanol and 5% water. When looking at a bottle of alcohol in the liquor store you will see that it says, “__ proof”.   The proof is twice that of the percentage of alcohol. So, 80 proof would mean that the bottle contains 40% ethanol.

Organic Alcohol

Organic alcohol is the same as ethanol or grain alcohol but the fermentation, distillation and packaging processes are guided by organic standards.

Methyl Alcohol or Methanol

Methanol is a highly toxic form of alcohol and is also known as wood alcohol. Methanol is used in antifreeze, as a solvent, an industrial cleaner, and in the synthesis of formaldehyde.

Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol can be made of ethanol or what are called chemically classified alcohols that are not ethanol based.

This type of alcohol is denatured by the addition of toxic solvents rendering the alcohol unfit for consumption.

Companies also denature alcohol to avoid having to pay taxes and to keep people from purchasing ethanol from anywhere but a liquor store. The chemicals that are used to denature are varied, but the most popular are methanol, acetone, methyl isobutyl ketone, isopropyl alcohol or methyl ethyl ketone. Many of these added chemicals are nearly impossible to distill out of the alcohol, so they are the toxins of choice for the denatured alcohol industry.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol is touted as a mild antiseptic, cleaner and disinfectant. It is made through the hydration of water and a carbon called propene, which comes from fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas and coal.

Why You Should Care About Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol is rapidly absorbed through the skin and can cause the following:

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  • Skin irritation and excessive dryness.
  • It also delays healing of skin tissue ( Isopropyl alcohol removes the skin’s naturally occurring moisture barrier.
  • Isopropyl alcohol can also cause respiratory tract irritation from inhalation of its vapors.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol is a neurotoxin (negatively affecting the nervous system) that contains petroleum based propene, which makes it unfit to drink, and also making it twice as toxic as ethanol.  The liver oxidizes isopropyl alcohol into acetone and, with prolonged exposure this process can negatively affect the kidneys. Isopropyl alcohol can be found under these alternate names: propyl alcohol, propanol, isopropyl alcohol, isopropanol, 2-hydroxypropane; 2-propyl alcohol and dimethyl carbinol.

Here are two examples of popular pet care products containing isopropyl alcohol.

This first product is for use on paws and hot spots.  It touts that “your dog would ask for it.”

My pug, Francis, has firmly verified that she would not.

Active ingredients: Cod Liver Oil, Gentian Violet, Brilliant Green.

Other Ingredients: Isopropyl Alcohol, Balsam Peru, Glycerine, Cade Oil, Tannic Acid, Turpentine.

I can’t ignore that this product uses a substance called Brilliant Green, which is otherwise known as Zelyonka, a toxin when ingested. The first ingredient is cod liver oil.

I don’t know any dog that would not do their best to lick the fish oil off their skin and paws.

When they do, in goes the brilliant green, turpentine and isopropyl alcohol.

The second example is a muscle recovery rub for dogs that kind of made me want to go postal.

Ingredients: menthol 20mg/g, camphor 6.25mg/g, isopropyl alcohol 350mg/g in a gel base.

This is an example of a product that may seem natural to some but is anything but. Twenty milligrams of menthol is too much for a dog and it can irritate the lungs.

Camphor should never be used on dogs because it can cause severe issues like seizures and liver failure.

Isopropyl alcohol is listed last along with a generic gel base. The gel base usually consists of propylene glycol, copolymers, polysorbates and sodium laureth sulfate.

Other products that manufacturers love to use isopropyl alcohol for are ear washes and flushes, all types of skin treatments, skunk washes, so-called “Pet Safe” household cleaners, chewing sprays like Bitter Apple, different types of wipes, miracle urine cleaners, paw care products, wound care sprays, shampoos and floor cleaners.

Safe Alcohols

There is a group of alcohols, generally recognized as safe, derived from natural fats and oils. This group of fatty alcohols has a different effect on the skin than their ethanol-based counterparts. Most fatty alcohols are emulsifiers (to help blend one liquid with another without separating) and emollients (skin softeners).

Cetyl Alcohol

Extracted from coconut oil, cetyl alcohol is a foaming emollient and emulsifier that stabilizes or alters the formula it is added to. It has a low-level occurrence of irritation.

 Stearyl Alcohol

Stearyl alcohol is mostly made from coconuts, shea nuts, and sometimes, animals. It is used as an emollient, emulsifier, and thickening agent. This alcohol is mostly solid at room temperature, and is soothing and non-drying to the skin.

 Cetearyl Alcohol

Cetearyl alcohol is an emulsifying wax derived from natural oils or fats. It is very efficient as a stabilizing agent because it imparts an emollient feel to the skin.

What Can You Do?

There are natural solutions for every product containing isopropyl alcohol. Don’t purchase anything that does not give you a full list of ingredients.

If you come across an ingredient that you are not familiar with and want to know if it is safe, then the Environmental Working Group’s Skin-Deep database is an excellent place to start.

Look for alcohol-free witch hazel, apple cider vinegar, hydrosols, aloe vera juice, vegetable glycerin, tea and purified water. If the product needs alcohol, look for grain or organic alcohol from plant sources.

As an herbalist, I use alcohol for extracting the active ingredients in plants to make herbal tinctures. My alcohol of choice is organic grain alcohol because it is non-GMO and safe in small amounts. Tincture dosages for dogs are usually one to three single drops.

There are many other types of alcohols that I have not covered, but I feel isopropyl alcohol is the most frequently utilized form of denatured alcohol used in pet products.

The danger of using this form of alcohol definitely outweighs any benefit a manufacture could conceive.

Even though some labels can be disheartening, you must read them each time you buy something new or even something that you have used for a long time. There are plenty of products on the market that change ingredients when you are not looking.

It is up to us, the caregivers, to do the work it takes to protect ourselves and our pets from the dangers of modern industry.