Recently I was having a discussion with a reporter about cleaning and disinfection, and the reported mentioned that her child had pooped in the bathtub the other day. My response was "mine too", since coincidentally, my 17-month-old daughter did the same thing on the same day. We  discussed about what to do with the bathtub, and it lead me to thinking about issues regarding bathing pets in bathtubs.

I’m not sure I’ve ever given my dog a bath in the bathtub, but some people do. I’ve never seen any recommendations about infection control practices associated with dog-washing or an assessment of the possible risks involved. Since there are lots of bacteria that live on or in pets (and people), and some of these can cause disease in certain situations, it’s something worth considering. Overall, the risks from a healthy pet in a household full of healthy people are probably exceedingly low. There are, however some situations where risks might be higher.

Pet factors that may increase the risk of disease transmission to people if they bathe in the same tub include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Wounds or skin infection
  • Contamination of the hair coat with feces
  • Young puppies or kittens, since they are more likely to be carrying certain infectious bacteria or parasites

People that are probably at higher risk of infection if they use the same tub as a pet include those who:

  • Have open skin lesions/wounds or chronic skin disease
  • Are immunocompromised
  • Are very young or very old
  • Are pregnant

It’s probably best to avoid bathing pets in the bathtub (and certainly don’t bathe them in the kitchen sink!!), if possible. Bathing pets outside or in the laundry room sink are better ideas, although they’re not always practical. If you are going to bath your pet in the bathtub, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Ensure the pet is healthy.
  • Remove items from the area around the tub that might become contaminated (e.g. wash cloths, shampoo bottles, kids’ bath toys).
  • After the bath, use soap and water to clean the tub, walls and other areas that may have been splashed.
  • Rinse all surfaces thoroughly with hot water.
  • Allow all surfaces to dry completely.

I’m not sure a disinfectant is really needed in most cases, but it probably wouldn’t hurt. If used, a disinfectant (like diluted household bleach) could be sprayed or wiped onto surfaces after cleaning. It should be allowed to sit for at least 15 minutes. Immediately wiping off the disinfectant greatly decreases the chance of it having any effect.

If you have a high risk pet or high risk person in the household, I’d be very careful. The best thing would be to bathe the pet elsewhere, either outside or take it to a at a vet clinic or pet groomer. If you do bathe your animal in the tub in this situation, be especially thorough about cleaning the tub afterwards, and definitely apply a disinfectant.