Following Proper Hand Hygiene Protocols

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Hand Washing – Photo credit: Sean Winters

Having appropriate and easy to follow hand hygiene guidelines in place is the first line of defense against infectious disease gaining entry into your shelter or veterinary clinic.

Hands are the biggest fomite that is present in the animal care world for spreading disease from animal to animal. Simply touching an infected animal followed by touching any healthy animal can spread most communicable diseases immediately.

Proper hand washing or hand sanitation between each animal will limit the spread of disease and go a long way toward maintaining a healthy population. It is vital that you sanitize between touching any new intake or foster animal that may come into the shelter or clinic after touching a current resident.

Proper Hand Washing Protocol

Hand washing is the greatest form of hand sanitation that you can do. Washing your hands with antibacterial hand soap between animals or after touching an infected animal will avoid the transfer of disease from animal to animal.

It is estimated that about 50% or more of animal care staff around the world fail in properly washing their hands which leads to an increase in sick animals.

The proper protocol for washing your hands is:

  • Wet your hands with warm water
  • Lather your hands with soap
  • Scrub entire hands and forearms for 30 seconds
  • Rinse hands thoroughly
  • Dry both hands with a single paper towel each
  • Use final paper towel to turn off sink

Basically you want to wash your hands and forearms vigorously for about 30 seconds under soap and water. Clean under every fingernail and remove every piece of jewelry prior to washing your hands. It is only beneficial to wash your hands if you use a single paper towel for each hand and forearm. You want to use the final paper towel to turn off the water faucet.


It is crazy how many people contaminate their hands after washing them because they touch the sink with their bare hands to turn the water off. The same problem can occur with hand sanitizer units if an insufficient amount of hand sanitizer is used to disinfect the hands after touching the same bottle you have touched countless times.

Proper Use of Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer units are cheap and effective which make them easy to incorporate into any animal shelter. It is advised that one hand sanitizer unit be allotted per room for staff, volunteers, and customers.

The hand sanitizer would be best to be attached to the wall by a hanger so that it does not get lost or dropped. Avoid placing hand sanitizer units in front of heaters or other hot objects.

The reason that hand sanitizer is so effective is because it is convenient for staff and customers to use. It is often said that the use of hand sanitizer can be more effective than hand washing just for the fact that people prefer it over going to the sink each time.

While using hand sanitizer between animals is fine, hand washing is advocated when dealing with ill animals or animals that have not been physically examined yet. Using hand sanitizer or washing your hands is required between touching any new animal for both you and the customer.

Hand sanitizer units need to be between 60% and 90% ethanol alcohol. Any lower or higher ration of alcohol in the sanitizer can actually facilitate the spread of disease. You want to avoid using a Triclosan or quaternary ammonium compound based sanitizer. Sanitizer that contain Triclosan or quats are ineffective against most diseases and are linked to toxicity in cats.

Follow the guideline for proper hand sanitizer usage below to ensure usage:

  • Squirt an olive sized glob of hand sanitizer
  • Rub your hands together vigorously for 30 seconds
  • Allow the hands to dry completely

Latex Gloves

Latex gloves are great for when you are dealing with animals that are very sick. Animals that are verified as being sick should not be handled without gloves. Many shelter managers make the mistake of not buying gloves due to the cost of buying them in a store such as Walmart.

However, gloves do not have to be expensive or made of tough material. You are only wanting the gloves to be strong enough to last for the animal that you are dealing with because they are single use. Do not try to disinfect gloves as this leads to an increase in disease spread. The cheapest gloves you can buy are food service gloves which are available in bulk. You will find that you can buy about 5000 gloves per $30 which boils down to less than 10 cents per pair of gloves.

Food service gloves are affordable and made well enough to protect your hands from picking up deadly diseases that are contagious to other animals. Adding food service gloves to your shelter for staff use will decrease the amount of money you have to pour into treating sick animals as a result of not having them made available.


Final Tips

There are a few extra techniques that you can incorporate into your hand hygiene guidelines to promote proper sanitation protocol.

The first technique is to set one toy on each hand sanitation unit once per week. If the toy is not removed, then the hand sanitizer is not being used by staff. You can draw a shape in the sink with a dry erase marker to check that people are washing their hands. If people are washing their hands properly then the shape would be removed by the soap and water.

Glo-germ is an excellent choice for teaching people how to properly wash their hands after touching a shelter animal. You would throw this substance onto a stuffed animal then have staff touch the stuffed animal. You would have the staff wash their hands or sanitize them following the interaction with the stuffed animal.

You would use a fluorescent black light to check the hands over before and after to verify that the staff completely cleaned their hands of the glo-germ. If too much glo-germ remains, you will want to revisit the hand hygiene guidelines to make sure the staff understand them.

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