Human/Animal Bond

Fearmongering During a Pandemic is Very, Very Bad

Hand sanitizers will not kill your pets because it has different ingredients than antifreeze

March 19, 2020 (published)
Art courtesy of Cristina Avramovici of VIN

Fearmongers making people more panicked during a pandemic should be vilified publicly.

I’m so hot under the collar that I’m envisioning all sorts of inappropriate responses, some of which are illegal.

My friend asked me if a meme she saw was true because she wanted to check it out before believing or dismissing the information. Someone who was intent on remaining ignorant or just likes making panicked people more panicked wrote it and posted it on Facebook.

The flagrantly idiotic meme said:


Uh, no. Hand sanitizers will not kill your pets because it has different ingredients than antifreeze.

I know because I checked with a veterinary toxicologist, not Dr. Google. 

When I asked Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, my colleague at the Veterinary Information Network, about it, she responded, “If it's the post about ‘ethanol glycol’ then it is bogus.

“There’s no such molecule as ‘ethanol glycol.’ There is ethanol, which is ethyl alcohol (the stuff we drink and which is in some hand sanitizers); then there is ethylene glycol, which is antifreeze, and which in no way, shape or form would be in hand sanitizers, short of intentional adulteration, as it is highly toxic and has no function in a product designed to sanitize.”

In addition to her veterinary degree, Sharon is double boarded (has two certifications) in toxicology, one from the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology (animals) and one the American Board of Toxicology (people), and has a PhD in veterinary pathology so she can tell what killed your pet. That is about a decade of grad school. For a while, she was the medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. Sharon is the kind of person we should listen to, not some lame ignoramus who either passes along misinformation without checking or deliberately foments fear and paranoia for grins. There’s a place in hell for the latter.

I know it’s somewhat fashionable to not believe in science and to downplay scientific experts, but during a novel pandemic, that can cost you more than you realize: your health, your attitude, and your ability to handle the punches the pandemic will throw at us. This situation is hard enough for people without false information that gets people more upset.

Anyone who believed this falsity could have increased their risk of getting the coronavirus or the regular influenza that kills approximately 36,000 Americans a year by not cleaning enough. Washing with soap and water for 20 seconds is better than using hand sanitizer, according to the CDC, but sanitizer is more convenient when you are out and about. When you want to learn more about COVID-19, check with the people who know the most: CDC.

In Dante’s Inferno, the eighth circle of hell, out of nine, is for sinners who committed fraud. The less significant sinners are in the upper circles. That’s where he would send the souls of sinners who were “fearmongering about pandemics on social media” because it is for fraudsters of all kinds. Here Dante placed corrupt politicians, hypocrites, thieves, evil counselors, perjurers, and counterfeiters.  Murderers reside in the seventh circle, which shows you how upset fraud made Dante. The only worse place to be in Dante’s hell is the ninth circle — for treachery — where Satan himself resides.

But that’s for intentional fraud. While it’s nowhere near as bad to just pass something on without checking if it is true, unintentional fraud is still hurtful and causes more fear of the unknown.

While I was writing this, an email in the corner of my screen flashed saying “High Quality Anti Coronavirus Face Mask, selling out everywhere in (city) BUY NOW!.” They were in too much of a hurry to rip people off to even post it correctly with the person’s city. Gosh, I’m so terrified that (city) is out of these “Anti Coronavirus masks,” what am I gonna do?

Sorry, I realize sarcasm is not becoming. I don’t mean to pull this one person out of all of Facebook and say she is the Face of Fearmongering, as though she were the only one who intentionally or unintentionally passed along false information. Perhaps she meant well and wanted to help save animals. Whatever her intentions were, be they good or bad, as a consequence of her action people wondered if their pets could die from what we do to protect ourselves. Emotions are running high enough already, so I wish she had looked for the truth. In 36 hours her post was seen by 4.8 thousand people; commented on by 2.8 thousand (almost all the commenters tell her she’s dead wrong, but the post has not been removed, leading me to think she is wallowing in her 15 minutes of fame); and far worse, it had been shared 342 thousand times. That’s what panic will do.

That’s a lot of fearmongering. We can do better. We can be better. Let’s help each other get through this pandemic by keeping everyone as calm as we can during this novel period.

Spread truth, not fear.

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.