There’s nothing that gets me grumpier than pet products that claim to be “natural” seem to contain synthetic and potentially unsafe ingredients when you start researching them. Often the active ingredient in these “natural” pet products is a chemical formulation.
I also get grumpy they’re advertised as “safe” but have been tested in other environments and seem to not be that safe when you learn about the animals they have been tested on. Or, the tests are generally inconclusive due to external factors and perhaps the jury is still out on the chemical.
So what’s really in these “natural” products that use chemicals as their active ingredients… and is it actually safe for my dog? I may not have the answers, but what I’ve learnt from the studies have read has really opened my eyes about how far this “safe” and “natural” marketing is going these days.
Safe and natural pet products: Nope, not necessarily
No pet product is going to be entirely safe – almost anything can be dangerous in a certain amount (even water!), and natural ingredients can be toxic to dogs, but when the term “natural” is used I do expect the ingredients to actually be just that. A so-called natural product should not have synthetic ingredients. And I’m tired of being misled by this term, used more and more as people are demanding higher standards for their families. In fact when I see this term I now say “oh reeeeeally” in my head and start searching for more information about any ingredient I haven’t heard of before.
So let’s look at a few of the ingredients in a particular “safe and natural” product that is consumed by a dog.
Quick disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, nor do I have any association with products that contain these ingredients or the studies of the ingredients linked below. Because I am not involved with these products, I will not name them. Please use the links below at your own discretion and draw your own conclusions. I simply encourage you do read the labels of what you use regularly, and make a decision based on your own research and discussion with a qualified veterinarian who is knowledgable about these particular ingredients.
Cetylpyridinium Chloride, often called CPC, is a chemical and the active ingredient in many oral healthcare products for humans and animals. It is a bactericide and fungicide.
According to the Toxicology Data Network, “Cetylpyridinium chloride is orally toxic to rats, mice and rabbits and can cause severe eye irritation.”
On page 19 of this document on the substance, one study on Beagle dogs was conducted and resulted in all dogs experiencing diarrhea. Many other facets of the study, and other studies, were inconclusive and unclear.
My question would be: have any conclusive, independent (truly independent) studies even been performed on this additive, given that it does seem to cause diarrhea in some dogs (reported by some people using products containing this ingredient with their dogs on review sites like Amazon).
Sodium Benzoate in pet products
Sodium Benzoate is a preservative commonly used in many products. It is a synthetic product formed in a lab – it is not natural. Sodium benzoate is a salt of benzoic acid, which is known to be toxic for cats.
According to this document from the World Health Organization,
In rodents, the acute oral toxicity of benzoic acid and sodium benzoate is low (oral LD50 values of>1940 mg/kg body weight). In cats, which seem to be more sensitive than rodents, toxic effects and mortality were reported at much lower doses (about 450 mg/kg body weight).
Do note that pet products containing sodium benzoate are currently being marketed for cats. I am not a scientist or vet, but this does throw out a few warning signals (and this vet, given that unless the percentages of the ingredient are provided, advises against using it). As a pet owner, I would definitely not provide products containing this ingredient to my cat.
There are many other concerns around sodium benzoate, as it can be a carcinogen when combined with other elements (even natural ones). Unfortunately this chemical is found in many foods and health care products for humans and pets, but the more I know about it the more I personally want to avoid it.
How to decide, who to ask, what to do
A question about these ingredients in general is: Do you know exactly how much they consume in the food or water additive over time, and whether that will reach toxic levels in the body over time? Do we really understand some of the interactions with other ingredients or things your dog or cat consumes? For example, Sodium Benzoate and Vitamin C can combine to form a carcinogen. Is your pet getting Vitamin C as well – what will that do in his or her system?
Now I’m well aware that a dog will consume less of this ingredient at the suggested dosage for a product using it, but coming from a family loaded with cancer (and having known and loved many pets with them), I’m not one to risk potential carcinogens. Especially also knowing how so many unnatural ingredients have been studied further and deemed more unsafe over time. Do we really need possible carcinogens in our body, in any amount? Hopefully not, as I know we’re exposed to so many of them already. So this is a label item I choose to avoid with my pets, and trying to do for myself too.
Without specific studies, do we really understand how these chemicals interact with each other, and in the body of our dogs and cats? To me this is scary stuff. And what truly makes me grumpy about using the term “natural” and “safe”. If there have been specific, independent studies I’m all ears.
And I will also say it’s not quite as easy as speaking to any veterinarian. In my research above I came across vets saying that these specific ingredients “sound okay” and to just “try them out”. I’m not sure what that conclusively means in regards to safety, technically speaking. So do try to find one who is aware of these particular ingredients from studying the specifics.
And lastly, looking into this did teach me a lot and will result in some (more) changes to what my dogs and I ingest.
So how do we decide what pet products to use or avoid?
First of all: Ignore “Natural” and “Safe” on the label. With how I’m seeing it used, it’s meaningless.
Read the labels, and research alternatives. With those alternatives, look into people’s experiences and do consider that sometimes there are edge cases (like the dogs who might get diarrhea with a particular ingredient, or my dog who was punctured by a raw bone). Just take it all into consideration when making a decision – sometimes a small risk is worth a greater benefit.
Often there aren’t better alternatives, and a risk to benefit decision must be made. For example, having a dental procedure performed under general anesthesia can be risky, and even dangerous or deadly for a senior dog. There are sometimes other options that do not involve anesthesia, but it may not work for everyone.
And how crazy IS crazy? Sure, I treat the odd treat that isn’t perfect. Yes, I go through a drive through when traveling and Mort and I will snack on crappy ingredients. But when a product is going to be used on an ongoing or semi-permanent basis I absolutely care about every ingredient that is going on or into my dog (and myself, too).
I’m not saying there is a right answer, and will certainly never tell someone what to decide, but simply: awareness is key in making the best decision for your dog. Care about things you’ll use regularly. Don’t trust the graphics on the bottle, and do read the ingredients and study the ones you don’t know carefully. Read about edge cases. Find what’s actually the case under the surface. Marketing is not always what it seems. Especially in the less-regulated pet product industry.