Here’s the latest pet marketing you should be aware of. Head to the official, manufacturer product page for breath drops that you add to a dog’s water bowl, and it will show you a pretty button with the words “All Natural Ingredients.” This is designed to have you believe natural ingredients are what you will find in the product. Click that button, and it takes you to a list of so-called “good, naturally sourced, wholesome ingredients” used in a variety of this manufacturers products (not just the product on the page I was viewing). On this list you will find the active ingredient in that fresh breath product, but it’s not natural. And neither are several others in this product. Yet, the synthetic and chemical ingredients are also included on a long list of “natural” ingredients that may or may not be used in a full line of products produced by that company.

The FDA says the following about using the word “natural” on a product label:

FDA considers use of the term ‘natural’ on a food label to be truthful and non-misleading only when nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food (58 FR 2302, 2407, January 6, 1993; 21 CFR 101.22).(Source)

Note: While “all natural” is not being used on the front of the product label being analyzed, it is being used extremely prominently on the product page, product website, online shopping pages, and all blog marketing I have viewed for this product. Also, I am using the ingredient list that is on the back label of the product, as it is not otherwise listed online (and as noted above, clicking “All Natural Ingredients” on the official product page does not lead you to the ingredients only used in the product).

The pet product industry has a long way to go, because time and time again I witness that “all natural” or “naturally sourced” is simply not the case. What’s the issue here: A chemical that’s manufactured is being described as natural, and included in a product being marketed to you by them or as part of a campaign as being derived from nature. Not just “natural”… I’ll repeat: a “good, naturally sourced, wholesome ingredient.” However, these products include several ingredients that are nothing of the sort, including industrially produced chemical preservatives that might not even be safe for your pet to consume. As far as I can tell, you the consumer are being lied to or seriously misled at best in fancy marketing and internet campaigns.

Not to long ago I looked at a remarkably similar “natural” product offered to you by the same manufacturer (and also promoted quite heavily among the pet blogs), and it contained some of the same ingredients. While this new product is probably not the worst thing you could give your dog, as far as I can tell it is most certainly not wholesome or naturally occurring and contains synthetic ingredients you should at least be aware of to investigate further and make an informed decision on before providing it to your pet.

So let’s take a look at some of what is inside this “naturally sourced” product you again put in your pet’s water to consume. What product am I referring to? It doesn’t really matter. I just want to inspire you to read and research the ingredients in the products you have or plan to buy if they go into your pet’s system.

I want to be very clear that this article is not intended to be a complete resource for a product decision, but as part of the process towards making an informed decision about an ingredient several products use and to be aware of marketing tactics used by an industry at large. I am simply sharing the research I have performed where I try to take care to find trustworthy sources of information about an ingredient and how it may affect pets when used – because it certainly isn’t on a marketing page or article. It may not be complete, and it’s possible that my sources are not entirely accurate as much as I take care to find reliable ones. I welcome any an all additional input in the comments, but do ask that you back up statements with links to sources whenever possible. The purpose of such articles: I simply want encourage people to research ingredients and ask questions before using a product, ‘all natural’, ‘naturally sourced’, or not (since we all know natural doesn’t necessarily mean “safe” and natural products can also be toxic), knowing one thing for sure: there is a lot of misleading marketing in this space that can ultimately be harmful to pets.

What is Cetylpyridinium Chloride (CPC)

Cetylpyridinium Chloride (CPC) is a chemical that is used in many teeth cleaning or breath freshening products for both pets and humans. Some examples include mouthwash, toothpaste, and lozenges. CPC is also used as a antimicrobial treatment when processing foods, such as in meat production.

I dug into Cetylpyridinium Chloride because it was the active ingredient being promoted to you readers as a great thing for your dog so regularly of late. It’s the same ingredient I wrote about in that earlier article. So let’s look again at what this ingredient is.

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).

For more information about studies and journal articles about this compound, please refer to this page (there is a section for non-human studies as well).

While safety is up in the air a bit with this one and it doesn’t seem as bad as some other ingredients used, wholesome and naturally occurring is without a doubt questionable in my mind. It sounds like something I would want to be aware I was giving to my pet, not something lumped in with wholesome and sourced from nature. And given the possible oral toxicity in small animals, it doesn’t sound like something I’d want my dog to consume directly into his system if I had the choice (and luckily I do).

So let’s get back to the main argument: this ingredient is being marketed as “good, naturally sourced, wholesome ingredients” – does it belong on that list?

What are Cationic Compounds? Is CPC a naturally sourced, wholesome ingredient?

On the “All Natural Ingredients” list, the pet product manufacturer calls the ingredient a “Cationic Compound”. What does that mean exactly?

CPC is actually a cationic quaternary ammonium compound, sometimes called “quats” in the industry. This is defined as “any of a class of salts derived from ammonium in which the nitrogen atom is attached to four organic groups; used as antiseptics and disinfectants.” They are used for disinfectants, surfactants, fabric softeners, antistatic agents, and wood preservation. Different chemical structures of quats are of course used for different purposes, and as one might expect have various strengths and levels of toxicity. These chemicals are sometimes used to bind to organic and inorganic surfaces (cationic), and can be used to kill bacteria by piercing membranes.

CPC is manufactured by chemical companies, and has an oral toxicity (tested in rabbits) at 400mg/kg. (Source) It is manufactured in the following way:

6). Method of Manufacture: CPC can be prepared by the interaction of cetyl chloride
and pyridine under pressure at an elevated temperature. In aqueous solution, CPC is
synthesized by alkylation of pyridine with cetyl chloride to yield the monohydrate of the
quaternary salt of pyridine and cetyl chloride (Source)

Natural or not, CPC is a chemical and the importance as an ingredient down to safety and toxicity when consumed. But in my opinion due to the my searching, this is not a “naturally sourced, wholesome ingredient” and does not belong on any list describing it as such. It is a synthesized chemical. I would love to see a company calling it natural to remove CPC from their list, and not market this product as “naturally sourced, wholesome ingredient” when the active ingredient is a processed chemical. While this chemical may be fairly safe, the marketing is still misleading.

“Naturally derived” Potassium Sorbate – and is this one bad?

Also on this list, and found in the breath freshening product, we find potassium sorbate listed as a “naturally derived compound”, which as far as I can tell is completely untrue.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 1.40.58 PM

Yes is is used as a preservative, but it’s not considered by the FDA to be natural (at least in human food products). So let’s look at this in a bit more detail.

Potassium Sorbate is potassium salt version of sorbic acid. The FDA considers potassium sorbate a chemical preservative and not a natural product Source). The precursor is sorbic acid, which is created in a two-step process by way of the condensation of crotonaldehyde and ketene. Potassium Sorbate is produced industrially by neutralizing sorbic acid together with potassium hydroxide.

But more importantly, is it safe – especially considering it being consumed by your dog? Studies seem to indicate it may not be wise to consume. Two recent studies (both linked in the following source) “have shown that potassium sorbate has the potential to mess with our DNA. In one study, PS is clearly seen to be genotoxic to the human peripheral blood lymphocytes (white blood cells). In another study, potassium sorbate mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C, which is present in many foods), caused mutagenicity and DNA-damaging activity. the risk demonstrated in the studies is very low, but it is statistically significant. (Source)”

This and earlier studies are outlined in this video by a doctor:

Because this preservative is common, there are a lot more (usually quite short) studies on humans and animals available for your perusal online. Funding or vested interest may be involved in any studies as they are in large regulating bodies, so it’s good to always be aware of this possible issue. Personally I weigh the studies on or for humans a bit more heavily (as the human food industry is so much more regulated and focused on than the pet food industry, for example). Basically this one, as always, is up to you to decide whether you want your animal ingesting it long term.

In fact, the FDA slammed an “all natural” bagel company for using Potassium Sorbate

So you have this non-natural, chemical preservative masquerading as wholesome and naturally derived. I wonder what the FDA would think? Well how about this case where the FDA slammed a company selling an “all natural” bagel that contains this same chemical preservative and sent a warning letter to the company manufacturing them that included the following:

FDA considers use of the term “natural” on a food label to be truthful and non-misleading only when nothing artificial or synthetic has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food (58 FR 2302, 2407, January 6, 1993; 21 CFR 101.22). Your product is manufactured with infused wild dry blueberries that contain potassium sorbate, which is listed in 21 CFR 182.3640 as a chemical preservative; therefore, your product may not make the claims “All Natural” and “No Preservatives.”

What is quite interesting is the product packaging of the product I am investigating in this article does not mention “all natural” on it – but it is prominently called “All natural” on the product page online and in all related marketing. Could this perhaps be why?

So does it belong on a “naturally sourced” ingredient list? No. Potassium sorbate absolutely does not belong on a list of “good, naturally sourced, wholesome ingredients”. It also does not belong in a product being marketed to you as containing “All Natural Ingredients” when its active ingredient and preservatives are anything but.

And what about “synthetic alternatives” to natural ingredients?

Many ingredients on this company’s list of “good, naturally sourced, wholesome ingredients” have an asterisk next to them (although I will note that this asterisk is not next to the ingredients mentioned earlier in this article). This refers to the following:

* These ingredients are found in nature and we also sometimes use their syntheticlly [SIC] produced duplicate to attain a high level of consistent purity.

What does this mean exactly? It sounds nice (“purity”!) and like a valid reason, and it could be valid for many uses. However, you need to know that at least in some cases synthetic alternatives to a natural ingredient are not healthy – it would be woefully incorrect to think that statement applies to all ingredients found in nature. The chemistry and ingredient reactions can be quite different between natural and synthetic (which is well beyond the scope of this article). Regardless, it should not be used as a blanket statement nor called a “duplicate”.

Here are a few resources noting the differences between naturally occurring and synthetic ingredients. Note that one of the items with an asterisk noting “synthetic alternative” is Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E):

You can also run into this issue with pesticides. A natural pesticide is Pyrethrum (derived from the Chrysanthemum), and it’s synthetic equivalent are Pyrethroids. The natural ingredient is much safer to use than the synthetic version (which is more toxic and environmentally persistent). For more information on this difference, refer to this article as a starting point.

But more concerning, as we’ve seen earlier in this article, is looking into their so called “naturally derived” ingredients without their “synthetic duplicate” asterisk and finding out that some of them are created synthetically industry wide. So then I start to question their other ingredients listed there, such as “Citric Acid” (both on the list and used in the breath freshening product) – where synthetic use is not equal to natural at all. Natural citric acid is quite safe, but the synthetic has some controversy surrounding it in that it is derived from mold as opposed to fruit. Are they really out there “scraping lemons”, or using the synthetic derived from mold like most other manufacturers do? If there was more honesty on the website, I might believe they’re scraping lemons. I reckon they’re using what most manufacturers do though.

A synthetic alternative to a natural ingredient is NOT a natural ingredient, and in my opinion should not be marketed to you as such. Synthetic is not naturally derived. It’s naturally… inspired at best. Whether or not it is an equivalent or safe depends entirely on science. It’s my opinion that it is best not to trust marketing of this nature, and to question the rest of the ingredient list when such tactics are used.

Question marketing and research your products

So is this why there is “All Natural” prominent in product marketing, but not on the label? We can only guess.

But at any rate, be cautious out there when you are reading blogs and product pages. The purpose of this blog (now) is to simply ask you to question the labels in the best interest of your pets – to do your research. It doesn’t matter what the product is. Search scientific studies, question vested interests behind studies AND blog posts, choose a safer route if the information is unclear. There are almost always options when something is not clear. You almost never truly need to use something with potassium sorbate in it, for example.

Although I hate to dwell on the negative, what to avoid is really important to your pet’s overall health – especially when we are already exposed to so many negative elements in our pollutant filled environment. Read what you can, and make informed decisions. Question the manufacturer, directly, if you have doubts. And especially more so if you are about to promote something yourself (do your own research too, don’t just trust the PR rep). And whatever you do, whoever you are, never trust the words “all natural” on a label.

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • It’s such a shame that we don’t question more of the products we’re giving our dogs. From the few articles I read about CPC it sounds like it’s considered toxic to dogs if swallowed; which is exactly what happens when you put it in a pets water dish. I’m also concerned that most of the human products that contain CPC have the “don’t use on infants & children” warning.

    • Totally agree… it’s really difficult to tell sometimes, and then considering those warnings I realize “why take the risk” unless you will get a big win and there’s no known safer option. I guess I’m personally kind of at the end of my rope where I’m starting to question it all. :)

  • falak