By Dr. Poonum Wilkhu, Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health, Pharmacist, Founder of FurBabies™ Botanicals
It was almost two years ago when we brought Dexter home. We thought we knew how to look after pet dogs, well how hard can it be – right?
The poor boy was matted, and had a funky odour but he looked happy – or at least his wagging tail seemed to show that. When we all sat in the car and said bye to his ex-pet parents, the poor boy cried. It broke my heart, and I so wanted to hug him, but the odour was just so intense, so I grabbed a bottle of perfume and sprayed the car.
In hindsight, I can see that the artificial fragrance had overpowered his senses and had disorientated him even further. We tried all types of pet shampoo but to no avail, he still had an odour that went away but came back very quickly and his coat seemed to be wiry and dry and it was so difficult to brush it without pulling on his coat hair.
We then bought ‘pet cologne’ from the market. This time I was able to observe that he seemed withdrawn a sign of being overpowered by the artificial fragrance.
The olfactory lobe (part of the brain responsible for smell) in the brain of a dog is forty times larger than ours. That means their sense of smell (depending on breed) is up to 100,000 times greater than ours. Imagine being stuck in a lift with someone who may have gone overboard with their cologne/ perfume but now the difference is that smell is all over you and you can’t shift it. Very disorientating isn’t it?
Dogs’ scent identity is very precious to them, this is how they interact with the world so it is important to wash and condition their coat with the right natural ingredients.
I started to pay close attention to the ingredients in the products and was surprised to see words such as ‘alkalisers’ another way of not disclosing the use of a chemical preservative being used and fillers such as paraffin, petroleum by products such as paraffin, mineral oils, or waxes such as candelilla or bees wax or water (fancy name aqua) as the bulk of the ingredients.
The rest contained chemicals that are known to be toxic to dogs such as silicones, triclosan, pheonyethanol (alchol), sulphates, phthalates, polyethelene glycol (PEG), poly propylene glycol (PPG), Parabens, Ethanolamine, Cocomide MEA (very common in dog shampoo), Isopropyl alcohol, synthetic fragrances, synthetic dyes petroleum by products as mentioned above and formaldehyde. This is not an extensive list.
The short and long-term implications of the effects on dogs and also humans are worrying, especially households with children. Phenoxyethanol for example can lead to eczema, irritation, and rashes. Petroleum-based byproducts such as mineral oil or paraffin can clog follicles and lead to itching and rashes but can prevent new fur growth. PEG help to retain moisture and helps make large soap bubbles in dog shampoos however it is a penetration enhancer which means that it enhances the absorption of other chemicals into your pet’s blood stream.
PEG also used as a solvent for ink in printer heads, is harsh on the coats. PPG is used to maintain consistency of a product i.e. it prevents creams etc from freezing or melting, it is so harsh for the skin that the Environmental Working Group has added PPG to the list of chemicals causing moderate health conditions. It dawned on me that, I was paying for water or wax or paraffin and a concoction of chemicals.
The products have been designed by large multiples to appeal to human buyers and to improve their profit margins.
What about the regulations? This sector of the pet industry is not regulated as well as pet owners would like it to be.
This is not all. Beware of Greenwashing. This is when manufacturers use attention-grabbing words such as ‘natural’ of ‘natural origin’ to mislead consumers that the products are safe and eco-friendly. When the ingredients labels are closely inspected there usually is only one ingredient from a natural source.
Through the use of these products, we are slowly poisoning our dogs physical and mental well-being. As pet parents we have a choice and access to safe, natural alternatives.