When you consider that cocaine, chocolate and champagne are natural, you might start to wonder whether the "natural" claim made for so many pet products can truly stand the test of safety.

After all, the three products mentioned above can kill pets fast (dogs especially). Chocolate contains toxic theobromine, champagne is made of grapes, and cocaine...well, it’s cocaine. (And perfectly natural, too.)

So what do you do if you’re someone who happens to prefer not to put toxic chemicals into your pets’ bodies? Now that’s where we should all be headed. Minimizing the drugs and chemicals your pets are exposed to is a great goal. But that doesn’t mean you should necesarily be swayed by "all natural" claims on pet products.

You've gotta love those all-natural products that claim to do everything from freshen your dog’s breath to free your household of pet aromas and repel bugs better than anything else. While they may be effective, some of them are toxic, too.

Consider that many all-natural toothpastes for humans, and water additives for dogs, also happen to contain xylitol. Xylitol, as I wrote in an earlier DailyVet blog, is the natural product of the Birch tree, and it’s used as an artificial sweetener. If it’s ingested in significant quantities, it can also kill your dog.

Then there’s the issue of essential oils (natural extracts from plants), which we’re learning can be toxic in dogs––and especially to cats––if it’s ingested or absorbed in large enough quantities through the skin. 

How about calming extracts for pets that are loaded down with alcohol? These may be natural ... but they’re not necessarily safe for all pets. 

The problem becomes more pronounced with pet products becasue they’re seldom approved by the FDA or EPA to be safe and effective for use in pets. 

So how DO you know if your natural products are safe? 

Here’s a simple way: We vets are taught to examine these supplements and other natural products through the "ACCLAIM" method. (Thanks to Dr. Nancy Kay, who wrote the great book, Speaking for Spot, and for sending me her e-mail newsletter reminding me of this vet school trick.)

A = A name you recognize. Choose an established company that provides educational materials for veterinarians and other consumers. Is it a company that is well established?

C = Clinical experience. Companies that support clinical research and have their products used in clinical trials that are published in peer-reviewed journals to which veterinarians have access are more likely to have a quality product. 

C = Contents. All ingredients should be clearly indicated on the product label.

L = Label claims. Label claims that sound too good to be true likely are.  Choose products with realistic label claims.

A = Administration recommendations. Dosing instructions should be accurate and easy to follow. It should be easy to calculate the amount of active ingredient administered per dose per day.

I = Identification of lot. A lot identification number indicates that a surveillance system exists to ensure product quality.

M = Manufacturer information. Basic company information should be clearly stated on the label including a website (that is up and running) or some other means of contacting customer support.

This acronym helps us remember how it is that we should weigh any given product’s likely safety and utility. Keep it in mind the next time you carefully weigh whether an "all-natural" product is for you. 

Dr. Patty Khuly