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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Have You Been Bathing Your Pet With a Cancer Causing Shampoo?

We all want the best for our canine and feline companions, but sometimes we owners may unknowingly be sickening our pets. One of the most glaringly obvious circumstances where pets were sickened or died as a result of the recommendations of animal-health professionals is the 2007 melamine pet food crisis.


Dogs and cats that consumed dry (kibble) and moist (canned) foods containing melamine-contaminated wheat gluten produced in China suffered kidney failure and death. Wheat gluten is a grain by-product which provides a cheaper alternative to muscle meat protein or whole grain carbohydrates. Melamine is a plastic which increases nitrogen content and protein levels (as determined by laboratory testing) when added to wheat gluten.


As a result of certain pet food manufacturers’ efforts to keep their production costs down by using poorer-quality ingredients, our companion animals suffered life-threatening toxicity. This trend to use feed-grade ingredients (which have higher allowable levels of toxins than human-grade foods) is followed by many pet-food manufacturers in creating their commercially-available dog and cat diets. Therefore, for the sake of my patients’ health, I always recommend meals made from fresh, moist, human-grade foods just like the real meats, vegetables, grains, oils, and other ingredients we (humans) eat, instead of feeding them conventional pet foods.


I’ve digressed and will now get back on topic to discuss the subject for this week’s post: carcinogenic (cancer causing) ingredients in pet shampoos.


Recently, I found out that a veterinary prescription shampoo I recommended for a canine patient contains a carcinogen. My client went to purchase Virbac’s Epi-Soothe shampoo from a nearby California veterinary hospital and was informed that the product was no longer being dispensed.


In general, Epi-Soothe has been reliable product used in veterinary medicine by general practice veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists for years. Upon hearing the news, I found myself considering the consequences of my actions. Epi-Soothe is a product I’ve recommended for years, but in doing so, was I actually contributing to the potential development of cancer in my patients?


So, I’ve decided to further break down the situation for this week’s Daily Vet.


What Carcinogen is Contained in the Pet Shampoo?


The carcinogenic compound contained within Episoothe and other Virbac shampoos (Allergroom, Sebolux, Allermyl, and Etiderm) is Diethlanolamine (DEA).


According to a press release from Virbac, “Diethanolamine is a naturally occurring fatty acid derived from plants. It has been used for decades as an agent to boost foaming, stability, and add viscosity to hundreds of shampoo, cosmetic, and consumer products.”


In 2012, DEA was included in California’s list of Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity.


Why are Products Containing DEA No Longer Being Sold in CA?

According to Ecowatch.com’s article Study Finds Cancer-Causing Chemical in Nearly 100 Shampoos and Soaps, a Center for Environmental Health (CEH) review indicates that DEA was found in “98 shampoos, soaps, and other personal care products sold by major national retailers.” Reportedly, these were human products.


CEH executive director Michael Green states that “most people believe that products sold in major stores are tested for safety, but consumers need to know that they could be doused with a cancer-causing chemical every time they shower or shampoo.” The same principle goes for our pets.


The Virbac press release as mentioned above states that “recent changes in California’s Proposition 65 (The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act) will have a short term effect on the availability of select Virbac dermatology products for sale in California effective June 22, 2013.”


Virbac is currently not providing any DEA-containing products to California retailers and is reformulating affected products to appropriately comply with Proposition 65.


What is Proposition 65?


According to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA)’s article Proposition 65 in Plain Language:


In 1986, California voters approved an initiative to address their growing concerns about exposure to toxic chemicals. That initiative became the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, better known by its original name of Proposition 65. Proposition 65 requires the State to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. This list, which must be updated at least once a year, has grown to include approximately 800 chemicals since it was first published in 1987.


Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify Californians about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment. By providing this information, Proposition 65 enables Californians to make informed decisions about protecting themselves from exposure to these chemicals. Proposition 65 also prohibits California businesses from knowingly discharging significant amounts of listed chemicals into sources of drinking water.


What Can Pet Owners Do to Protect Their Pets From Cancer Causing Products?


The skin is the body’s largest organ, so there’s definite potential for any substance applied to the surface, whether intentionally or accidentally, to be absorbed and cause toxicity inside the body.


Causes of cancer are multifactorial and have correlations with genetics, environment, lifestyle, diet, etc., so there is no 100% fool-proof method of ensuring your pet will live a life permanently free from cancer. Yet, by avoiding toxins, pursuing a healthy lifestyle, and consuming foods and water known to be as chemical-free as possible, we can potentially reduce the likelihood our pets will be affected by many of the related fatal diseases.


Pet owner should always use products that are free from cancer/toxicity-causing chemicals included on the list as provided above. Read the label on your pet’s shampoo and compare the ingredients to those on the list to decide if you’ll continue to use the product or make a safer selection.


As I needed an all-purpose alternative to EpiSoothe for my client, I performed a Google search for diethanolamine free dog shampoo and discovered EarthBath Oatmeal & Aloe Shampoo and Dr. Mercola’s Organic Pet Shampoos.


Disclaimer: I have no professional arrangements with Virbac, EarthBath, or Mercola to mention their products here.


Dr. Patrick Mahaney


Image: fotoedu / Shutterstock


Comments  9

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  • Ingredient Labels
    11/12/2013 10:21pm

    Very good point! Reading the ingredient label is so important when purchasing dog food. Many company's try to hide harmful filler products!

  • 11/21/2013 07:29am

    Thank you for your comments.
    Yes, we can certainly learn a lot or be very confused by reading the labels on our foods, toiletries, and other items.
    Yet, with research we can familiarize ourselves with what is safe and unsafe. Especially when it comes to food, I recommend consuming products that have as few ingredients as possible and lack preservatives, artificial color/flavors, protein and meat meals and by-product, etc.
    D.r PM

  • DEA
    11/12/2013 11:41pm

    After all the news articles, I guess I didn't follow up very well because I thought DEA had been completely banned.

    One should always be aware of what's in any product used for humans and critters.

    I'm also thinking that pet toys should also be scrutinized since they always end up in Fido/Fluffy's mouth.

    Thanks for the excellent information, Dr. M!

  • 11/21/2013 07:31am

    Thank for your comments.
    Great point in brining up the toys that enter out pets mouths! There can certainly be unhealthy chemicals and other substances that can be ingested from chewing, licking, etc. on pet toys.
    I'll have to do some research on some pet-safe ones for future petMD articles. Inspiration!
    Dr. PM

  • Detox DEA
    11/13/2013 07:31pm

    Eek. So good to know. My holistic vet uses Allermyl. This past year, he recommended I buy a bottle and use it at home. I've since seen a sudden presence of multiple cysts on her body.

    Please, do you have any advice on how to naturally detox this product?

    My girl is extremely sensitive to chemicals and medications, along with environments allergens and changes in season. She's pretty strong most of the time, but her system is very responsive to small stressors.

    Thank you for any insight you can provide.

  • 11/21/2013 07:39am

    Thank you for your comments.
    I apologize, but I cannot specifically recommend a product to help your pet detox as I have not provided a physical examination for your pet.
    I would focus on providing a human grade, whole food-based diet ideally made with organic ingredients that can provide clean/non-toxic essential nutrients, antioxidants, other substances to support basic body function.
    Additionally, clean fresh water (in food) promotes the kidneys to clear toxins.
    Nutraceuticals (supplements) that support liver health (milk thistle, SAMe, etc.) can also aid the liver in clearing toxins.
    Good luck,
    Dr. PM

  • Shampoo
    02/15/2014 12:53pm

    Ive been using this popular salon brand name, which they make a pet line, on Xena, whos battling cancer, for years now...Ive noticed they ALL (5) have cocamide DEA in them..Ive contacted the comapny just asking if they are "safe".. Ive been using this brand for as long as its been on the market.
    I"m shocked!! I listened to your podcast and heard you speaking of an ingredient, so this is what made me look at what I use..
    So upset!! They call this SAFE?????

  • I used this product
    01/31/2015 09:26pm

    My saga began last August 2014, when my beloved Abby was x-rayed and found to have cancer...a few days later he was seen by oncology then 2 days later leg amputation. The suture site became infected due to licking as a result of an improper e-collar then 2 more procedures to fix that. Then back to oncology 2 weeks later for more imaging to see if there was metastasis. There was and pathology diagnosed hemangiosarcoma. I managed to say "no" to chemotherapy and made a decision to travel nearly 4 hours to the only certified homeopathic vet in the state of Virginia. After the remedy was administered my sweet Abby seemed to be OK but perhaps a little depressed due to losing his leg so I started him on rehab. The rehab vet suggested Epi-soothe to address some irritation on Abby's other rear leg. Soon after using this product Abby developed a sore on top of his head. Abby needed to be euthanized on Dec. 25th. I then began researching Epi-soothe because I became suspicious that there was a connection between the sore (others followed) and Epi-Soothe. I contacted Virbac - their response was that DEA is derived from plant material and has not been shown to be harmful. I am incredibly upset that I used this product on Abby. I believe this product sabotaged the homeopathic remedy that was administered to Abby. I want to hold Virbac accountable for their wrongdoing in promoting this product to veterinarians. It's wrong...not only was my beloved dog exposed, I was also exposed to this harmful chemical which is the second and third ingredient in this product (2 forms of the same chemical).

  • 07/30/2015 02:14am

    My dog, Bella was diagnosed with cancer in Aug. 2014. got the diagnosis on a Tues. and she had her leg amputated on Thursday. 4 weeks later another tumor was found(different type of cancer) and she again went through another surgery. She has been on chemo meds since that time and seems to be doing well. 4 more weeks on the meds and she will be finished. My previous vet recommended episoothe shampoo for her because of her itchy skin. I was also given resicort as a leave on lotion, also made by Virbac! I was shocked when I read that episoothe had DEA. I have used that product for over 8 years and am now wondering if it is the cause of my Bella's multiple cancers. Very upset about this. i want to know where I can find more info in the subject. Can anyone help?

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