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

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ
By Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ on Nov. 12, 2013
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

Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ


Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA, CVJ


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