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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Decoding Labels on Pet Grooming Products

Apr 03, 2015 01:36AM ● By Mary Oquendo

Did you know that pet shampoo and conditioner product labeling is not regulated? Manufacturers are not legally required to list ingredients. Some do, but others list by category, list partially, or refer to their MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet). Being an educated consumer is your best bet in deciding on which products to use on your beloved pet.

Is it really safe for dogs, cats or other pets?

As of now, the manufacturer determines this because there is no federal or state agency that oversees safety for animals. Does the manufacturer use third-party or independent testing to come to the conclusion? This is particularly important for cats. Cats have an altered gluconidation pathway, which means they lack many of the enzymes needed to process normally safe substances for people and dogs. Instead of eliminating these compounds out of the body, they are stored in the cat’s liver and kidneys. Over time, this storage may cause organ damage and even premature death.

Some manufacturers will pass off the MSDS as an ingredient list.

Federal law requires manufacturers to include an MSDS, which needs to have the following in whatever order the manufacturer decides:

• Identification containing the product name, company name and contact info, including an emergency number

• Hazardous ingredients as categorized by flammability, health (to people, not animals) and reactivity

• Physical and chemical characteristics such as boiling points, vapor pressure, vapor density, evaporation rate and solubility in water

• Fire and explosion data flash points, extinguishing media, as well as any special firefighting apparatus

• Reactivity data including the stability of the product, incompatible products, hazardous decomposition and other conditions to avoid

• Health hazards defining if the product is a hazard through skin contact, inhalation, ingestion, eye splashes or carcinogens. Lists the chronic side effects, signs and symptoms of exposure, as well as emergency and first aid treatment for people – not pets

• Spill protocols outline the necessary steps to clean up spills and dispose of unused products or empty containers

• Precautions for safe handling and use with protective gear, as well as any other precautions such as proper storage or use around food

• Personal protection shows details about any required protective gear

The purpose of the MSDS is to protect people, not animals. What it is not is a complete ingredient list; it only lists ingredients that fall under the guidelines of the MSDS.

So how do you decode labels to determine if a product is safe for your pet?

First determine if the product’s MSDS lists all the ingredients. Look for chemical and/or Latin names. The ingredients that are usually left off are the ingredients that sound like they may be unhealthy – which may or may not be true. The power of the consumer comes from understanding what the ingredients are.

Barbara J. Bird, a respected leader in the pet industry and author of Beyond Suds and Scents, says: “It is my reasoned opinion the single factor holding back the pet products industry from gaining an equal footing of respect with the human beauty industry is NOT the products themselves, but the steadfast refusal of most pet product manufacturers to completely disclose ingredient information to consumers. This cloak of secrecy leaves pet owners and pet professionals in the dark about what is in the products we use on our precious pets. Failure to be transparent about ingredients leaves the consumer dependent upon marketing information – sales pitch talking points – in evaluating or comparing products. Recently we have seen some companies provide quasi-ingredient lists that do no more than describe the contents of a product. ‘Mild coconut cleaners,’ reveals nothing about the surfactants used; it simply dodges the issue of ingredient identification. Descriptive lists that name only the additives, which form the talking points for selling a product, are no more than an appeasement gesture to wave off our call for ingredient disclosure. The time for excuses has run out, now is the time for transparency and integrity in the pet product industry.”

Another category of labeling is what pet professionals refer to as dodge balling.

The label looks complete, but the manufacturer lists by category or deceptive terms. As an example, blackberry is listed on the label. This is the name of the fragrance or dye. If it were the fruit, the label would read rubus fructicosis, blackberry seed oil or blackberries. Categories might include fragrance, preservative, earth-based coconut derivatives, amphoteric surfactant, anionic surfactant, cationic conditioner, mild coconut cleansers, propriety ingredients, emollient and so forth.

If the chocolate chip cookie industry followed these standards, their labels would read as follows:

Full ingredient list: Flour, baking soda, salt, butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and chocolate chips

“Dogdeball” list: Thickening agents, salt, oil, sweeteners, protein agents, flavoring and propriety ingredients

Green-wash list: Contains flour, baking soda and vanilla extract. WITH chocolate chips!

To learn more about specific ingredients and what they really mean, Bird’s book Beyond Suds and Scents is a must read.

Thanks to Kirstine Reynolds, of Draper, Utah, there is a growing voice within the pet grooming industry calling for transparency from pet product manufacturers. More and more groomers are becoming aware of the importance of understanding the content of shampoos and the products that we are using on our pet clients. Not only are the pets being exposed to those ingredients, but so are their owners and, most especially, the groomers. These groomers are the driving force behind the demand for change from the shampoo manufacturers. Groomers want the manufacturers to stop hiding by completely disclosing what is in their products.

It is standard in the beauty industry to list all ingredients. Real change in this area will change when manufacturers realize that 70 percent of the entire market has pets and they want full disclosure.

Mary Oquendo is a Reiki master, advanced crystal master and certified master pet tech pet first aid instructor. She is the co-owner of Hands and Paws-Reiki for All in New Milford. She can be reached at See ad, page 63.

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