You knew it was just a matter of time. There are doggy dietary supplements and organic kitty kibble, so why not a natural pet shampoo, conditioner or flea spray?
A host of companies have developed chemical-free grooming products for all types of pets, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, ferrets and even horses. ?People spend enough time and money researching and buying natural personal care for themselves; it makes sense they would do the same for their pets,? says Nate Camuti, national sales manager for Nevada City, Calif.-based V?tae Parfum & Body Care. ?Have you seen how much money people are spending on pets today??
The answer: plenty. San Francisco-based market research firm SPINS reports that between February 2003 and February 2004, sales of pet food and pet care products in natural foods stores increased 19.5 percent to $25.2 million. And in a report released earlier this year, Packaged Facts noted that the number of new pet products labeled natural or organic almost doubled in 2003, and another 500 products hit the market in 2004. The report, ?Market Trends: Natural, Organic and Eco-Friendly Pet Products,? chronicles $527 million in sales of natural and organic food and nonfood supplies for pets in 2004.
Flora and fauna
Natural personal care products for pets have more benefits than simply making Rover?s coat fluffy. They?re also good for us and the environment.
?Whatever we put on our animals, we?re really putting on ourselves,? says Prescott, Ariz.-based veterinarian L. Phillips Brown, who consults for several natural pet products companies. Anyone who?s ever given a dog or cat a bath knows just how much shampoo and conditioner ends up down the drain and on the human rather than the animal. In addition, Brown points out, pets don?t always sleep where they?re supposed to. ?You put a heavy chemical flea spray on an animal, it goes to sleep on its owner?s pillow, and all of a sudden the owner gets a rash,? he says.
Brown says animal skin can absorb personal care ingredients just as readily as human skin, provided the product can penetrate an animal?s coat. ?The hair prevents absorption of things like topical vitamin C or vitamin E,? he says, ?but they can penetrate in a shampoo or conditioner.? That?s why shampoos that contain harsh detergents or foaming agents can strip oils from pets? skin just as they would in a human, causing the same reaction—itching and scratching.
Los Angeles-based Pet Aromatics has eliminated not only detergent and the foaming agent sodium lauryl sulfate from its dog shampoo and conditioner, but also alcohol, phosphates and dyes. ?Our pet line is comparable to a high-end organic human line,? says company President Craig O?Keefe. ?It?s safe for dogs, handlers and the environment.?
In addition, Pet Aromatics? products are adjusted to a dog?s pH—6.75. This is key, Brown says, because dogs have a higher pH level than humans. That?s why you don?t want to use your own shampoo or conditioner on your pet. ?If you use the wrong pH, there could be a skin rash or irritation, causing the animal to scratch a lot,? Brown says.
Cats also have a different pH than dogs or humans, so feline products need to be formulated specially for them. In addition, Brown says, ?Dogs and cats metabolize ingredients differently. Harsh chemical flea products for a dog could kill a cat.?
But do they work?
Natural pet shampoos frequently substitute coconut oil- or corn oil-based cleansers for detergents, and glycerin- or coconut oil-based foaming agents for sodium lauryl or laureth sulfates. They use petroleum-free preservatives, and rely on essential oils for fragrance and to repel bacteria, fungus and insects. They smell great and leave Lassie and Felix?s coat shiny and healthy. But anyone who?s ever had to bathe a dog that frolicked in a peat bog or a cat that got a little too close to a skunk has another concern: Will natural products get my pet clean?
Yes, says Brown. But he also advises bathing a dog once a month, no matter what shampoo you use. ?It keeps the skin healthy, keeps bacteria from building up in the coat and repairs some of the daily environmental insults to an animal?s body.? He also recommends brushing dogs and cats once a week for the same reason. As far as bathing cats, ?I don?t think I want to subject anyone to washing a cat,? he says.
Herbal eye and ear washes for dogs and cats are a great way to get rid of debris and prevent infections, Brown says. ?But they?re not going to work if you have a serious bacterial infection in an advanced stage,? he says. ?I look at it more as an excuse for an owner to pick up that ear flap and look in it and make sure everything?s OK.?
Andi Brown, director of Palm Harbor, Fla.-based Halo, Purely for Pets, says her company?s eyewashes, which are made for both dogs and cats, have two formulations—an acidic, eyebright-based blend, and a saline, goldenseal-based blend. ?They clean out bacteria and help open up the tear ducts,? says Brown. Halo?s ear wash, which blends antibacterial and soothing herbs such as calendula, chamomile, clove, St. John?s wort and sage with witch hazel, ?is so safe I use it in my own ears,? she says.
L. Phillips Brown says herbs and oils can be effective components of pet personal care products. Pet Aromatics uses ingredients like macadamia nut oil, almond oil, oat flour protein and cucumber extract as conditioning agents. Its products also contain lavender to prevent itching, rose and sandalwood to calm stressed pets and ylang ylang to soothe irritated skin. Halo?s natural healing salve contains calendula and aloe to soothe, and tea tree oil, comfrey and myrrh to repel bacteria. V?tae?s Spotted Dog conditioner has soy moisturizers, kelp, calendula, chamomile and other herbs.
Will fleas flee?
Natural flea and tick repellents rely mainly on the scent of essential oils to turn away pesky pet predators. L. Phillips Brown says essential oils are ?pretty effective, but they may have to be applied more frequently? than flea repellents that contain chemicals such as organophosphates, which destroy insects? nervous systems. He recommends applying natural pest sprays at least once a week. ?They?re not as stable as the harsh chemical ones, but they?re safer.?
To assure effectiveness, check the products? usage recommendations. For instance, V?tae?s flea and tick spray isn?t waterproof, so it?s best used before a hike or other activity where a pet would be exposed to pests, Camuti says.
When evaluating a flea or tick product, look for the following insect-repelling essential oils: citronella, cedar, lemongrass, neem, eucalyptus, geranium, peppermint, citrus, pine and catnip. A University of Iowa study published in the April 2002 issue of Journal of Ecological Entomology found that nepatalactone, a component of catnip, is 10 times more effective at repelling insects than DEET.Essential oils also are used in everything from shampoos to natural bedding sprays to pet aromatherapy candles. The goal is to keep all household inhabitants happy.
?They smell amazing, mainly for the humans, because let?s face it, if a dog never had to take a bath again, he wouldn?t care,? says O?Keefe of Pet Aromatics. ?But dogs also have a heightened sense of smell, so a bad scent in a shampoo or conditioner may be unpleasantly associated with a bath.?
Vicky Uhland is a Denver-based writer and editor.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 9/p. 76, 78, 80