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

shutterstock_139902808_162We 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 chemicalsknown 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 discoveredEarthBath 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.


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Positively Expert: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney is a Los Angeles-based holistic house call veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist. As a certified veterinary journalist, Dr. Mahaney shares his perspective on current events, public health, and animal welfare. He is a regular contributor to PetMD.


14 thoughts on “Have You Been Bathing Your Pet with a Cancer Causing Shampoo?

  1. Betty

    I just purchased a bottle of Virbac Ecto-Soothe 3X & I am trying to read the bottle to see if it has that specific ingredient. It is not listed on the front of the bottle however 'other ingredients' are 97.85% The back of the bottle is very hard to read, very small blue print . Do you know if that agent is in this shampoo?

  2. Phyllis Riffey

    Thank you Victoria for sharing w me I just checked all my products I put on my babies to see and Thank God don't have but my two wolves died from Cancer and breaks my heart thinking I might have done to them not knowing because I sure would have been better mom knowing what this product done i miss them so much I will be checking all labels from now on for it even on our things.

  3. Shelly

    Thank you Victoria for sharing this information. I have a Labrador of distinguished years who has both diabetes and cancer so we need all the help we can get.
    If I may be so bold, I would like to share with anyone who may have a dog with cancer the names of Dr Damian Dressler and his co-author Dr Susan Ettinger. They have written a book called The Dog Cancer Survival Guide which we have found to be invaluable; helping me to understand and then make the best fully informed choices for Harry once we got the diagnosis.
    It has helped me see that it does not have mean the worst but with all the right tools it can be managed instead. It has helped me change my mind set towards the situation, to understand every step, use it to work with my vet to optimise his well being, how to use medication to counteract side effects.
    He has also developed a specialised medication, which I personally believe is amazing.
    He has a blog about his work and latest research too, there is info on diet, lifestyle, tips for possible cancer prevention; he covers just about every facet of life. There are lots of testimonials to read as well.
    I hope this comment (is ok, as I'm not trying to sell it I promise!) can benefit someone else and their companion with this awful disease as much as it has helped us.

  4. Kirstine Reynolds

    Take a look at the ingredients listed for Earthbath's Oatmeal & Aloe Shampoo. Unfortunately it is not a complete list. It only describes the ingredients in their shampoo, it does not actually disclose them. I am a pet groomer and I have struggled with this topic for a couple years. You list Earthbath and that is a form of endorsement BUT you have to take their word that there isn't anything unsafe in the bottle.

    The pet grooming industry is not regulated nor is the products professional groomers use. Many shampoos are marketed as being safe, but if you look at the actual ingredients you realize that the marketing is all hype. Pet shampoos are not required to disclose ingredients. I will not use any products in a professional setting that I can't see every single ingredient and look them up to make sure they are safe. I recommend the same thing for pet owners. Avoid Earthbath until they list what is really in their product.

  5. Amanda Shaw

    This concerns me as my dog takes Anxitane to boost her Prozac and we used the Epi otic ear cleanser on my clients and my own pets all by Virbac.... Can anyone of authority explain please?

  6. Jim Stovall

    I use a Virbac product for my golden retriever's ears. Epi-Otic. Please let me know if there is anything wrong with this product!

  7. Jim Stovall

    Here is some more info on DEA

    Q. What is DEA?

    A. DEA is diethanolamine, a chemical that is used as a wetting agent in shampoos, lotions, creams and other cosmetics. DEA is used widely because it provides a rich lather in shampoos and keeps a favorable consistency in lotions and creams. DEA by itself is not harmful but while sitting on the stores shelves or in your cabinet at home, DEA can react with other ingredients in the cosmetic formula to form an extremely potent carcinogen called nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA). NDEA is readily absorbed through the skin and has been linked with stomach, esophagus, liver and bladder cancers.

    According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), "There is sufficient evidence of a carcinogenic effect of N-nitrosodiethanolamine -- ." (1) IARC recommends that NDEA should be treated as if it were a carcinogen in humans. The National Toxicology Program similarly concluded: "There is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of N-nitrosodiethanolamine in experimental animals.”(2) Of over 44 different species in which N-nitroso compounds have been tested, all have been susceptible.(3) Humans are most unlikely to be the only exception to this trend.


  8. Pingback: Is This Pet Necessity Causing Cancer in Your Dog? | Haley the Wonderdog

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