Like most dog owners, in the spring I take a moment to assess my stockpiles of Heartguard, Frontline—the normal prophylactics one uses to ensure the health of one’s furry companion. Flipping through the catalog included in my shipment from 1-800-PetMeds, something caught my eye: A medicated shampoo containing tea tree oil.
The substance is quite familiar to me. I’ve been using it on pimples for years. You have to be careful though, because if you use it straight, you can burn your skin.
Now, we’ve got a dog prone to skin problems (mostly white, bully breed). I wondered if one of my favorite home remedies would work for him. The answer was, “No. In fact, be careful with that. Don’t get it on your dog, and sure as shit don’t let him ingest it.” I classified this information where I keep other important pieces of information, like don’t feed your dog chocolate or grapes. I made sure my husband knew, and afterwards, I was more careful with tea tree oil.
That was the end of it, until I saw shampoo advertising a soothing cure for bacterial and fungal infections. While I do understand that often times the difference between a therapeutic drug and a toxic chemical is the dosage (see nicotine), I believe this is a case where caution is warranted. Animals lick themselves and can poison themselves that way. From PetMD:
Although tea tree oil is effective in treating certain skin conditions in pets, it has not been proven to be superior to other traditional medications. In fact, the concentrations of tea tree oil suggested for many skin problems far exceed the concentrations found in most pet products (.1%-1%). The attraction of using a natural product as opposed to a man-made synthetic treatment may not be worth the risk. The use of dilutions of 100 percent tea tree oil should be avoided in pets. It is too easy to miscalculate the amount of oil to use. Finally, oil should be safely stored away from pet access, especially the ingenious, inquisitive cat.
It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think people could see this and use their full-strength tea tree oil on their dogs. Or even overuse the spray and cause mild poisoning in their dog.
Long story short, it’s probably not worth the risk just to use something that’s “natural.” After all, the world is full of creatures and plants sporting impressive venoms and toxins.
Concerned about what could happen, I wrote the company, and I also hope a few people see this blog post and learn something new. If you’d like to write them too, I’m including my letter for you to copy and paste:
I understand you strive to provide your customers with a selection of the best products at reasonable prices. Our family has bought from you before, and will continue to do so in the future. It is with your high quality standards in mind that I ask you to add a warning to the products: “Be Soothed, Tea Tree Oil Skin Relief” and “Be Soothed Shampoo” informing consumers that the dosage of tea tree oil in these products is carefully measured and they should not, under any circumstances, use the full strength tea tree oil that they use for themselves, on their dogs. From PetMD:
A 10 year long veterinary study of tea tree oil toxicity in pets found that 89 percent of owners who used 100 percent oil assumed that it was safe. The researches felt that the lack of labeling was a major reason for the feeling of safety on the part of American pet owners.
It is toxic, both ingested, and applied topically at concentrations upwards of 1%. Better yet would be for you to remove the products entirely, lest dogs give themselves mild poisoning licking themselves. PetMD has an informative article on tea tree oil toxicity, which can be found here:
Thank you for providing a wonderful service for pet owners, making getting what our pets need easy. I know you’ll give this matter the time and consideration it deserves.
Ultimately what needs to happen in the US is for labeling to change. But until it does, we can do our best to speak up about products which may accidentally cause harm to animals.