Natural and homeopathic products may not be as safe as you’d think

Dr. Ryan Ridgway

Southwest Mobile Pet Care

These days, more and more natural and homeopathic health care products are showing up on pet store shelves. Homeopathic pet care products can be useful treatments and are being used by veterinarians, in the right instances, and many of our pharmaceuticals were derived from nature originally. Unfortunately, most pet owners are unaware of the dangers associated with homeopathic remedies. Many of these remedies are marketed as being safe regardless of the ingredients and don’t contain any warnings. Natural and homeopathic has become synonymous with safety in today’s society, even though some of the worst poisons and toxins are natural, such as Ricin. When taken properly, homeopathic drugs can be safe – if they are properly labeled, dosed and consistent between bottles.  The issue is when they are unregulated and contain the same ingredients as pharmaceuticals and worse.

Taking a walk down one of our local pet stores, we came across a number of homeopathic medications that are marketed as safe, pure and effective. Looking at the labels, we found that most had multiple ingredients that are toxic to pets such as Arsenic, Belladonna (commonly known as Deadly Night Shade), Tea-tree oil and St. John’s Wort.   Often, many of the plants ingredient list contained strychnine. One even had a deadly snake venom and another claimed to be Asprin-free while containing White willow bark which has a milder salicylate than Asprin. Salicin from White willow bark has the same side-effects such as bleeding disorders, stomach ulcers and kidney damage when toxic levels are reached. Still others include Cortisone, a steroid anti-inflammatory that can also cause liver failure in pets if inappropriately dosed. Going on some of the company websites gave an even more interesting picture – small disclaimers that none of their products are intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any diseases or medical conditions.

Another area that Natural has become a label, and doesn’t necessarily mean safe, is in herbicides. We have come across numerous “natural” and “eco” labeled products that have 2,4-D as the active herbicide. 2,4-D can be very toxic to pets if they are allowed on the lawn before it is safe which happens often when you assume something is safe because it is labeled as “natural”.

One of the largest issues with homeopathic pet products is that while they can be just as or even more dangerous than modern pharmaceuticals, there are no regulations governing the proper manufacturing, labeling, safety, efficacy or consistency of the product. To that end, Health Canada has launched the Interm Notification Program to ensure homeopathic pet care products are safe and consistent to prevent toxicities in our pets. It is a voluntary program at the moment, as they work towards updating the regulations on homeopathic and natural products, but will likely become mandatory as more homeopathic products are sold in Canada and the risk increases.

Companies that volunteer for the program are given a Notification Number for each product if they have met the criteria set out by Health Canada. Companies must have properly performed studies that show safety and efficacy, follow the good manufacturing practices and meet the labeling requirements. Much like the drug identification number for pharmaceuticals, it ensures that homeopathic products are safer, more efficacious and more consistent than those that are just a marketing ploy to take well-meaning pet owner’s money.