By Daryl Conner
When it comes to choosing products to use when grooming cats, proceed with caution.
Groomers are at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing what products are truly safe for cats because there are currently no laws regarding labeling for pet care products. This means we are left having to trust that the manufacturer has the information and desire to tell us if the contents in the bottle are safe to be used on cats or not.
The reason that we must be extra careful when deciding what to use on the felines in our care is that cats lack the liver enzyme glucuronyl transferase. This means that they do not break down toxins in their liver in the same manner that dogs, or even humans, do. To put it simply, the lack of this enzyme makes cats susceptible to all manners of toxins, including human medications, alcohol, many plants, chocolate and a wide array of pesticides. Sometimes the result of exposure is not seen immediately, but toxins may build up over the lifetime of the pet.
Essential oils can be problematic for cats, and since they are very popular right now, they can be found in many pet care products such as shampoos. Some groomers even use them in diffusers to make the air smell pleasant. Essential oils can be absorbed through the animal’s skin, as well as orally. Since cats are self–groomers and lick their fur, any essential oils applied to the skin and coat will also be ingested orally.
Cats are also known to be sensitive to phenols and phenolic compounds, which may be found in some essential oils.
Cat grooming specialist Sheryl Woods (Wet Whisker Cat Grooming Ltd, Bloomingdale, IL), regarding the use of toxins in pet care products says, “Some common essential oils are tea tree oil, d–limonene and peppermint. Peppermint is used in some ear cleaners and is an oil that contains greater than 20% ketones and more than 8% phenols. Tea tree is in a group of toxic phenols, of which several spices and citronella are members.”
It is not unusual to find products labeled as “cat safe” that contain these or other essential oils. In some cases, the concentration is very small, but due to the lack of labeling, there is no way for groomers to know what the concentration is. Beyond shampoo, pet products as seemingly simple and common as ear cleaner can be toxic to cats. Many pet ear cleaners contain alcohol, which is known to be a danger.
Coat sprays, colognes and even anti–static and dematting sprays can contain chemicals which are toxic to cats.
Kim Raisanen, President of the Professional Cat Groomers Association of America says, “If you plan to use any of these topical products on cats, be sure you know and understand the ingredients. Many sprays contain alcohol or other dangerous chemicals. It is best to play it safe by not using these products at all on cats.”
So, how can you tell if a product is safe for cats? Choose shampoos and conditioners from manufacturers who voluntarily choose to use clear labels and have the least possible number of ingredients. Avoid product lists that are excessively long, choosing instead shorter, more simple lists.
Sandy Gyorgyi, Manager at Showseason Animal Products says, “When you are looking for a cat safe product, be sure there are no essential oils, such as terpenes, lemon terpenes and d–limonene. You most often find these in flea or de–greasing products.”
Products that claim to be “all natural” are not necessarily safe, either.
Mary Oquendo, a popular grooming educator and Pet Tech First Aid instructor says, “I’m not worried about the chemicals in cat care products as much as I am the botanicals and essential oils. Beyond the safety factor, I want to know where things are being sourced and are they free from pesticides, fertilizers and petroleum products.”
Some common cleaning products can pose a threat to cats in the grooming environment. Phenol based cleansers such as Lysol and Pinesol can cause allergic reactions or worse if cats come into contact with them. If the cat ingests the products, they could suffer from damage to the central nervous system and liver.
And here is something you might have never considered; blade washes and sprays, used to clean and lubricate clipper blades, are petroleum based and, any residue left on the blades, can be toxic to cats. To prevent this, a nontoxic blade wash is recommended.
Offering cat grooming is a much needed service. Groomers wanting to add feline care to their specialties should educate themselves on proper product choice in order to achieve optimum results and insure that the pets are kept safe and healthy.