Pet lovers beware: There’s a hidden danger lurking on the pet supply shelves near you. Certain dental sprays and gels meant to combat tartar buildup in our dogs and cats are doing more harm than good. Some of these products contain a pure grain alcohol content of 25% or more, and that’s conservative.
Twenty-five percent alcohol is what goes into a mixed strong drink. The alcohol content in these sprays and gels only increases from there. While these treatments may be quick fixes in preventing gingivitis and periodontal disease (and are in fact safer alternatives to anesthetic cleanings), they are slowly harming our pets.
Alcohol is a toxin.
In moderation, its consumption by humans is relatively safe. Shortly after ingestion, alcohol begins to be metabolized in the liver into acetic acid, which is not toxic to the human body. The kidneys soon restore homeostasis in the blood, i.e. water and pH levels, etc. they are balanced.
It has been suggested that ever since our Neolithic ancestors began partying more than twelve thousand years ago, humans have developed an ever-increasing tolerance for difficult things. Unfortunately for our four-legged friends, their bodies aren’t equipped to handle the hook in the same way ours are.
The metabolic processes in cats and dogs are much more sensitive than in humans. This is partly a matter of evolution, but not the naturally selective kind. Through selective breeding we have designed our pets to be smaller and more fragile than their cousins in the wild. In beverage parlance, this makes them “lightweights.”
So what does this mean?
It means that a spray of dental spray or a swab of gel enriched with 25% pure grain alcohol administered to a one hundred and eighty pound man would register three times the toxicity for a sixty pound adult black lab.
For a twelve pound Calico cat, it means fifteen times. And while a single application would be relatively harmless, recommended doses for these products generally call for two doses in the morning and two in the evening, day after day, night after night, depending on your pet’s genetic predisposition.
For animals whose metabolic systems are not adequate to process these toxins in the first place, a hundred and twenty doses a month really add up. Then, after their delicate metabolisms kick into high gear trying to detoxify the first dose of grain alcohol, the instructions on the bottle tell you to bombard them with a second, and then a third and fourth.
there are consequences
Their lives just don’t have time to recover. Your kidneys, whose filtering abilities are compromised by alcohol, don’t have time to restore homeostasis in your blood. With each subsequent dose, your workload multiplies. They have to work harder. That’s when the damage begins.
On top of that, another reason dogs and cats can’t process alcohol effectively, even in small doses, is that their livers don’t make enough alcohol dehydrogenase. This important enzyme (found in much greater abundance in humans) is essential in the breakdown of alcohol. In fact, a cat’s liver is so ill-equipped to break down the concoction that two teaspoons of whiskey, according to Columbia Animal Hospital, is enough to put a cat into a coma. A single tablespoon will kill them.
Of course, with these sprays and gels we are talking much smoother amounts and potencies than whiskey measured in tablespoons. But again, the culprit here is the silent guy, which makes him even more dangerous.
Over time, its impact will be more noticeable. When the cat’s reflexes become less feline, the grain alcohol has begun its assault on the central nervous system. When the dog is constantly eating grass to get sick, his gastrointestinal tract becomes damaged.
Don’t wait for these signs
At this point it may be too late.
But let’s not close this article on such a dark note. You see, there are alcohol-free pet dental sprays and gels (including one I highly recommend) that do the job just as well as their toxic competitors. A simple brushing once a week with some beef-flavored toothpaste and the occasional carrot (they’re wonderful for breaking down tartar, if your dog isn’t a picky eater) also works wonders.