Pet owners need to know that not all grooming products are created equal—and can potentially harm your pooch and the environment

Getting your dog back from the groomer looking and smelling fresh is a fantastic feeling, but many common grooming products contain harsh chemicals and synthetic colours, smells, and ingredients that are suspected carcinogens, irritants, and hormone disruptors. These can have negative health effects for both the dogs being cleaned and the humans that come into contact with them. Even if your pet is pampered in a salon, grooming chemicals are spread to pet owners when the dog returns home and snuggles with family and lays on furniture.

And the problem isn’t just surface level. An overlooked health issue is that animals absorb toxins through their skin and fur during grooming and ingest it as they lick to clean themselves afterwards, or lick and chew itchy spots. So if you’re using a shampoo or coat conditioner with toxic or carcinogenic chemicals, not only is your dog absorbing it—they’re eating it as well.

Chemical-based grooming products are also a danger to the environment. Petroleum products washed down the drain can wreak havoc on marine ecosystems and pollute drinking water sources. By choosing products made with organic and natural ingredients, your dog and Mother Earth will be nurtured. If you use a grooming service, look for one that only uses eco-friendly products. If it doesn’t, ask if you can supply your own.


Decoding grooming product labels

There are few legal and regulatory requirements when it comes to the ingredient labels on pet grooming products. Try to source products from companies that voluntarily list ingredients—and ask a question if there’s something you don’t recognize. Look for the following:

  • Biodegradable formulations that won’t harm waterways and wildlife when washed down the drain
  • Products free of synthetic fragrances and parabens
  • Organic oils (e.g., coconut, olive, sunflower)
  • Guar gum and citric acid used as thickeners
  • Scents that use organic essential oils (e.g., lavender, rosemary, mint, orange, and juniper)
  • Vegan: plant-based products always have a lower carbon footprint than animal products
  • Refillable or returnable containers
  • Packaging made from recycled and post-consumer materials that can be recycled.

If you’re buying your own grooming supplies, look for items made from sustainable materials with minimal packaging. For brushes, look for natural rubber and bamboo, and avoid plastic. Dog hair can be added to the compost bin.


Avoiding the “foul four”

The following four dog grooming product ingredients are the worst offenders to the environment and should be avoided:

  1. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole): Used as a preservative in dog shampoos, this
    synthetic antioxidant has been classified as a potential human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It’s been found to cause lung, liver, and kidney problems in lab animals and is banned in cosmetics in the European Union.
  2. DEA (diethanolamine): Used to make shampoos and soaps sudsy or creamy,
    cocamide DEA can cause skin and eye irritation and has been linked to liver cancer, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.
  3. SLS (sodium laureth) or SLES (sodium lauryl ether sulfate): These inexpensive foaming agents are the most common detergents in dog shampoos and can cause eye or skin irritation. The Environmental Working Group has linked SLS to organ toxicity, cancer, and neurotoxicity.
  4. Synthetic colours and fragrances: Meant to enhance the smell or colour of a grooming product, many synthetics are created from petrochemicals. These can often contain aldehydes, benzene derivatives, and synthesizers that are known to cause allergic reactions, migraines, and asthma symptoms, according to a warning from the David Suzuki Foundation. Diethyl phthalate in synthetic fragrances is also harmful when it’s washed down the drain, as it can be toxic to marine wildlife.