Whether a dog, horse or cat ‘owner', you cannot help but notice the plethora of products competing for your attention and for a share of your purse. There are grooming products, dietary products, supplements and medicinal products (herbal, homeopathic, nutraceutical etc.). Because you care, you are likely to buy some of these in the course of a year.
It is worthwhile, however, before doing so, to stop and think what the availability of all these products really means. They are manufactured and marketed, not for animal welfare or benefit, but for the profit of the manufacturer and supply chain. In some cases they are, wholly inappropriately, sold through the very expensive method of multi-level marketing, which spawns a pressurised marketing mode, virtually ‘forcing’ product on unsuspecting friends, family and associates. Many levels of marketers in the chain (effectively a ‘pyramid') receive a rake-off of the profit and the inflated price reflects this.
As with any walk of life, it is not wise to seek the advice of those who will directly benefit from that advice. You do not ask a bank where is the best place to invest money! You do not ask an insurance company to advise you on the best policies. For the same reason, it is not wise to be impressed by the claims and editorial eulogies put out by product suppliers on their labels and in magazines. Retailers who have product to shift will not be backward in extolling its virtues. One shocking advertising example, for a prescription-only flea treatment, sold through vets simply asked ‘are you making enough out of fleas?’. Another flea treatment marketed through pet shops etc. for cats is killing some cats. Especially beware professionals (e.g. vets) who promote individual products, whether in person, in books, in articles or on the product label itself. They are not really supposed to do this anyway but, of course, some do and they do not do so without financial reward. Some may even own shares in the company or even own the company outright. Some chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists and other therapists are selling products, along with their services, to augment their income.
The sad truth is, there is no money in health. That simple statement could imply that to create or to encourage health is commercial suicide for corporations and companies. There is also much money to be had, it appears, from cranking up the fear of illness. So, too, with research. Find the ‘holy grail’ and the search stops and suddenly there’s no work. No better incentive exists, to fail to solve the puzzles! By analogy, we already have the technology to dispense with the internal combustion engine but we shall continue to choke on its exhaust gases until fossil carbon fuels are depleted.
Is it too idealistic and unrealistic, to dream of a new era in medicine, which elevates it above the status of marketing, patent nostrums, gimmicks and profiteering, into a true vocational desire to heal?
The market for pets and horses has huge commercial potential. It may seem on reflection, however, that here is an industry which is needed neither by the animal nor by the ‘owner'.
Some of the traps
We think this example takes the biscuit. The word ‘Natural' is the product range name, yet it is difficult to find a natural ingredient! Here's a veritable petrochemical feast. While this example is taken from ‘human' products, it illustrates the amazing and brazen cynicism of some commercial concerns.
Taylor of London's ‘NATURAL' range of Toiletries for hotels is pictured here and the following list of ingredients was copied from the three bottles shown (listed in alphabetical order). Not all of these ingredients appear in any single pictured product:
- Blue 1 – Cl 42090
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine
- Glyceryl Stearate
- Imidazolidinyl Urea
- Methyl Paraben
- Paraffinum Liquidum
- PEG 100 Stearate
- Polysorbate 60
- Propyl Paraben
- Red 33 – Cl 17200
- Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES)
- Tetrasodium EDTA
- Yellow 5 – Cl 19140
Needless to say, we didn't touch these products, except to read the fine print on the bottles.
Products that sound good may not be. For example, some very natural-sounding diets for cats, dogs and feeds for horses contain carrots. The carrots are usually not organic and, as such, the products cannot be endorsed by the AVMC. We often fail to have a good effect on a medical problem if ‘chemical' carrots are fed. There are popular products, containing recycled pig and beef material, on sale for horses. (One notable example, sold to enhance hoof quality, has lately removed the pig-derivative, in the wake of the farm health scandals, but it gets ‘nul point’ from the AVMC anyway, for feeding it to horses for all these years, for profit and for needing to be forced into common-sense action). Many of these are nutraceuticals. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are usually animal-derived products. They are still peddled for feeding to horses. MSM is commonly derived as a by-product of the wood-pulping and oil-refining industries. There are colourants (colorants) and other chemical additives in many products, including probiotics and electrolytes. There are foods that are highly processed, containing unwise ingredients, yet marketed as ‘natural’ products for dogs and cats. This is sadly jumping on the ‘natural ‘bandwagon. Many horse foods are labelled ‘with added herbs’ as if that was a good selling point (on the ‘natural’ bandwagon again). These may just have a sprig of mint added, to justify the claim. The ingredient ‘cooked cereal mix’, to be found in some horse foods, may in fact be more properly called ‘bakery waste', which may therefore contain animal ingredients. Many grass supplements are oven-dried or partially fermented (e.g. haylage) which renders them less than natural as horse foods. Most grass-based products will have been fertilised with artificial nitrogen, rendering them frankly hazardous to some horses and ponies. The word ‘balanced‘ is often used where no such claim can be supported. When we are unable to define the exact nutrient requirements of horses, this word is always hollow. One recent extreme example of such hollow but attractive claims in 2010 is: “fully balanced with optimal levels of vitamins and minerals“. I say ‘prove it! Some expensive garlic supplements are misleadingly labelled to seem pure, yet really contain a majority percentage of cheap cereal filler. Many herbal products are thrown together with an implied medical claim in the name or on the label, yet are made by those who have little knowledge or tradition in herbal medicine. They neglect to say that herbal medicines should be individually formulated for your own animal, especially taking into account other medicines given to that animal. They ignore the fact that really it should be a vet who prescribes for your animal.
There are creams, ointments, shampoos and lotions available, on which there is no declaration of ingredients. The manufacturers may claim the need for commercial secrecy, to preserve their market monopoly. Such protectionism is NOT as important a consideration as the welfare of your animal and your right to know what is being offered to your animal. You are advised NEVER to use such products, unless the manufacturers will divulge the ingredients and then only if they are to your satisfaction on safety and common sense grounds. I once saw a pony patient whose skin had been ‘flayed’ by the application of a ‘patent’ ointment, vigorously marketed for the treatment of sweet itch. There was no list of ingredients and the manufacturers refuse to divulge it. In my opinion, such marketing should be against the law.
There are veterinary creams and ointments that contain steroids (cortisone). This is not always made clear on the packaging or when they are given to you, so remember to ask. Quite apart from the safety of steroids for your animal, these products should never be used without rubber or plastic gloves, to protect you from steroid absorption. The skin is an active membrane, that rapidly and effectively absorbs many chemicals, so gloves are a good routine precaution when handling any chemicals or drugs.
Many dietary products, especially those for dogs and cats, are the subject of laboratory animal experimentation, sometimes of the worst kind. For instance, the brands ‘Iams’ and ‘Eukanuba’ are owned by Proctor & Gamble. Many foods are labelled ‘scientific’. This is may be a euphemism for ‘we do experiments on animals’. The AVMC can offer advice on this issue, to the best of our ability.
Always check ingredients. Research products in depth. Often, what is not said on the label can be more revealing than what is said. If you are not clear what the stated ingredients mean, don't buy!
At the AVMC, we strive to find out the exact ingredients of any product, for which a client seeks advice. We then offer truly independent advice, based on holistic principles (as explained in the pages of this web site) to the best of our ability. Sometimes, however, even with our tenacity, we cannot find the true nature of some products, as manufacturers can be notoriously economical with the truth on labelling and during personal communication.