Pet lovers beware: there is a hidden danger lurking on 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 stiff mixed drink. The alcohol content in these sprays and gels only goes up from there. While these treatments may be quick fixes in the prevention of gingivitis and periodontal disease (and are indeed safer alternatives to anesthetized cleanings), slowly but surely they are harming our pets.
Alcohol is a toxin
In moderation, its consumption by humans is relatively safe. Shortly after its ingestion, alcohol begins to metabolize in the liver into acetic acid, which is non-toxic in the human body. The kidneys soon restore homeostasis in the blood, meaning water and pH levels etc. are balanced.
It has been suggested that ever since our Neolithic ancestors started partying over twelve thousand years ago, humans have been evolving an ever increasing tolerance for the hard stuff. Unfortunately for our four-legged friends, their bodies are not equipped to handle the hooch the same way as ours.
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 type. Through selective breeding we have engineered our pets to be smaller and frailer than their cousins in the wild. In drink lingo this makes them "lightweights."
So what does this mean?
It means that a spritz of dental spray or a swab of gel spiked with 25% pure grain alcohol administered to a one hundred eighty pound man would register three times the toxicity for a full-grown, sixty pound Black Lab.
For a twelve pound Calico cat, it means fifteen times. And while just one application would be relatively harmless, the recommended dosages for these products usually call for two doses in the morning and two at night - day after day, night after night - depending on your pet's genetic predisposition.
For animals whose metabolic systems are not suited to process these toxins in the first place, one hundred twenty doses a month really adds up. Then after their delicate metabolisms go into overdrive trying to detoxify the first dose of grain alcohol, the directions on the bottle instruct you to bombard them with a second, and later a third and a fourth.
There are consequences
Their livers simply aren't given time to recover. Their kidneys, whose filtering abilities are compromised by alcohol to begin with, aren't given time to restore homeostasis in the blood. With each subsequent dose, their work load multiplies. They have to work harder. That's when the damage sets in.
On top of that, another reason dogs and cats can't effectively process alcohol, even in small doses, is that their livers don't make enough alcohol dehydrogenase. This important enzyme (found in far higher abundance in humans) is essential in the breakdown of alcohol. In fact, a cat's liver is so ill-equipped for breaking down brew that two teaspoons of whiskey, according to the Columbia Animal Hospital, is enough to put them in a coma. A single tablespoon will kill them.
Of course, with these pet dental sprays and gels we are talking much milder quantities and potency than whiskey measured in tablespoons. But again, the culprit here is the quiet type - which makes it all the more dangerous.
Given time, its impact will become more conspicuous. When the cat's reflexes become less cat-like, the grain alcohol has begun its assault on the central nervous system. When the dog is eating grass on a consistent basis to make itself sick, its gastro-intestinal tract is on the fritz.
Do not wait for these signs
By this time it may be too late.
But let's not close this article on such a somber note. You see, there are pet dental sprays and gels that are alcohol-free and do the job every bit as well as their toxic competitors.
A simple brushing once a week with some beef flavored toothpaste and the occasional carrot (they're wonderful at breaking down tartar, if your dog isn't picky) works wonders as well.