Pet Products (Part I): Separating the Shinola from the Crapola

There isn’t a pet parent out there that doesn’t want the best they can manage for their fur-babies.

We’ve heard about the nefarious practices of some pet food producers and learned about those suspect ingredients. But that’s all changed now, right? There are safeguards in place to ensure no more death-by-Chinese-chicken jerky. Right?!

Well . . . not quite. The pet food industry is not “regulated” in the same way the human food industry is. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “ensures that the ingredients used in pet food are safe and have an appropriate function in the pet food” there is “no requirement that pet food products have pre-market approval by the FDA.”

Further complicating matters, products manufactured in other parts of the world are subject to different standards. For example, the Food Standards Agency in the UK states that “labelling requirements for pet food are less onerous than those for feed for farmed livestock. For livestock, the ingredients must be declared individually in descending order by weight, but pet food manufacturers have the option to declare them by category . . .” 

In this age of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” it is not safe (or sane) to trust any one source of information, especially when it comes to our pet’s health and happiness.

Fortunately, there is a learned and entrenched army of pet advocates- Susan Thixton, Dr. Karen Becker, DMV, and Rodney Habib, among others - fighting on the front lines for our pets’ well-being.

From time to time - and with your help - Rescue Legacy will expose products that may belong more in a dumpster than on a store shelf. But, we’re not all about hissing and dissing. For we will also spotlight products and services harmonious with our pets-as-family-values.

That said, it’s on to business:

Purportedly developed by veterinarians, Vet Aquadent Anti-Plaque Solution promises to promote your dog’s and cat’s oral hygiene and freshen breath. Chlorhexadine and xylitol are among the active ingredients combined in a “palatable solution” to prevent tartar buildup in dogs and cats six months of age and older.

The user is instructed to add 10mL of solution to every quart of fresh drinking water and to change water daily using the same formula. Vet Aquadent has been sold on many online outlets including

If the artificial dyes (FD&C blue No. 1 and FD&C yellow No. 5) aren't enough to raise red flags, the presence of the artificial sweetener xylitol should fly the skull and crossbones.

Xylitol is a sugar substitute most commonly found in chewing gum, though it can be bought in granulated form. While some humans have been known to have minor stomach upset from ingestion of xylitol, adverse reaction in dogs - and even cats - can be much more serious. According to the ASPCA Animal Control Center, there is a strong link between xylitol and liver failure in dogs. Ingestion of even small amounts of xylitol can induce side effects including listlessness and disorientation.

My wife and I discovered this painful fact a few years ago while packing for a trip. I carelessly left a ziplock bag with a few pieces of xylitol-sweetened gum on the coffee table, left the room and returned a few moments later.  Horrified, I saw that our Lilly, the Boston terrier, had ripped the bag open and swallowed three pieces of the gum.

Shortly after a hysterically-placed phone call, we were speeding our way to the vet’s office. Lilly sat in my lap and looked up at me, her eyes half-lidded and cloudy. We set her down on the vet’s examining table and she staggered like a Bowery bum. That night, Lilly had her stomach pumped. We called the vet every two hours for updates. She recovered, but we were told that we brought her just in the nick of time.

Xylitol is third in the list of Vet Aquadent’s ingredients at 0.6% by volume (250mL bottle). Vibrac Animal Health, manufacturers of Vet Aquadent, claim that the levels of xylitol in its product are not dangerous to pets. Moreover, they assert that “because xylitol is rapidly metabolized, accumulation in the body does not occur from one consumption episode to the next.”

True, that smidge of UV rays we get incidentally from the sun every day or that modicum of mercury in grandma’s tuna salad will not kill us. But why would anyone go out of their way to knowingly and consistently welcome a toxic substance into their body? So, what possible reason could there be for including in a pet product an ingredient - in any amount - that contains a known toxin?

Perhaps it is no accident that Virbac Animal Health was on the FDA warning letter list (December 10, 2008) for violations of current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations.

Just because a pet product is on a shelf (or on the ether), doesn’t mean that it’s good for your pet.