Natural things feel so good and safe. By contrast, we see chemicals and pesticides as being bad and dangerous.
Marketing executives love our love affair with all things natural. A trip through a grocery store is an epic journey into glacial waterfalls, exotic berries, butterflies and cherry blossoms. Natural is a beautiful, safe embrace in a cold and dangerous world. I know this is true. It says so on the soap I bought. Perhaps I should say it was strongly implied.
Nature offers us so many wonderful, natural things. Digitalis, a heart medication, comes from the beautiful foxglove flower. Unfortunately, it’s not as appealing when called by its other name, “Dead Man’s Bells.” Death Cap mushrooms are natural. Heroin comes from poppy plants. Black widows are natural, but I prefer to avoid them.
Natural does not mean safe or free from side effects. Natural can kill you.
The problem is that consumers generally stop reading after seeing the word “natural.” We see butterflies – not death caps. Marketing executives know that natural products appeal to many consumers. It’s about time we stop falling prey to sunshine and fairy farts. Natural on a product label is just a sales pitch. It doesn’t tell you anything useful in terms of safety.
Citronella is natural and it is used in dog training products.
What exactly is citronella?
Citronella is also used in soaps and perfumes. It smells a little like lemon. It probably has appropriate uses.
However, there are plenty of things I like for some uses, but not for others. I happen to love capsaicin, the stuff that makes hot peppers fiery and Indian food delicious. I sure as heck don’t want it sprayed in my face or in my eyes.
In dog training, It can be found in sprays and bark collars – sold as means of stopping problem behaviours. The collar is placed on the dog’s neck. Each time it barks, a canister squirts citronella spray at the dog.
Citronella is an insect repellent – a pesticide. It is also one that has been under scrutiny, regulation and banning. According to Health Canada:
The limited data available for citronella-based insect repellents has brought a number of concerns to light. Natural citronella oil may contain methyleugenol, which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies.
Companies that use chemicals, whether they be naturally derived or synthetic file a Material Safety Data Sheet (M.S.D.S.). Pet owners can look these up by searching for ingredients followed by the letters MSDS. You can become better informed with this simple step. For citronella, you would type Citronella MSDS.
One company that uses pure citronella extract states in their MSDS:
Citronella can cause lung cancer if ingested.
Inhalation: Remove to fresh air. Avoid casual breathing.
It’s important to know that most products on store shelves contain multiple ingredients. A canister of citronella spray is not necessarily 100% citronella.
The following MSDS was obtained directly from the manufacturer by trainer Caryn Charlie Liles. You can read her story here.
The safety page for the canister of 1% citronella spray also contains approximately 10% ethanol and up to 90% Tetrafluoroethane. Warnings include:
Potential Health Effects:
Eye: may cause irritation
Skin: may cause irritation
Inhalation: may cause dizziness and loss of concentration
It then goes on to say:
This product is considered hazardous based on the criteria listed in the Federal OSHA Hazard.
Most people are familiar with the effects of ethanol. It’s alcohol. It makes you drunk. What we don’t know are the effects of inhaling alcohol. Who knew, but apparently people do this. According to the CBS it is a new and seemingly dangerous trend that promises to deliver quicker intoxication.
Tetrafluoroethane is a refrigeration coolant – it makes car air conditioning units cold and it is also used in various spray canisters. This chemical is also a street drug, giving abusers an easily obtained rush. Users inhale sprays, leading to drunk, dazed and intoxicated behaviour.
Pause for a moment and think about this. Inhalant abusers breathe these types of products to get stoned. Bark collars spray this same substance in the air around the dog’s face. You might say the spray is not directed straight at the dog’s face. It doesn’t matter.
According to at least one manual:
“The mist if very fine and simply creates a mist in the region of the snout.”
Proponents of such tools claim that manufacturers simply could not sell unsafe products to the public. That is not true. Companies cannot sell defective products.
Most products have some degree of risk. Think of prescription pills. They have side effects. Should you choose take medication, you accept that risk.
A Roger Williams law review paper states that clever marketing can downplay risk in a consumer’s mind.
Manufacturers can remain immune from liability by placing warnings on products while simultaneously undermining the effect of those warnings.
…the manufacturer can simply point to the warning and say cynically, “See, I told you so.”
This means that pet owners need to read warnings while ignoring sales pitches if they are to make an informed decision.
Ignoring MSDS pages and safety precautions makes us blind. It absolutely is easier to feel good about spraying a dog in the face, nose, mouth and eyes with what seems to be a “natural” extract.
Would pet owners embrace spray collars so ethusiastically if the packaging stated:
“Sprays insect repellent, alcohol and air conditioning coolant (and drug used in inhalant abuse) in your dog’s face to stop barking. Side effects may include skin and eye irritation. May cause dizziness and loss of concentration.”
Natural just doesn’t sound so pleasant anymore.
The thing is, most people weren’t sure the problems the dog had after wearing the collar was due to its use, well I am VERY sure, I know my dog and I know her health. This PetSafe collar has the most dangerous poisons for a dog. What if they labeled the collar’ refrigerant bark collar’, how many people would use it?
I am so angry at being such stupid consumer! Why didn’t I read the label before I put it on my puppy? Why do we trust these people, after all their name is PetSafe…right?
I thought the collar was safe until I used it on my 2 year old chiguagua/corgie mix. We had a graduation party and I had no where to leave her. She was scared so she barked about six times. When we got home she was having seizures, she had bloody diarrhea, she wouldn’t eat or drink.
She had a white substance around her nose that wouldn’t wash off. It has been two week and she has been hanging by a thread for her life. This bark collar is not only NOT SAFE, its cruel slow death to the animal. Who is going to sue these bastards???!!!
I have a new dog, a 6 year old rescue Yorkie. He barks a lot and someone told me about these collars. I ordered one because I “thought” they were safe. Mine came today and I only had it on him for about 15 minutes. He ended up throwing up twice – I have had him for almost 2 months and he has not done that. When I Googled dogs throwing up from Citronella, your blog came up. I decided to return it but when I tried to do the return label on Amazon, it is not returnable because it is hazardous! I called and can get money back since it is supposed to have a 30 day guarantee. So much for them advertising that it is safe.
You can’t return it to Amazon because it’s classed as hazardous. Seriously? Oh my.
Yes, I am serious. I was not expecting to hear that. It is pretty scary and deceiving that something that was advertised as “safe” is too hazardous to be returned to them. That doesn’t add up in my book. Now I need to look at local disposal laws to see if/how I can dispose of this.
After using this collar one day, our dog experienced a seizure, foam at the mouth, shaking, and passed out. It make have been a coincidence but that collar will never be used again!
I didn’t realize that the “static” no bark collars are as similar as the shock no bark collars & called the company to return that collar. The rep issued me a credit immediately, but said I need not return the collar, but to give it to another person(!!!). Then I was told by a reputable dog trainer who could help me at home to stop the “excessive” barking, but told me to get the Citronella No Bark Collar. Yes, it worked instantly, and I only left it on my 3 year old Shih Tzu, who did listen to my commands when he was first adopted at 2 years old, for about 2 hours maximum every once in a while in a month. And what I did notice was almost a complete change in personality, physical symptoms, such as: lethargy, no real interest in “playing” with his toys, diarrhea (he is now on a stronger antibiotic for 14 days), not eating as much, not drinking water as much. Until today when I wondered the combination of the citronella spray that either he inhales or ingests by constantly licking over and above his nose, MIX IN possibly visiting a friend of mine across the street who has 2 small mix-breed dogs, and the friend & her boyfriend constantly smoking (I have asthma), no wonder my dog has been & still is sick and not feeling well.
I will be returning the Citronella No Bark Collar today at Petco.
Reblogged this on Live Healthy Nowadays and commented:
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Wow!! I just bought two citronella collars because they’re is no one home with my dogs while I’m at work, and they can bark a lot when people care walking by. Anyway…..this morning, I got home from work, and found red/burgundy spots all over my carpet. Never saw that color vomit or poo from my dogs before. Then I walked my little 3 year old terrier, and she pooped burgundy/red diarrhea. Poor baby. Of course, I’m worried about internal bleeding. I made an apt with the vet. Have no results or diagnosis yet. She is eating and drinking and acting like herself, which is reassuring, but I am concerned about this new collar’s effect on her health. So I’m not using that collar FOR SURE, and am hoping for good news at the vet. Gheeze!!!
I’ve never seen bloody diarrhea as a listed side effect. However, when dogs get severe diarrhea from any number of causes, it can go bloody quickly. I’ve seen it happen from stress, parasites, infections…there was a virus going around our area last year with those symptoms.
Hope you get it sorted out.
I recently purchased two of these collars for my yorkiepoos that barked a lot. Once applied, they stopped immediately. They also stopped eating and within days they both vomited. I removed the collars and it did not help. Our female got worse. She started with diarrhea wheezing and could not even keep water down. We rushed her to the emergency room but sadly she passed. Her brother is slowly recovering. He is drinking water now and will see the doctor tomorrow. Their personalities changed drastically and the reaction was instant. So sad that a product you consider safe is so harmful.
I’m so sorry for you loss Patty. Hugs to your other dog.
Your post really helped me realize this stuff could be poison. I’ve bought some for my babies, and as I said in my post, the little 3 year old is having burgundy diarrhea. Hope it goes away, and that we get good results at the vet. I’m so sorry for your loss.
What a bunch of scare mongering – the Candian report was from 2002 and it seems no follow up was ever done. As for the MSDS you listed from the chiense company you have no idea what the end product is. They may be putting citranella into Pesticide products. By adding natural citronella into a pesicide product yes its still pesicide. You state “Citronella is an insect repellent – a pesticide”. What a load of hog wash. Citronella is a nautrally occuring grass. http://www.nyrnaturalnews.com/article/natural-insect-repellents-that-bite-back/ Your story lacks evidence and facts and the way you write is misleading unless one reads carefully. Citronella is not the problem its what else is added to it that can become the problem. If you add a poison like DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide) to a natural product yes its still a poison but to point your finger at a Citronella tells me your as bad as a reporter who does very little research on the matter and uses sinciasional headlines or preys on peoples fear to sell their product.
Please take a look through the links to the source for the MSDS. It was obtained directly from the collar manufacturer.
Citronella does repel insects – that is why they put it in patio candles…to repel insects such as mosquitos. There is definitely fear mongering going on but I don’t think it is true here.
Thank you very much for that info. It’s very important to know and it’s our job to educate pet owners about those products.
There is a tremendous difference from carrying an aversive tool for an unplanned and serious emergency vs. planning to use a tool on a daily basis as a means of “teaching.”
For example, police carry guns and I can presume they plan not to use them. It’s a method of last resort. You don’t go shooting people preemptively to get them to behave.
I have the same philosophy for dog training.
Thank you for the information. I do not recommend bark collars because they are aversive (positive punishment) and usually do not work to stop the behavior anyway. I do carry a can of Spray Shield ™ by Premier (citronella spray) to ward off an aggressive dog when I am walking Max. I also carry it when I’m at the off-leash park in case I have to stop a dog fight. It is safer than Pepper Spray which can increase aggression and safer for me if it “blows back” in my face. I have never had to use it but I do feel safer carrying it on me. It is not something I would want to spray on a dog for barking! There are positive reinforcement methods to correct that problem. 🙂