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.