Warning about Products Containing Triclosan
By Franny Syufy, About.com
The news is slowly going around that antibacterial soaps and "waterless" hand cleaners containing Triclosan may be harmful to cats if ingested. A friend had received a newsletter from an animal shelter in Ohio, which said in part: "Warning: Cats Sensitive to Antibacterial Soaps!" My correspondent went on to say, "They cited 'a nationally-known shelter consultant' as the source of the information; apparently, most antibacterial soaps contain a chemical called Triclosan, which studies have shown to be harmful to cats and some other animals. As a consequence and at the suggestion of this consultant, the shelter is no longer using antibacterial soaps (since they don't know how much could be harmful)."
It has been suggested in medical circles for quite some time that a thorough washing of hands with regular soap and water is as effective in removing bacteria as using an antibacterial soap or hand cleaner.
It has furthermore been recently suggested that triclosan, which is the active ingredient in most of these antibacterial products may actually be harmful. I have been quite familiar with hospital rooms in recent years, and have adopted the use of a waterless hand sanitizer, as well as a liquid antibacterial soap routinely at home. My cat, Jenny, often tries to lick my hands when I join her in bed at night. It was therefore of great interest when I read my friend's email about triclosan.
What is Triclosan?
The definition depends on who you ask.
- Wikipedia describes triclosan as a "a potent wide spectrum antibacterial and antifungal agent."
- Beyond Pesticides (which is trying ban triclosan) calls it a "broad spectrum pesticide found is [sic] a wide range of consumer products, including soaps and toys." (Emphasis mine.)
- A.D.A.M., an About.com property, classifies it as a poison, if ingested in large quantities, as in swallowing toothpaste.
- The ASPCA has apparently not yet included triclosan in its poison database.
How Could Products Containing Triclosan Harm Cats?
To my knowledge, there have not been any studies proving that triclosan can harm humans nor cats, if used as directed. However, one study, published by the Toxicological Sciences Journal, concluded that "triclosan exposure significantly impacts thyroid hormone concentrations in the male juvenile rat."
Products such as toothpaste, mentioned above, are not meant to be swallowed. On the other hand, neither are antibacterial hand cleaners, but a cat might swallow enough to become ill when licking the hand of an owner who has recently used these products. My initial concern was more that the ingestion of such a powerful antibacterial product might kill off the "friendly bacteria" in a cat's bowels, which might have a deleterious effect on an immunocompromised cat.
Along those same lines, there has been a study conducted to test the theory that antibacterial soaps may lead to bacterial resistance to the penicillin class of antibiotics, according to Kristina Duda, R.N., About.com Guide to Cold and Flu. It would appear that the jury is still out, as Kristina's bottom line was "More research is needed to come to any definite conclusions about the risks or benefits of antibacterial products."
Since the practice of "safe rather than sorry" has served me well in the past, I will personally discontinue the use of products containing triclosan, which my cats might ingest. On the other hand, I will try to use common sense with regard to the numerous other products which contain this chemical. As an example, I can't imagine how my wearing Fruit of the Loom socks could possibly harm my cats. This partial list is astonishing though, to say the least.
The "partial list" mentioned above was pulled from BeyondPesticides.org and includes products like microban kitchenware, toothpaste and mouthwash, deodorant, lip gloss and makeup, and even Petmate LeBistro feeders and waterers (which my cats use).
Not sure what position to take other than to avoid these products where possible in the future. I'm uncomfortable with this chemical around me or my pets.