Sulfates: it turns out they're all around us, in our air, water, food, medications and hygiene products -- it's true for us and also true for our beloved pooches. The name "sulfate" can sound chemically and scary -- so what are they really and what are their effects?
What They Are
Sulfates are officially considered salts: combinations of sulfur and other minerals that readily dissolve in water. These salts are all over the place because they arise spontaneously from the breakdown of other stuff. This breakdown can be natural, like the decay of plants and animals, or industrial, like from coal-fired power production. When it's an industrial sulfate, we call it pollution (and there's usually a lot more of it), and when it's a natural sulfate, we usually just call it stinky, but the sulfates are the same and have the same potential effects.
Where They're Found
Some foods, like wine for us and some pet food ingredients for our furry friends, contain sulfates because they occur naturally during the production process. These aren't the same as sulfites, or chemical food preservatives.
Drinking water and air are main sources of sulfate exposure, where they can cause air and water quality and acid rain issues and certain health impacts on us and our beloved pets.
How They Affect Your Pup
Sulfates are considered an irritant rather than a carcinogen (cancer causer) or teratogen (birth defect causer -- the name literally means "monster maker"). Not all pooches (or people) are sensitive to them, but those who are can suffer a range of symptoms from irritation to illness.
Super-sensitive pups (and people) can taste sulfates in water, leading to dehydration if they find this rotten-egg flavor particularly unpalatable. Sulfates in water and food can cause digestive upset (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite). Many sensitive humans report headaches, dizziness and nausea after ingesting sulfates, but we don't know if this is also true for our pups. Airborne sulfates can cause irritated, red, runny eyes and respiratory irritation that can make cold and allergy symptoms worse.
Why Take Them on Purpose
Many veterinary drugs are sulfate-based: the active ingredients are formed into dissolvable sulfur-containing salts. Veterinary pharmaceutical sulfates are also everywhere; they include drugs to treat digestive disorders, degenerative joint disease and arthritis, surgical pain, and topical antibiotics, antifungals and eye creams. Sulfates are also common in shampoos and other grooming products.
If your pup is sulfate-sensitive, his side effects may include all of the general sulfate effects. However, it's important to remember that, like with food allergies, most dogs will not be sensitive or allergic to these products. Side effects are much more likely from the active ingredients in the drugs.
If you suspect you have a sulfate-sensitive pooch on your hands, keep a diary of his reactions and which products cause them, and use it to consult with your vet about sulfate-free prescriptions and how best to avoid food, grooming and environmental exposure.