THE BLOG
11/17/2015 05:17 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2016

Listerine and Pets: Not Veterinarian Recommended

Paul Bradbury via Getty Images

On November 11, 2015, while browsing the Chicago Tribune, a headline "Listerine Restored Luster to Dog's Once-Thinning Coat" caught my attention. Unaware of the magical power of Listerine, with curiosity, I read the article. Although this article was written in a Q&A format, the implied questioner asked no question. What did follow, however, was a pet owner's description of her pet's skin problem, a non-itching area of hair loss between the dog's shoulder blades, and how she resolved it.

At first, this pet owner sought her pet's diagnosis and treatment plan from a person at a dog show. This person told her it was likely a bacterial infection caused by Staphylococcus and to treat the lesion with diluted vinegar. Unsatisfied with this treatment recommendation, this pet owner next sought the Internet for advice. Here, she learned about the use of diluted Listerine on skin lesions. After using it, this pet owner happily reported that her dog's coat is "back to a beautiful pitch black color, and shines like there is no tomorrow."

In the answer section of this article, columnists Joe and Teresa Graedon endorse the use of Listerine on animals to treat bacterial, viral and fungal infections.

Here are my thoughts about this Q/A piece:

1. When your pet experiences hair loss, seek a veterinarian's opinion. Seeking advice from another pet owner or Internet site may lead to negative consequences. Not all hair loss on a pet is due to a Staphylococcus infection. Your veterinarian is trained in treating dermatological problems and your pet will benefit from his/her professional knowledge.

2. Treating a medical problem with a product that was not intended nor proven effective for dermatological problems carries tremendous risks. The Johnson & Johnson Company, the manufacturer of this product, claims Listerine will reduce plaque and gingivitis in the oral cavity of humans only. This company does not claim, nor has it been proven elsewhere, that Listerine treats fungal, bacterial or viral infections when applied topically to the skin of a dog.

3. Treating a medical problem in a pet with a product designed and tested on humans only can be dangerous. Dogs and cats frequently metabolize drugs differently than people. Most pet owners are not capable of reading an ingredient list on a drug label to know which active ingredients, or their concentrations, are toxic to pets. Fortunately, the very low level of methyl salicylate in Listerine is non-toxic to dogs. However, Listerine Original has an alcohol content of 26.9%, which if applied directly to inflamed or irritated skin, can be painful. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian before medicating your pet.

4. I know of no veterinary dermatologist that would recommend Listerine as a drug of choice to treat a dermatological problem on a pet. Fortunately, there are a number of proven veterinary medicinal products, whether topical or oral, that would be safe and effective for treating a dermatological problem on a dog.

5. I question the accuracy of this pet owner's diagnosis and the reason for success of her therapy. Although I've not examined this pet, I can only speculate what it was she saw. It is quite unusual to have an isolated bacterial infection in between the shoulder blades of a dog. Perhaps, it was a reaction to an insect bite or a topical flea and tick control product. Was it just coincidental that this lesion resolved with Listerine treatment? I wonder if this lesion would have resolved with no treatment and just the passage of time.

As a pet owner and caregiver, be wise on where you seek your medical advice. Check out the credentials of the authors of the articles you are reading and scientific proof of their claims. Should a journalist be making unsupportive medical claims? Don't be fooled by the benefits of pursuing a "home remedy" over a scientifically proven product. Listerine is a mouthwash designed to decrease plaque and gingivitis in your oral cavity. Just because Listerine freshens your breath, doesn't mean it will brighten your pet's coat. For your pet's health concerns, seek advice from your veterinarian and your pet will benefit.

Dr. Donna Solomon is a veterinarian at Animal Medical Center of Chicago and invites you to email her questions or future topic ideas to doctors@animalmedicalcenterofchicago.com