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Using Pet Remedies on People

As once-rural tradition spreads, experts caution that although some livestock medicines are safe, others may be useless or dangerous.


Sissy Harrington-McGill of El Cajon, founder of Solid Gold, said she uses one of her own products--yucca--twice daily to treat her sore left shoulder. But she quickly adds that the company does not make any therapeutic drug claims, nor does it advocate use of its products by people.

The easy availability of animal medicines stems from decades-old laws that say animals are property. Owners can doctor their pets and livestock, so long as their treatment doesn't cross the line to cruelty.

"That exemption has been there a long time," said Susan Geranen, executive officer of the California Veterinary Medical Board. "Products can be found at pet stores, feed stores and catalogs from all over the world. There is a problem with no control over a lot of things."

To obtain needles and syringes, for example, a buyer need only sign a log book at the feed store counter declaring the purchase is for use on animals.

"Technically, it is against the law" to purchase needles and syringes for human use without authorization, said Larry Allen, animal health chief with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "But you and I know that we can walk into a feed store and get them."

The same is true for antibiotics and medications, many of which roll out of the same manufacturing houses but with different labels for human or animal use. Included in the crossover uses of veterinary products are the "nutriceuticals"--or nutritional pharmaceuticals--a newly coined term that has yet to find its way into Webster's.

Containing such exotic-sounding ingredients as shark cartilage and green-lipped sea mussel, food supplements for people--largely protected by a 1994 act of Congress--are often duplicated in packages for pets.

Supplements such as yucca and MSM are among the latest rage in health foods that advocates claim do everything from relieve arthritis, allergies and asthma to help prevent the common cold.

Many scientists say such claims are unfounded. Even so, Congress has largely protected the right of manufacturers to market products as food supplements that may offer health benefits--as long as they do not claim therapeutic drug powers.

"MSM is a hell of a lot cheaper in a feed store," said one fan, a marketing executive from Vista.

Animal products are even marketed and sold for human use in mainstream stores such as Wal-Mart. Buyers with no more equestrian experience than a merry-go-round ride are grabbing up horse shampoos, mane and tail detanglers and hoof moisturizers, which are thought to promote strong fingernails.

The trend was launched about 1990 by Straight Arrow Products of Bethlehem, Pa. The company, which has marketed Mane 'n Tail shampoos, conditioners and other horse products for 30 years, learned that its products were also being used by people and began packaging them for drugstore sales. Others followed suit.

The FDA in 1995 issued a warning about product labeling, blocking manufacturers who made unsubstantiated claims, such as saying that products help hair or fingernails grow.

"Any time somebody claims their hair is growing, it raises the interest of the FDA," said Devon Katzev, president and CEO of Straight Arrow. "We don't make that claim." However, he added that the company's "human business is bigger than our animal business."

"Sales took off" when the company recently introduced a 6-ounce version of its 32-ounce jar of Hoofmaker moisturizer, said Ed Kline, Straight Arrow's vice president of sales and marketing.

"My wife wouldn't go anywhere without a bottle of Hoofmaker," Kline said. "You can't carry around a 32-ounce bottle."

Horse Liniment for Humans

Absorbine Veterinary Liniment, patented in 1892, is considered the original crossover product. A staple in every barn, the ointment was so popular among farm families that the W.F. Young Co. of Springfield, Mass., introduced a human version, Absorbine Jr., in 1904.

The two formulas "have some slight differences," basically in the blend of herbal ingredients, said Jaime Devine, vice president of marketing and the fourth generation of the founding family. But the two products are virtually interchangeable between man and beast, she says.

The company estimates 40% to 50% of its veterinary liniment is applied to humans. "The whole philosophy is if it's horse strength, it must be stronger," Devine said.

She also concedes that the human antiseptic ointment costs more than the animal product, largely because of the testing and labeling requirements of the FDA.

Until a decade or so ago, veterinarians commonly dispensed advice on the application of barn remedies for human ailments. Liability laws, insurance restrictions and professional rules have largely eliminated that, said Dr. Robert Bishop, president of the Washington Veterinary Medical Assn., who doubles as the Island County coroner.

"Veterinarians treating people has become a lot more restrictive," he said. "I don't think much of that goes on anymore."

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