Monday, April 21, 2008

Minimizing Chemicals for Your Pet's Health

A new study by an environmental group has revealed high levels of chemicals in the blood and urine of pet dogs and cats. (Thankfully, the samples were taken from pets at an animal hospital, not a laboratory!) 35 chemicals were found in dogs, and 46 in cats. These chemicals included flame retardants, mercury, and perflourinated chemicals. Read an article about the study here. There is concern that pets could be mirroring the problem in the human population. In honor of Earth Day (tomorrow) and for your pets' health, here are some tips to help minimize your companion animal's exposure to chemicals.

Carpeting: Yes, wall-to-wall carpeting may look nice, but it attracts and holds onto all sort of dirt, dust, hair, mold, and yuckiness. Not to mention the chemicals used in manufacturing and treating the rugs before they're even installed! Since your pet spends her time a lot closer to the floor than you do, she is breathing in much of this "stuff". Natural wood or bamboo floorings are lovely, and some natural fiber throw rugs can brighten up a room. (Plus, do you really want to vacuum anyway? Rip up those old carpets!) More info here.

Furniture: Yes, I know, furniture can be a bit of a necessity. Unfortunately, furniture that is "stain proof" is often marketed to dog parents, and this generally means it has been treated with extra chemicals. Try to go as natural as possible. Keep your furniture clean and dry, and avoid chemical laden cleansers or odor neutralizers.

Your Dog's Bed: Again, many of these have been treated with chemicals to make them stain-proof, fire retardant, whatever. Some are made of "PVC", which releases chemicals known as phthalates over time. Luckily there are "natural fiber" and "organic" dog beds available. Wash your dog's bed frequently, it's probably a lot dirtier than you think! Use all-natural hypoallergenic laundry detergent, please.

Your Dog's Toys: Would you buy a cheap, vinyl, made-in-China, painted-with-cheap-possibly- lead-paint toy for a child? No? Well, how about your dog, who not only plays with his toys, but puts them in his mouth and chews on them? Many, many dog toys are made with PVC. If a dog toy does not state the materials it is made out of, don't buy it! There are many alternatives--natural rubber, organic cotton, hemp, etc. In general, avoid cheap "squeaky" toys, as these are the worst offenders. There is a very good, in-depth article in the latest Whole Dog Journal on this subject. ("The Dangers of Vinyl Dog Toys", April 2008)

Your Dog's Bowl: No plastic! You don't want any chance of chemicals leaching into your pet's food or water. Stainless steel is the easiest to clean, food-quality ceramic (make sure the glaze is not lead based!) is another choice. Wash the bowls frequently with a nice natural dish detergent.

Food Storage: For the same reason, don't dump kibble or treats into those useful plastic storage bins. Keep food and treats in their original packaging, and close the boxes and bags securely each time to keep food fresh.

Food: Three words: Clean, Fresh, and Organic. If your dog is vegan, you're already doing her a favor by not exposing her to the antibiotics in meat or the mercury in fish!

Water: Get a filter for your tap. Tap water is tested to make sure that contaminants are "within acceptable limits", but I would prefer NO contaminants, thank-you-very-much. The water in his dish should be changed at least once a day.

Grooming: Natural grooming products are widely available now. I have some listed here. Toothpaste can be made out of a simple baking soda/water paste.

Flea and Tick Control: If you must use pesticides, get the stuff from your vet. Avoid over the counter drops, powders and shampoos. Some people swear by adding brewer's yeast and garlic to the diet to repel fleas and ticks. I use an herbal collar on Sable, as well as Tick Guard when we are out on walks. Ticks must be attached to your pet (or you) for 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease, so carefully examine and comb out your dog at least twice a day in warm weather, and remove any ticks you find. Also, any shampoo (not just pesticide "flea shampoo") will kill fleas if you let the lather sit for at least 10 minutes before rinsing. And remember to mow your lawn! Ticks and fleas find a nice home in brush and tall grass. Keeping your yard clear of brush and keeping the grass mowed will keep it from becoming prime tick habitat.

Your Lawn: Speaking of your lawn...your dog probably spends quite a bit of time out there, romping around, lying in the sun, maybe snacking on the new shoots of grass. All good reasons for you to avoid chemical pesticides and herbicides! A study published in the April 15, 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association found that Scottish Terriers exposed to lawn herbicides had four to seven times the risk of bladder cancer than Scotties not exposed! There is so much information out there now on natural and organic lawn care, so start googling!

Household Cleaning Products: Now, come on, you know these things aren't healthy when you have them safely stored high up in a locked cabinet so that no dog, cat, child, horse, or vegetable can come into contact with them. Plus, you probably are aware that most traditional cleaning solutions are tested on animals. You have two options here: go to Whole Foods and shell out big bucks for cruelty-free, super natural cleansers in biodegradable bottles, or make your own cleaning solutions using every day household items, like vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters are widely recommended now, especially for people with allergies or asthma. You can also buy air filtration systems for your home.

Don't forget: Fresh air, Sunshine, and exercise for your pup!

Now, all these suggestions may seem overwhelming, but they are easy to be put into place. And not only will they be helping your pet, they will also be reducing your exposure to chemicals! Good for you, good for your dog, and good for the earth!