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10 Ways to Green Your Pet
Our homes (and lives) just wouldn’t be the same without our fine, furry friends. With all the love and attention we shower on our fidos and felines, shouldn’t they get the benefit of a natural, sustainable lifestyle too? Eco-friendly options for cats and dogs (along with many other animals) have multiplied exponentially in the past decade. Food, toys, shampoo, litter, flea treatment … you name it, there is a “greener” version of it available today.
Why is eco-friendly pet care important? “Traditional” pet supplies often include noxious chemicals, heavy metals, inedible animal parts and extensively sprayed ingredients. Not only is your pet exposed to these questionable aspects of their everyday goods, but you are too! “It's really all part of getting back to nature,” says Dr. Jeff Feinman, certified homeopathic veterinarian in Weston, Conn. “It's better for your pet and the Earth.”
Greening your pet is easy. Just follow these ten tried-and-true steps to give your pet a more natural, sustainable life.
1. Find Out What You’re Feeding Them
After the countless pet food recalls over the past two years, it is no surprise that owners are more curious and cautious about what they feed their pets. If your pet’s food does not feature the green USDA “organic” seal or say “FDA-certified, food-grade meat,” you could be feeding them anything from pesticide-infused corn to diseased animal parts. Certified organic products have no added pesticides or hormones, use minimal processing, and are higher in vital nutrients. FDA-certified food-grade meat is AA- or A-grade meat, which is considered safe for human consumption. Many traditional pet food companies use grade D or lower. Your pet may also benefit from a grain-free diet.
2. Change the Kitty Litter
Clumping clay kitty litters are bad, not only for your pet, but for the planet too. Both feline and human lungs are easily irritated by the so-called “clay dust” given off when agitating clay litters. The mining process for clay is also dangerous, destructive and costly.
For a healthier Fluffy and family, check out the variety of compostable, biodegradable litters available. “There are tons of eco-friendly litter alternatives, from pine pellets (made from waste sawdust, a byproduct), to recycled newspaper, to wheat and corn,” says Starre Vartan, editorial director of local green-living guide, Greenopia.com. Three to try are World’s Best, Swheat Scoop and Feline Pine.
3. Biodegradable “Business”
You can’t prevent Scout from having to do his “business,” but you can dispose of the waste more sustainably. “Plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down when thrown in the landfills, and that helps to preserve that squishy mess,” says Wendy Leidhecker of Paw Luxury in Montoursville, Pa. Biodegradable bag choices are widely available, including BioBag and Skooperbox. You can also check out Gaiam’s Doggie Dooley, a mini septic system that eliminates the use of plastic bags.
4. Look Stylish, Indoors and Out
Made from sustainably grown hemp and organic cotton, eco-friendly leashes and collars both look good and are green. Hemp is biodegradable, strong, durable and hypoallergenic, and flourishes without pesticides. Though not all cities have leash laws, keeping your pet tethered is important for all wildlife. Cats and dogs are both known for reduced populations of birds and wild rodents. Check out Earthdog and Planet Dog for long-lasting and eco-friendly options.
5. Washing with WHAT?
Another part of having a lovable fur ball is keeping them clean. When your cuddle monster gets grungy, reach for a shampoo that is free of the same questionable and toxic chemicals you would normally avoid for yourself – parabens, sodium lauryl sulfates, cocomide DEA, cocomide MEA, TEA lauryl sulfate and propylene glycol. Known for everything from irritating skin to contributing to a variety of cancers, these ingredients have the same impact on your favorite pet.
6. Bones, Balls and Ropes
The dangers of lead in children’s toys have been widely publicized, but you might not know that the same dangers apply to your pet’s toys as well. Since dogs love to chew, they are more at risk than cats, but precautions should be taken with both species. “Lead in high doses can also be fatal to adults (humans or pets), and the smaller the body, the smaller the dose needed to do damage,” says Dan Shapley of The Daily Green.
When it’s time to play, reach for items that are made from organic cotton, hemp or sustainable plastics. “Toys spend a lot of time in your pets’ mouths. Toys are sucked on, chewed on, and licked. You are concerned about your pets’ food – you should also be concerned about what their toys are made of,” says Pam Wheelock, owner of five cats and a dog, Rosa, and founder of Purrfect Play sustainable pet toys.
For cats, the concern lies with their scratching posts, which are often made from chemically heavy carpets and glues. More sustainable options are available from Square Cat Habitat (made from bamboo) and Marmalade (made in the USA from recycled cardboard).
7. Sleeping Soundly
When the day (or hour) of playing is through, it’s time for an all-natural nap. Organic wool, hemp, recycled fabrics, organic cotton and recycled soda bottles are the most common eco-friendly elements to look for in a sustainable slumber bed for your pet. Like having organic cotton or bamboo sheets on your bed, a natural sleeping pillow protects your pet during their most vulnerable moments.
8. Free of Ticks and Fleas
Battling the little bugs — fleas, ticks and lice — can seem like a full time, chemically intense job. But it doesn’t have to be. Traditional flea dips are rarely used anymore, due to their toxic contents. “Here you are rubbing a pesticide into the skin — [it] is absorbed into the bloodstream of that animal, [then] circulates all through [their] system. This is done repeatedly during the life of the animal. Logic should kick in — this is not right, especially in older, immune-suppressed or very young animals, which are particularly vulnerable,” says Gloria Dodd, DVM and holistic veterinarian in Gualala, CA. The products usually contain pyrethrins and organophosphates, types of insecticides that are linked to the diseases’ development in humans.
Internal prevention is the first step, which means making sure your pet’s diet includes garlic and B-vitamins. Pests don’t enjoy the taste of animals that are rich in these chemicals. Herbal sprays and natural shampoos are the best options for preventing bugs externally, along with a weekly flea combing. “The first eco-product we used was Happytails Flea the Scene — an all-natural alternative to traditional flea medications,” says Leidhecker. “It has been so effective in giving Lola the upper paw in this flea-eat-dog world and she has not had any issues with fleas and bugs. We have even used it on ourselves before we go outdoors or on a hike. It serves as a force field and keep bugs at bay.” Other useful options include Only Natural Pet Herbal Defense Spray and Doc Ackerman’s Botanical Citronella Shampoo.
9. Come Back, Skittles, Come Back!
It might not seem like the most eco-friendly option, but when you consider that shelter workers nationwide are forced to euthanize an estimated 3 to 4 million homeless cats and dogs each year, getting your pet electronically tagged doesn’t seem so questionable. If your pet ever does get out of your home, think of all the resources it would take to track him/her down without an ID tag: paper for posters, driving around the neighborhood, frequent phone calls. All of that costs time and money, but you can save on both with an electronic ID tag that your veterinarian can implant and track.
10. Take Matters into Your Own Hands
With a little extra effort, you can save a load of money and worry by simply making goods for your pet at home, including food, toys and grooming products. Growing your own organic cat grass will keep your kitty euphoric for many months. A bit of scrap fabric and some dried catnip can be made into a set of simple feline toys in a matter of minutes. Not only will you save on buying new products, you’ll also be saving on shipping costs and the environmental impact of producing those new products.
“If you want to know exactly what is going into your furball's food dish, or your pet suffers from allergies, you can always make your own puppy chow with fresh organic produce, free-range chicken or grass-feed beef,” says Leidhecker. Search for homemade pet food and treat recipes online, as well as sustainable and thrifty pet toy ideas. Looking to keep your furry friend clean and flea-free? Mix your own pet cleaner, treats and more with Eco-Me’s Dog Kit and Cat Kit.
Victoria Everman is a freelance writer, model, environmentalist, crafter and yogi in San Francisco, California.