Welcome to Part Three of our Holistic Pet Care series! In this final article, we address the serious topic of the increased exposure of our pets, our children, and our planet to toxic chemicals. This is a huge topic suitable for a more extended article; but for the moment, we want to get you thinking about the effects of toxic chemicals on your pets and your families, give you a few suggestions for reducing your dependence on these chemicals, and suggest some helpful resources to take you further.Our free eBook,Holistic Pet Care Resource Guide, is now available for download! It will educate, inspire and encourage you as you adopt a healthier lifestyle for you, your pet and your family!
My home? Toxic?! No way!!
It isn't surprising that many of us simply cannot imagine that our homes are “toxic!”
In recent decades, chemicals have become more and more a part of our daily lives; but it has happened so gradually, we may not even be aware just how “chemically-dependent” we have become! As Shell Global says on their website, “Chemicals have given us energy-efficient homes, more comfortable bedding, smoother skin creams, more affordable clothing and longer-lasting paints.” This is true, of course; but in far too many cases, these same chemicals are proving to be toxic to pets, people and the planet. More than 80,000 chemicals have been manufactured since World War II, but less than twenty per cent of them have been tested for toxicity. That means the jury is still out on thousands of chemicals we are exposed to every day.
However, there is hope. There are steps you can take right at home to minimize your family’s exposure to toxic chemicals. Three steps in particular will significantly reduce chemical exposure in your home and even your yard.
1. Toxins in Our Homes
Not convinced you’re “chemically-dependent?”
Try this: Go through your kitchen and bathroom cabinets and remove all your cleaners, deodorizers, dish soaps, disinfectants, polishes, etc. Check the ingredients and the warning labels. You may be surprised how many potentially harmful chemicals you use to keep your home clean, polished, dust-free and fragrant! Do the same thing in your bathroom and laundry room.
If the thought of detoxifying your home is overwhelming, take heart. A toxin-free lifestyle usually doesn’t happen overnight. Be kind to yourself and take one step at a time. Even small changes can make a big difference for the health of your family.
Aiming for a toxin-free home
If you’re looking for alternatives to harmful chemicals, there’s plenty of information on the Internet; but be sure you’re going to reputable sites. Three sites you can trust are Environmental Working Group, Rodale News, and Women’s Voices for the Earth. In the meantime, here are three simple steps you can take to make your home safer for your pets and your entire family.
- Make your own cleaning products. Household cleaners are prime contributors to indoor pollution and have been linked to cancer in both humans and pets. Find helpful “recipes” for making your own cleaners at Women's Voices for the Earth.
- Avoid synthetic fragrances, whether in air fresheners, laundry detergents or personal care products. They can contain hundreds of chemicals, yet companies are not required to reveal them to the consumer. Look for “fragrance-free,” not just “unscented!”
- Turn down the heat on non-stick cookware. Fumes can be deadly to birds in particular and an irritant to other pets and children. Choose cast iron or stainless steel pans for cooking.
Did you know that PurSpray Pet Care is not only a powerful treatment for your pet's skin, eyes and ears, but also an effective 100% non-toxic cleaner?Clean your pet's living areas and toys; clean up after accidents or slobbers; use on any surface that gets "germy." Ingesting or inhaling PurSpray Pet Care will not harm your pet.
2. Toxins on Our Pets
Would you ask your child to wear a necklace containing pesticides? Probably not. Yet every year, we put pesticides in the form of flea collars on our dogs, who then, by the way, snuggle with our children. Something is wrong with this picture.
Respected holistic veterinarian, Dr. Richard Pitcairn, says, “The worst environmental pollutants that threaten pets are surely the poisons that well-meaning owners regularly dip, spray, collar and shampoo directly onto and into their flea-bitten companions.”
Is there a better way?
Once again, flea prevention is a very broad topic, so I will focus on a few non-toxic alternatives to flea prevention and treatment and share some recommendations on how to use chemical treatments with minimal risk.
First of all, ask yourself this question: Does my dog really need a flea collar?
If fleas are only a seasonal nuisance in your area; or if you are careful to keep your dog out of areas with high grasses or low-hanging branches; and he has minimal contact with other pets, then you have a really good chance of keeping him flea-free by adopting a few simple habits.
If, on the other hand, you know your pet has high exposure to fleas or is highly allergic to flea bites, you may find that a chemical preventive is your only solution. We will give you some tips for minimizing the dangers of chemical treatments below; but first, let’s look at some non-toxic options.
Discouraging Fleas the Non-Toxic Way
Before you resort to toxin-laden flea collars, try these simple, natural preventives first. Yes, they require some diligence; but the big pay-off will be eliminating exposure of your pet and your children (or grandchildren) to dangerous chemicals.
- During flea season, walk your dog on a leash or confine her to your yard -- after you’ve de-toxified your yard, of course! More on that below.
- Run a flea comb through his coat at least once a day. Rinse the comb in hot soapy water between strokes.
- Wash her bedding (and yours, too, if she sleeps with you!) in hot soapy water at least once a week, daily if you suspect a problem.
- Vacuum carpets and mop floors often to remove flea eggs (replace the vacuum bag frequently).
- If you think there may be fleas or their eggs in your carpeting, try sprinkling with diatomaceous earth, or DE, a non-toxic insect killer made from the fossilized remains of tiny, aquatic organisms called diatoms. Allow it to sit for several hours or, if possible, overnight, then vacuum it up. (While DE is non-toxic, it can irritate your lungs; so wear a dust mask.)
- Adopt healthy feeding and exercise habits for your pet! Many vets claim that healthy pets simply don’t get fleas or ticks, which are naturally attracted to weaker hosts. Check out our article on choosing healthy pet foods for some advice as well as Part One of our Holistic Pet Care series for more helpful tips on nutrition and exercise.
Using Chemical Treatments Safely
If you find that you’re losing the battle with fleas, then you may need to consider a chemical alternative. But first, a word to the wise from Nancy Kerns, Editor of Whole Dog Journal:
“Don’t use a shotgun when a rifle will do the trick.”
In other words, use the least toxic product possible for as short a time as possible. Manufacturers love to make money, and that means telling you your pet needs their product every month, all year long. Avoid multi-target products that may not be necessary (e.g. products that also protect against ticks or heartworm). For a user-friendly list of flea and tick products rated for their potential risk, check out GreenPaws Flea and Tick Directory.
The following recommendations come from Nancy Kerns’ article, “Protecting Your Home From Fleas” (Whole Dog Journal, Jan 2014).
- Be sure you read the entire label, note any warnings, and follow directions to the letter. Remember, you’re applying a toxic chemical to your pet!
- Note cautions regarding pets that are most apt to be harmed by the product, e.g. pets that are old, sick, debilitated, underweight, medicated, very young, or very small.
- Use the smallest effective dose indicated. Doses are generally determined by the weight of your pet. If you’re unsure which weight category is best for your pet, choose the product for the smaller dog.
- If a product recommends caution in using the product on a medicated dog, don’t use it on your medicated dog! Manufacturers are not as explicit as they should be when it comes to such cautions, so it’s best to avoid that product entirely.
- Absolutely avoid products with propoxur or tetrachlorvinphos, both considered harmful for pets and people. For lower risk products, The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) recommends those that contain pyriproxyfen, nitenpyram, spinosad, S-methoprene, or lufenuron as the active ingredient.
- Be especially careful if you have cats in the house! Products that are formulated for dogs can be highly toxic to cats. If your dog and cat share bedding, lick or groom each other, even snuggle together, using any of these types of products could be fatal to your cat.
- Be vigilant and watch your dog for signs of allergic reaction. Don't just "apply and forget!"
3. Toxins on Our Lawn
All of us love lush, green, weed-free lawns. Every year, over 70 million tons of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers are applied to residentiallawns and gardens; and while they may give us the beautiful yards we long for, they come at a high price to the environment, our children and our pets. The latter two are particularly vulnerable to toxins in our yards, as they love to roll and play in the soft grass, and then put their fingers in their mouths (the children, of course) or lick their paws and fur (the pets, of course). They also track the chemicals into the house where the exposure continues.
Hundreds of articles have been written on the effects of lawn treatment chemicals on all of us; but suffice it to say that lawn treatments can double the risk of canine lymphoma and increase by four to seven times a dog’s chances of getting bladder cancer.
What's the solution?
First, take these simple steps to encourage a healthy lawn without toxic chemicals.
- Mow your lawn often, but not too short. A scalped lawn is more susceptible to weeds and less able to cope with drought. Mow often, removing just 1/3 of the grass’s height to encourage a thicker, healthier lawn.
- Water deeply but not too often. Watering deep means the roots go deep, producing a hardier lawn. Too-frequent watering also encourages certain weeds, like annual bluegrass.
- Leave the clippings on the lawn, as they contain nitrogen and other nutrients. A mower that mulches is helpful, but if you’re removing just a small amount of grass, a mulcher is not necessary.
- If your soil is hard-packed, consider renting an aerator. Be sure it’s the type that removes plugs of soil rather than just slashing.
- Know your weeds. Each type of weed is telling you something about the soil and what it needs. Here’s a helpful articleif you want to learn how to "read your weeds."
Also check outRodale's simple tips for an attractive lawn and garden!
Second, go natural and organic whenever possible.
If you can afford an organic lawn care company, go for it. If not, there are products available that you can apply yourself. For example, corn gluten is considered a great fertilizer. The internet, of course, is loaded with all kinds of information about organic gardening and organic lawn treatment. Here'sone websitewith some great natural lawn care products. As you look for more, keep in mind that terms like “green” and “natural” may be more marketing hype than fact; but common sense and a little research will get you on a good track.
We have reached the end of our three-part series on Holistic Pet Care! If you haven't downloaded our Holistic Pet Care Resource Guideyet, please do! We at PurSpray Pet Care are eager to help you and your family live happier, healthier lives -- naturally!