Michiganders wait the long, cold winter for the footloose freedom of summer, and chances are, so do our pets. As the warm weather settles over the region, dogs and cats are just as eager as we are to get outdoors, play and explore, which presents their human companions with special supervisory and grooming challenges. Specifically, pet owners need to make smart decisions about the chemicals they use both outdoors and indoors as well as the products they choose to groom their active pets.
“Toxins in the home are very easy to control,” says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets At Risk Program of the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. “Cleaning products and medicines are the most common of these." Make your own cleaners from non-toxic ingredients or choose from brands offering products with least toxic or non-toxic ingredients. And keep potential hazards tucked away in a cupboard or cabinet. “However, if your animal is especially curious and prone to getting into things, you can always invest in some baby proofing,” says Goldfarb.
Pest control treatments in the home are an obvious potential hazard to animals. Pesticides sprayed indoors have been shown to remain on household surfaces much longer than indicated on the labels of pesticide products. In fact, the EPA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released the American Healthy Homes Survey: A National Study of Residential Pesticides Measured from Floor Wipes that found residues of long-discontinued pesticides still inside homes.
The best option is to pursue integrated pest management — a system that relies first on prevention, non-toxic measures, and human behavior modification (such as keeping the home clean and free from food) before resorting to the least toxic and then conventional pesticides. If pests persist after non-toxic methods have been exhausted, the next approach should be non-volatile baits, spot treatments, and crack and crevice treatments, which are safer and more effective. LocalMotionGreen’s Pest Patrol page has a wealth of tips and online resources for non-toxic and least toxic approaches to combating pests.
As a pest control philosophy, integrated pest management is also ideal for the property around your home. Chances are your pets will spend a lot of time in your yard during the warm months when gardens are in bloom, so producing a beautiful outdoor space without toxins that can harm animals and children is important. Pesticide-free gardens and lawns are the best option, and can be achieved with the help of myriad resources. Meanwhile, animals should be kept on a leash during walks and prohibited from walking on lawns with flags that indicate recent pesticide treatments. Even if your pets don’t inhale pesticides or eat treated plants, the chemicals can get on their coats and into their mouths when they groom themselves.
Pet owners should be particularly alert to the presence of 2,4-D, a chemical in popular weed and feed products (from brands such as Scotts, Vigoro, and Miracle Gro) and weed killers such as Weed B Gon. The chemical has been shown to be especially dangerous to dogs: studies show that dogs that live in households where 2,4-D or other phenoxy herbicides are used on the lawn are two to three times more likely to develop cancer, specifically malignant lymphoma and bladder cancer. The risks increase further when insecticides are also used. (Read Lawn Chemicals Linked to Cancer in Dogs).
For information on maintaining a lush lawn and garden without pesticides, visit LocalMotionGreen’s GardenGreen Web page.
But pesticides aren’t the only potential hazard. Goldfarb notes that cocoa shell mulch (also called cocoa mulch, cocoa bean mulch, cocoa bean shell mulch, or cocoa bean hull mulch) should be avoided, as it contains two substances — theobromine and caffeine — that can cause illness in dogs.
Because fleas and ticks are vectors of diseases that afflict animals and the people they live with, controlling them is critical. But the chemicals used to achieve this are pesticides, designed to kill, and therefore pose a danger to your pet and also the children who play with them.
As with pest control inside and outside the home, the best approach to protecting your pets from disease-bearing bugs is to use non-toxic methods. Integrated pest management also applies here. Fleas and ticks can be combated if owners regularly bathe and comb pets, vacuum weekly, and wash pet bedding in hot water. Moreover, beneficial nematodes dispersed over the lawn will kill fleas without harm to humans. (Read Flea Free for more tips).
If a flea control product is necessary, pills have been shown to be safer than chemical treatments. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council’s report, “Poison on Pets II; Toxic Chemicals in Flea and Tick Collars,” pills typically contain the least toxic chemicals and do not leave a residue on your pet or in your home. The report also recommends common and effective insect growth regulators such as lufenuron, spinosad, methoprene, or pyriproxyfen.
Be sure to stay informed of pet product recalls by visiting the Web site of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and signing up for email alerts by product subject area.
Consumers have grown more scrutinizing of the chemicals in their beauty and hygiene products, so it stands to reason that they’re being vigilant about the products they use to groom their pets. From ear and eye wipes to shampoos, there are a number of veterinarian-developed products on the market that contain botanical ingredients and natural scents and are hypo-allergenic, pH-balanced for pets, and free of sulfates, parabens, artificial colors, and detergents.
Goldfarb, who uses an oatmeal-based shampoo on his pet bunny, says human beauty and hygiene products should never be used on animals, many of which have thinner skin than humans and a different pH level. Doing so can cause irritation and strip hair and skin of protective oils. Moreover, because animals metabolize substances differently than humans — we sweat out many toxins, for example, while dogs eliminate them through their kidneys and bowels — using the wrong product can stress the organs. And, grooming products made for one kind of animal should not be used on other kinds of animals.
Ultimately, pet owners should develop strong relationships with their veterinarians and consult them whenever they have questions. There are also many organizations dedicated to keeping your pet safe, including The Humane Society, The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which accredits small animal hospitals across the country, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which operates an Animal Poison Control Center hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (888) 426-4435. There is a $65 consultation fee for a call to the center, which manages some 375 cases a day, so this resource is best used when a vet cannot be reached.
Xylitol: A sugar alcohol used as a sweetener in gum, candy, and toothpaste, xylitol in high levels has been shown to cause low blood sugar in dogs, which can cause loss of coordination, depression, collapse, seizures and even death within just a half-hour of consumption. Do not leave gum, candy, or toothpaste on tables or other areas where pets have easy access.
Foods: The Humane Society has compiled a helpful list of foods, which are nutritious and good for people, but can make animals sick and should be kept out of reach. Foods Potentially Poisonous to Pets includes some surprising items such as avocados, grapes, and onions.
Plants: The Human Society has made a list of Plants Potentially Poisonous to Pets. From foxglove to lily of the valley, plants that bring us joy can bring danger to our pets.
Finally, support local businesses that offer non-toxic pet products and supplies. Here are a few in the area:
Dapper Dog Wash in St. Clair Shores uses and sells natural shampoo, conditioner, and scent sprays. Paw cream is also for sale. Conact: (586) 779-9010
PETfection in Grosse Pointe offers organic shampoos, washes, and more for pets. Contact: (970) 290-3794
Pet Supplies “Plus” on Harper and 13 Mile Road carries Natural Defense flea and tick killer by Sentry. Contact: (586) 771-3277; www.petsuppliesplus.com
Published on July 11, 2011