Thursday, April 21, 2011

Take care of your pets and the planet

According to the American Pet Products Association, we’re going to spend more than $50 billion on our pets this year. And we expect to get the best quality products for those dollars.

In fact, pets are so much a part of the American family that the 2007 Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act, designed primarily to protect children, included language that required the Food and Drug Administration to develop regulations for pet food quality.

That’s how serious we are about the well-being of our pets. So it’s of no surprise that animal lovers end up as product developers, and the products they develop are in line with our other concerns – sustainability and safety.

Sustainability takes into consideration not just the well-being of the pet, but by extension, the well-being of the planet. A good example of that is the proliferation of handy doggy-do collection products that keep our sidewalks and beaches clean, PCB-free water bowls, and even poison-free wormers.

Add to that list the high quality cleaning products that protect the health of our pets and the health of the planet at the same time. There’s no doubt there are cleaning products on the market that do a tremendous job and leave your house smelling of pine or citrus – but savvy pet owners expect more these days and they know that some of those products can actually harm their pets.

Since pets (and infants) are closer to the floor, they breathe in much more of the chemical gases put off by chemical cleaners. Pets are also much more sensitive to scent and their nasal membranes can be burned or otherwise insulted by scents we may perceive as “pretty.” For those reasons, pet owners usually avoid cleaners with strong chemical or even natural smells, which can irritate nasal passages and eyes. Chemical cleaners may also stick to a pet’s feet and be ingested when the animal cleans its paws. So, although citronella (citrus odor) works well as a natural insect repellent and is often used both in shampoos and in bug sprays for horses, it is far too strong a scent for use on cats or ferrets. Many cat owners also testify that cats will avoid entire rooms if they have been cleaned with orange or citronella-scented chemicals. A low or no-scent biodegradable cleaner is best for sensitive noses. For instance, a simple vinegar and water solution will clean tiles and glass – and has the added benefit of repelling ants. Other recommended products include natural enzyme cleaners such as Pure Ayre, Nature’s Miracle and Bissell products such as Yecch, Ewww, and Crikey — all available at The Pet Works in Astoria.

“Pet owners are absolutely aware of these natural enzyme cleaners,” said Nick Thompson, manager of The Pet Works. “It’s often also the only way to break down the odor and get it completely removed to prevent remarking.” Other products such as BioKleen products for all cleaning applications can be purchased online, and many pet products purchased both from independent dealers like J.R. Watkins, Shaklee or Amway and in chain stores such as Walmart are pet- and environment-friendly. Other recommended cleaner brand names include Seventh Generation, Begley’s Best, Murphy’s Oil Soap and Mrs. Meyer’s. Some have pine and citronella scents, so know your pet’s sensitivity.

Parents choose no-tears shampoos for their infants, and once a pet owner realizes how delicate the nose and eyes of their pet can be, they will want equally gentle products for pet shampooing.

That’s why The Pet Works sells a lot of Paul Mitchell pet products, Thompson said. “They are soap- and detergent- free and rinse clear really, really well and are tested on humans first!” In fact, in the big dog-wash area inside The Pet Works, where pets from dogs to ferrets to even pygmy goats are washed, you will find 10 different shampoos and conditioners – all detergent- and chemical-free.

Cat owners should note that otherwise beneficial natural oils such as tea tree and eucalyptus can be poisonous to cats should they lick it off their fur, and can even be painful when in contact with a cat’s skin. Thompson recommends LaSalon “Soothe” for cats – which is soap-free and rinses clean.

Pet owners need to be alert when they go out to play, too. Pets who go out of doors can track in even worse chemicals than cleaners – weed killers and pesticides. Even a small amount of pesticide can result in a fatal dose. Although commercial chemicals can be safely applied in pet areas if proper mixing and application methods are used, many pet owners prefer to look for natural weed and pest killers. A good place to start looking for safe pesticides is Needless to say, a pet running through a sprayed field, or walking through a sprayed area, may also pick up a dangerous pesticide dose. Farm dogs especially should be kept close to home during crop or weed spraying.

Dog owners who walk with their pets down roadsides should also keep an eye out for evidence of roadside spraying and keep their pets away from those areas.

By exercising this caution, an expression of your love, pets can be protected from harmful chemicals they may pick up on their feet or breathe in. If proper nutrition is also maintained, they also will be more resistant to disease and allergies.

For many years, a number of pet owners sought out feed products for dogs and cats that had more grains – not just because of a personal desire to “go vegetarian” but also because it seemed a more sustainable and safer option than feeding meat products which were not subject to the same quality standards as those eaten by people.

However, animal nutritionists and veterinarians have discovered that many dogs and cats simply got fat on the grains and some were actually allergic to certain grains. As a result, many new lines of pet food have been formulated to provide pets with the optimal balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates while avoiding the most common allergens. While cats and dogs are not naturally vegetarian, a pet in a vegetarian household can safely share the family commitment to eat vegetarian with a little special shopping. Just two examples of healthy all-vegetarian pet food are Natural Balance brand (available at The Pet Works in Astoria), which provides vegetarian food for dogs; and Ami and Evolution brands, which produce vegan cat food. Check with your vet for recommendations.


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