By Dr. Brianne Hagerty, Avery and Bjorn
Living closer to urban sprawl than nature reminds me of how lucky I was growing up. My childhood home was located on a small island. During summer nights the sound of the frogs would form a soothing blanket of rhythmic sound, filling the black sky. Stretching across the meadows of my family’s land, natural ponds formed a swath of habitat for frogs, ducks, blue herons and young eagles to bathe. Our drinking water came from a well, deep within the earth and the edges of the land stretching out beyond us were surrounded by the salty sea.
When I make a conscious effort to conserve water, buy eco-friendly products or make “greener” choices, I think of all the rich life surrounding my childhood home. It doesn’t take huge life changes to be more conscientious of our earth, and below are a few ways our choices around the care of our pets can help.
Buy Green, Be Green:
According to market research groups, 57% of Canadian households own pets and spend 6.6 billion dollars on them per year. With figures expected to increase to nearly $8.3 billion this year, buying green is the simplest thing we can do. More and more all-natural items are being produced for our pets. Soft durable collars made from hemp, plush beds made of organic cotton and even dog bowls made from bamboo are just a few examples. Before purchasing your next nylon leash, remember it takes 30-40 years for the material to decompose. While this may potentially happen within your lifetime, that colourful plastic dog dish sitting next to you will take roughly 450 years to decompose.
Clean Green Beauty Machine:
Using biodegradable, eco-friendly and natural shampoos, conditioners and grooming products are not only easier on your dog’s skin, safer when they come into contact with your own skin but also not as harmful to our ecosystem. Everything that is washed down your sink or tub eventually ends up into our water supply and local streams, rivers and lakes. Ingredients such as phosphates and surfactants can cause spikes in algal growths, while triclosan, found in many “sanitizing” soaps, is extremely toxic to aquatic life. However take care when selecting safe pet grooming products. Some pets may be sensitive to specific oils, and ingredients such as tea tree oil which can potentially be toxic. Additionally, some pets may require medicated or special shampoos, which your veterinarian can advise you about.
Cleaning up after your pet is another area where harsh chemicals and cleaning supplies are often used. Bleach, ammonia, glycol ethers and perchloroethylene are toxic to our cats and dogs, as well as harmful to the environment. Instead, the next time Fluffy “forgets” to go outside, consider natural cleaning products. Ingredients such as diluted vinegar, lemon, baking soda and unscented soaps are a few natural and safe alternatives, which can be made into cleaning products at home.
Doggie See, Doggie Doo:
The average dog produces 127 kg of excrement a year! Hopefully, all of which is being collected and disposed of correctly. Uncollected dog-waste carries dangerous pathogens, including bacteria, viruses and parasites, which are potentially zoonotic (contagious to humans). Rain and humidity help dissolve the fecal material, as it seeps into the soil, which allows it to enter into waterways. According to the EPA dog fecal material is as harmful to the environment as many chemicals and oil spills! So next time you casually look away, pretending to not notice what business Fluffy just did behind that flower bush, stop and think of what damage is actually being done. To improve your Green status use biodegradable pet waste bags. Unlike the traditional plastic ones, which take 10-20 years to decompose in the environment, biodegradable ones are often made of corn or other plant based natural materials.
Washroom care for our feline friends can also be more ecofriendly. Recent controversy over materials produced by strip mining used in cat litter, as well as harmful silica dusts, have spiked a production in more sustainable, natural products. Cat litters made from recycled newspaper, wood fibers, whole kernel corn or maze products (yes, many of these are non GMO as well!) are smart alternatives.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle:
We have all learned the three R’s as ways to eliminate waste and protect our environment. However, at times we may forget these standards to live by can apply to our choices we make in regards to our pet care. Simple things include using reusable containers to store pet supplies in, buying dog treats, bedding or packaged items in bulk and bringing your own reusable bag to the pet store or vet. However, consider when buying any perishable pet foods in bulk how long it will take to use them up, especially if your pet is small. Clean up after your pet’s muddy feet or overexcited water bowl fun with a washable towel or cloth instead of grabbing for the paper towels next time. Reuse or donate items you can’t find a use for again, such as your puppies outgrown dog crate, bed or collar. Maybe your picky feline didn’t like the latest flat of canned food too? These items, as well as other old household items, such as bedding, towels, blankets etc. can all be donated to shelters, rescue organizations and some veterinary clinics.
Lastly, go for a walk! Instead of driving to the dog park or popping down to the corner shop for your finicky feline’s favorite treats, leave the car at home and walk. Reduced use of fuel, reduced production of greenhouse gases and a healthier lifestyle for both you and your pet are a few of the benefits of walking. Just don’t forget to grab your new biodegradable waste bags before you fly out the door!