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Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans

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Holistic Pet Care

Your animal companion can become an eco-friendly pet for an eco-friendly pet owner as you implement green living practices into your animal’s care.

Feeding your pet sustainably produced and organic foods, using green pet products, and keeping as much pet waste out of the landfill as possible are simple ways to green your pet’s experience with the world.

Pet Food Recall

The recent recall of more than 100 brands of dog and cat food, due to contamination by the industrial chemical melamine, has motivated many pet owners to look more closely at the practices of commercial pet food manufacturing.  Many of the brands recalled were some of the best known and dearly trusted—brands allegedly committed to producing a wholesome, high-quality product that pet owners could feel secure about feeding to their animals.  This calamity revealed that even some brands of pet food advertised as “premium” are being made with very low-quality ingredients.

All of the contaminated food was traced back to an imported shipment of wheat gluten and rice protein from China, to which the melamine had been added.  Since the initial discovery, other nations and sources have been implicated for similarly tainted products, which raises concern that this could be a pandemic global phenomenon.  It was at first unclear why the chemical caused animal kidney failure when ingested—melamine has reportedly been added to pet food for years as a cheap way to make the protein content seem higher.   In May 2007, scientists discovered that the melanine clashed with another added chemical, cyanuric acid, causing a toxic reaction.

…even some brands of pet food advertised as “premium” are being made with very low-quality ingredients.

pets1.pngThough all of the pet food suspected of containing the contaminated wheat gluten has been recalled, pet owners should still be wary.  Keep in mind that products labeled “premium” or “gourmet” are not required by FDA standards to contain any different or higher quality ingredients, nor are they held to any higher standards compared with their non-premium counterparts.

With limited federal regulations imposed on their practices, pet food manufacturers are permitted to include in their products a wide array of non-nutritive fillers, chemicals, slaughterhouse wastes, and rancid or moldy grains that are unacceptable for human consumption.   As a consumer representing your pet, it is important to be aware that pet food labels can be deceptive, with potentially toxic ingredients hidden behind seemingly innocuous descriptions.

Beware of the word “by-products” in any form when it is listed as an ingredient in your pet’s food.  By-products can, and do, include the parts of slaughtered animals that are not meat, including diseased organs and other “waste” materials that would otherwise have to be thrown away.

Certified organic pet food must meet strict standards set by the USDA, which spell out how ingredients in the food are produced and processed.  Buying pet food bearing an FDA approved “organic” classification is one sure-fire way to avoid by-products.  Growing awareness about the questionable nature of commercial pet food has inspired an abundance of organic pet foods for the choosing.  Pet owners seeking alternative natural diets for their companions can now find a wide variety of “green” pet foods that are free of hormones, chemicals, genetically-modified ingredients, and artificial flavors and coloring.  Small-scale, sustainable pet food companies abound, engaging in community-based endeavors with local, organic livestock farmers.  Knowing firsthand the farmer’s production methods and values, these companies offer a modern antidote to the dangers and deceptions inherent in the bottom line relationship between livestock farmers and pet food manufacturers.  As these industries team up with a shared commitment to quality and to the environment, their combined efforts will go a long way toward preventing illness and disease in your pet and ensuring the longevity of our planet.

Pet owners seeking alternative natural diets for their companions can now find a wide variety of “green” pet foods that are free of hormones, chemicals, genetically modified ingredients, and artificial flavors and coloring.

While feeding your pet certified organic food certainly ensures his or her diet is natural and nutritious, the only way to know exactly what goes into your pet’s food is to make it yourself.  Many people make their own pet food, especially in the aftermath of several recalls, and there are plenty of books and online resources readily available to guide and educate pet owners who are interested in making the shift to home-cooking for their pets.  While ratios of protein, vegetable, and carbohydrate in homemade pet food recipes tend to vary, generally the rule for a good balance is 40% proteins, 30% vegetables, and 30% carbohydrates.  Once you have found the right balance and consulted with your vet to ensure that the nutrients your pet is receiving are adequate, you can mix up a couple of batches a week and store them appropriately.  Many pet owners who make their pets’ food at home report astonishing improvements in the health and vitality of their animals, after even a short period of time on home-cooked food.

Toxic Treatments

Green pet care extends beyond the realm of a healthy diet.  Another important factor to consider is avoiding the use of potentially toxic chemicals in over-the-counter flea medications.  Though these treatments are efficient at eradicating fleas and marketed as “safe” for your pet, they are made with powerful chemicals, the long-term effects of which are still unknown.  Laboratory tests from some studies have linked their active ingredients to serious health problems.  Instead of taking a risk with your pet’s health, combat fleas the natural way by frequent and thorough vacuuming (disposing of the vacuum bag afterwards), bathing and combing your pet often, using herbal flea repellents such as pennyroyal, and adding garlic and brewer’s yeast to your pet’s food.

Waste

Cat and Dog As much as you want to minimize the harmful effects of the environment on your pet, it is also essential to be aware of ways that you can reduce your pet’s “pawprint” on the planet.  Yearly, approximately 10 million tons of pet waste travels to the nation’s landfills, with 2 million of those tons alone attributed to non-biodegradable cat litter.  Clay-based cat litter is not an eco-friendly pet product—choose instead from the assortment of biodegradable and organic litters made from plant-based material.  You can find them made out of everything from corn to recycled newspaper to green tea leaves.  Not only are these litters eco-friendly, they are more cat-friendly too by providing a softer and more pleasant environment in which your cat may go about his or her business.

The dog owner’s equivalent to eco-friendly litter is the biodegradable waste bag.  It is important to pick up after your dog, most obviously because not doing so forces others to have to deal with it.  But not picking up your dog’s waste has even larger ramifications—it can be washed by rain into a storm drain that empties into a lake or stream, thereby polluting a water source.  And yet, wrapping your dog’s waste in a plastic bag and tossing it into the garbage isn’t the most ecologically sound choice either.  The plastic bag and its contents will sit in a landfill, unchanged, for a very long time.  On the other hand, the biodegradable bag allows everything to decompose, reducing landfill waste to some extent.

San Francisco has recently taken the issue of pet waste to a whole new level, when, in 2006, it became the first city in the nation to launch a program converting pet waste into energy.  Pet waste, collected in biodegradable bags provided at a local dog-walking park, is dropped into receptacles called “methane digesters.”  These methane digesters are specifically designed to convert waste into methane, which can in turn be piped directly into a gas stove, heater, or any appliance powered by natural gas.  Advocates of the method predict that individual homes could be running on converted methane within the next few years.  The success of the project will likely spur other cities to implement similar programs, in which a form of sustainable energy is provided very naturally by that ever-lovable creature we call “man’s best friend.”

While it is true that they are dependent on us to look out for their welfare, to make sure the food we feed them is wholesome and the products we use on them are safe, it may also prove true that our pets turn out to be our rescuers, by contributing what they can toward healthy practices for our planet.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid





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