5 tips for greener living for you and your pet

Illustration by Mike Wohlberg

Illustration by Mike Wohlberg

Pet Sense

by Lauren Johnson

When it comes to protecting the environment, it’s good to get the whole family involved —including our four-legged friends. Doing your research and being a savvy consumer can also create a healthier environment for both you and your pet. Here are a few ways to get you started.

The Nose Knows
If something emits a chemical smell, chances are it contains them. “Many of the pet toys you’ll find in the grocery store will have an odor when you unwrap them, and that’s a telltale sign they should be avoided,” says Victoria Schade, professional dog trainer and author of “Dog Trainer Secrets: Positive Problem Solving for a Well-Behaved Dog.” Schade urges consumers to be choosey when it comes to treating their pet and to look for toys made from natural materials such as hemp and natural rubber that are BPA- and phthalate-free. “There is no governing body that’s looking into the safety of dog toys, so it’s important to shop as if you were buying for yourself.” Additionally, Schade recommends purchasing products made in the USA to offset the carbon footprint of the fuel used in shipping. “There’s a trick some manufacturers use where they put an American flag on the packaging to make you think it’s made in the USA. But if you look closely, you’ll see that it actually says it’s been ‘designed’ in the USA—which is a huge difference.”

Litter That Litters
Clay litter is commonly found among the shelves of the pet aisle, but before you let Fluffy set her paws on it, consider that clay is a mined product. Not only does it take heavy equipment to manufacture, it yields a hefty carbon weight when it comes to shipping. Gwendolyn Carry, owner of Chez Bow Wow pet grooming salon in Northern Liberties, recommends using litter made from natural, biodegradable materials, like Blue Buffalo Co.’s Naturally Fresh brand cat litter, which is made from walnut shells. 

As for picking up after your pup, it’s all in the bag. “It’s easy to reuse plastic grocery bags from the store, but you have to remember they’re a petroleum product that’s not going to biodegrade,” Carry says, recommending pet owners use corn-based biodegradable bags instead. “It’s an important practice in general to pick up after your dog, since dog waste gets into waterways, affecting the environment and can spread disease.”

Watch How You Wash
When washing your pet, avoid using shampoos that contain artificial ingredients and chemical detergents such as sodium laurate, and parabens (preservatives), none of which are good for your pet or the environment. Since pet shampoos are also not regulated by the FDA, packaging can oftentimes mislead. Read the label carefully. If it says “contains,” it usually means the manufacturer left out the questionable ingredients and is just telling you the appealing ones such as coconut oil, aloe, etc. 

“Allergies are on the rise in pets. Dogs and cats are showing a higher rate of reaction because of the impact of living in a chemical-based environment,” says Carry, who says to watch for signs like itching and skin irritation after bathing your dog, which could indicate an allergy. Most dogs only need occasional baths to begin with. If they haven’t just rolled in a pile of garbage, a few times a year will do.

A Slippery Slope on Ice Melt Safety
Ice melt can be toxic if it’s ingested, especially by pets who have kidney disease. Though there are several brands of ice melt that claim to be safe for your dog, further reading is often required; Consumer Reports has published a helpful comparison online of active ingredients and what to watch out for. Look for any cautions listed on the product’s label, and watch for artificial colors. Keep in mind that the product may claim to be safe for your pet, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe for the environment, including your plants. 

Use sand when possible, and try using a paw wax to help protect your pup’s toes from harsh sidewalk salts, which can be very painful on their pads (it can actually melt into their paws and burn—ouch!). Paw wax can also protect from hot pavement in the summer.

Avoid These Pet-Poisonous Plants
Always do your research and ask your vet before introducing new plants to an area that your pet has access to. This list, courtesy of Maya Pirok, VMD of Northern Liberties Veterinary Center, calls out some of the most toxic plants for pets:

  • Rhododendrons and azaleas can cause neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular dysfunction.
  • Lilies (including Easter lilies, tiger lilies, Japanese showy lilies and daylilies) can cause renal failure in cats.
  • Castor beans contain ricin, one of the most potent toxins known. 
  • Digitalis contains cardiac glycoside, which is toxic to pets even in small amounts.
  • Cycad palms are ornamental indoor plants that contain cycasin, which can lead to toxicosis.