Americans share their homes with more than 112 million cats and dogs, not to mention an assortment of reptiles, birds, horses and exotic animals. As pet owners become more health and environment-conscious, their new awareness is beginning to include their companion animals. In 1996, U.S. pet owners supported the natural pet food and supplement industry to the tune of $65 million.
But what is natural pet care? Holistic veterinarians say it all begins with a non-processed, whole foods diet. According to the Animal Protection Institute (API), commercial pet foods, from Friskies to Kal-Kan, contain mostly grain wastes and meat by-products, which can include everything from euthanized shelter animals to cancer-ridden livestock, roadkill, downer animals, moldy grains and rancid restaurant grease. Federal meat inspector and veterinarian P.F. McGargle notes that feeding these low-in-nutrition packaged “scraps” to pets increases their chances of cancer and other degenerative diseases.
According to API, more than 95 percent of companion animals in the U.S. derive their nutrition from processed pet foods—mostly these grocery store brands. An API investigative report found that in slaughterhouses, “whatever remains of the carcass [after choice cuts for human food have been removed]—bones, blood, pus, intestines, bowels, ligaments, fat, hooves, horns and beaks”—are what find their way into the pet food stream. Why is this unhealthy practice so popular? Profits. Many pet food companies are branches of human food conglomerates that want to turn waste products from one sector into sales for another. Ralston-Purina, for example, gets the scraps from Heinz, Nestle and Mars to produce its pet foods.
So what options do pet owners have? Holistic veterinarian Dr. Will Winter says, “Dogs and cats were designed to handle raw, uncooked foods.” He recommends mixing fresh cuts of meat (not ground) with whole grains and vegetables for a balanced diet. Several companies, like Minnesota-based Sojourner Farms, sell pet food mixes containing nuts, herbs and grains which can be added to meat for complete nutrition. Fish can also join the feeding dish, but should always be cooked to eliminate parasites.
For already-prepared dry and wet foods for cats and dogs, Wysong and Langs Natural have an impeccable ingredients list, including organic and whole grains, and whole cuts of meat, while avoiding unhealthy additives like meat by-products, meat meals and grain flours to bulk up their foods.
And when it comes to wholesome treats for Fido, Dandy Doggie and Wow-Bow let dog lovers indulge with a huge assortment of organic, vegetarian dog biscuits, gourmet grain pastries and cookies, and fresh-baked kibble.
When Nature Calls
Bedding and litter is another prime area where less-toxic and more eco-friendly measures can be taken. For litter-box trained animals, holistic vets recommend avoiding conventional clay litters, as they are laden with silica dust, a known carcinogen. Many “scoopable” clay litters have also been found to cause intestinal blockages in cats and kittens when inadvertently consumed while grooming. Several companies make a wheat-based litter which is scoopable, biodegradable and flushable, including Swheat Scoop and Heartland Wheat Litter. Other dust-free, biodegradable alternatives include Feline Pine’s odor-absorbing pellets made from 100 percent recycled pine lumber waste from mill yards; ECOfresh and Yesterday’s News, both made from 100 percent recycled newspaper; and CareFRESH, produced from recycled wood pulp (it can be used for exotic pets and birds too).
No matter if they’re indoors or out, furry companions seem to be a magnet for fleas. But ever read the warning label on conventional flea and tick products? From shampoos and dips to foggers and collars, conventional flea products caution consumers to use gloves, and keep product away from skin and mucous membranes. Yet they’re being applied all over your pet, where the toxic emissions from a flea collar or spray, for instance, are being constantly inhaled or licked by the wearer.
The Cancer Prevention Coalition has warned against the use of several brand-name flea collars, including Sergeant’s, Hartz, Zodiac and Longlife. Conventional foggers, bombs, powders and sprays are just as problematic, and should not be used around pregnant women or children, as they pose a risk of neurological problems and leukemia, and could include the nerve poisons dichlorvos, propoxur or diazinon, and many “inert” ingredients like methyl bromide, benzene, asbestos and DDT.
For safer removal of fleas, a flea comb works wonders. Sold in any pet supply store ($3 to $7), this metal comb collects fleas between its narrowly-spaced tines. Herbal shampoos, collars, sachets and sprays using citronella, eucalyptus, pennyroyal, tea tree oil and other aromatic oils to repel fleas and ticks are other less-toxic options, and are available from natural pet care companies like BioChemics (Bug Out spray), and One Earth (herbal collars and Citrus Shampoo Plus).
Dr. Goodpet’s non-toxic, microscopic “beneficial nematodes” eat flea larvae when sprayed outdoors, and are a good way to keep infestations at bay ($25 container covers 4,800 square feet). Garlic and brewers yeast are also recommended to supplement pet diets, as they produce body odors that repel fleas (One Earth offers “Brewer’s Yeast and Garlic” tablets and biscuits).
With natural pet care companies abounding, anything your companion may need can be bought through eco-friendly channels. World Wise takes over 25 billion soda bottle caps and turns them into sturdy food bowls ($5.99) It also produces an inexpensive cat scratcher from 100 percent recycled cardboard, organic catnip, and a heavy-duty recycled cardboard pet carrier.
If you’re looking for all-natural pet bedding, Creeping Jenny’s the place (futons $110 to $230). President Jennifer Chamberlain says, “Organic bedding for dogs and cats is important. Skin problems are the number one reason caregivers take their pets to the vet. And cedar and foam beds are too harsh for many animals.” Creeping Jenny also offers hemp collars and leashes, hemp rope bones, and organic catnip and hemp toys. “Hemp is digestible and breaks down easily if an animal swallows it,” says Chamberlain, referring to the nylon threading found in many products which can cause intestinal blockages in pets.
And for pet owners frustrated with doctors that prescribe antibiotics at every vet visit, many are looking into homeopathic remedies—treating animals with a little of what ails them. HomeoPet, Dr. Goodpet, Animals’ Apawthecary and Noah’s Ark have created a wide selection, including arthritis, urinary incontinence, eczema, flea bite, anxiety, diarrhea, ear infection and travel formulas.
Most important, using a holistic approach to pet care will have Fido wagging his tail and Fluffy purring with good health.
SIDEBAR: Resources for Animal Caregivers
Australian Tea Tree Oil—First Aid for Animals by Cheyanne West
e oil remedies for farm and domestic animals, including sprays, ointments and salves you make at home, such as flea and tick therapy. Available from Kali Press ($9.95), PO Box 2169, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147, tel. (888) 999-KALI.
Homeopathic First Aid for Animals by Kaetheryn Walker
Written by a country practitioner, this guide outlines basic homeopathic techniques for common animal ailments, as well as birthing, infant care and emergency situations. Available from Healing Arts Press ($14.95), PO Box 388, Rochester, VT 05767/(800) 246-8648.
This catalog of cat, dog, exotic pet, horse and small animal natural products also comes with articles on nutrition, natural medicine and animal safety. Free by calling (800) PET-HLTH.
A catalog of holistic products for pets, it offers everything from videos and books to toys, flea relief, vitamins, homeopathic and Bach Flower remedies, skin care and treats. Free by calling (800) WHISKERS.
While this catalog features vegetarian pet foods, it also offers some articles on health and nutrition, and sells a mix of books, litters, flea control, equine products and pet treats. Free by calling (800) 326-0230.
Tracey C. Rembert is managing editor of E.