When we go grocery shopping, many of us have learned to make choices that are both healthier for the planet and healthier for our bodies. We look for organic, locally grown produce, non toxic cleaners, and paper products made with recycled materials. But how many of us realize that we can apply these same sorts of good consumer choices when we’re shopping for our pets?
In the not too distant past, choices for holistic, earth-friendly pet products were few and far between. Food and treat choices were limited to ingredients that were simply waste products from the human food industry – grain fractions and condemned meat made more palatable by the addition of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. Pests like fleas were controlled with the use of toxic chemicals. Leashes, collars and beds were often only available from big chain stores and were made of the cheapest materials, with no regard for toxicity, durability, or wastefulness of resources. Many might have asked, what does it matter – they’re just animals, right?

Luckily, times are changing. Our animals have moved inside and become an integral part of our family unit. We respect and depend on the positive roles our pets have on our emotional and physical health; many studies have shown an increase in the quality and even length of our lives through mechanisms like the reduction of our blood pressure when we’re touching them. Greater awareness of global climate change has resulted in a significant increase in the range of available sustainable pet products. Furthermore, the demand for better products for our beloved furry friends has supported a veritable boom in the number of independently owned, holistic-minded pet supply stores. We did a lot of research before we opened, and we believe we were the first environmentally friendly pet supply store in the nation when we opened in 2004! Many other stores have followed suit, and now it is so much easier for people who care about the health of their pets to also make choices that are good for the environment.
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Cut down on the chemicals
All of us are exposed to a great number of chemicals and pollutants in the world, but our pets are especially vulnerable to exposure to chemicals and pesticides. They live close to the ground and their skin and feet come in direct contact with our floors, lawns, and pavement. They also can directly consume chemicals and toxins as they lick and groom themselves. In addition, topical insecticide treatments, excessive vaccinations, as well as artificial colors, flavors, and chemical preservatives in some commercial foods can create quite an assault on the health of our beloved companion animals. It’s no wonder that so many animals exhibit signs of allergic reactions that are so difficult to diagnose and treat, and that cancers seem to be more and more prevalent every year (cancer now affects 50% of all dogs!).

Not only does cutting chemical use benefit the health of our families and pets, it is also very important tovinegar.gif the health of our environment. Many of the chemicals we use to unclog our drains, get the bugs out of our gardens, and the weeds out of our lawns can directly contaminate our rivers and groundwater. Effective non-toxic cleaners are easy to find these days, but simple ingredients like vinegar and water can also be very useful everyday cleaners. A simple internet search for the uses of vinegar in the home will turn up a remarkable number of handy uses, including using diluted cider vinegar (1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar) as a nice gentle ear cleaner for dogs, and a soothing rinse for itchy skin and feet. As far as pest control goes, did you know that feeding a better quality diet can strengthen a pet’s immune system, making them more resistant to flea infestations? There are also several less toxic alternatives to topical insecticides. For example, food-grade diatomaceous earth can be applied directly to a pet to kill fleas, sprinkled on bedding or into carpets, and also makes an effective dewormer when taken internally. An interesting alternative to pesticides used around the outsides of our homes is the use of beneficial nematodes – microscopic worms that eat flea larvae and certain other garden pests without damaging beneficial animals like earthworms. Ask your local plant nursery about the best times to apply nematodes to be most effective in controlling fleas on your property, and for other ideas for how to reduce the use of chemicals on your lawns and gardens.

One of the best ways to learn about other ways to prevent unnecessary exposure to toxins in pets is to see a naturopathic/holistic veterinarian. This type of veterinarian doesn’t just treat the symptoms of disease, they take a more holistic approach to treatment by combining traditional and alternative methods of treatment and focusing on disease prevention. They are knowledgeable about natural nutrition and pest control, and are open to discussing which vaccines and boosters are truly necessary, which can vary according to each individual pet’s risk of exposure to certain diseases. They also can do titre testing, which means they can test your pet’s blood to see if their immunity is still strong to a particular disease, to determine if they even need a booster shot.

Choose local

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One of the biggest drains on fossil fuels is the transport of products and materials around the globe. Picture how many resources are used to ship raw materials from different parts of the world to somewhere like China, assemble them, and ship them again via ships, trains, and trucks to a distributor in another state, then ship them yet again to stores in your neighborhood. Now picture a product produced locally – no ships or trains needed. The overall reduction in fossil fuels is significant, and there is of course a positive impact for your local economy. Many people as they grocery shop or visit their local farmer’s market realize that goods grown locally are fresher and therefore more delicious, and that buying them supports their local farmers. The same can be said for other products in other categories, even when you’re shopping for your pets. Independently owned pet supply stores are an especially good place to find locally made alternatives to commercially available supplies. Delicious, locally baked treats are easy to find, as well as things like locally made beds, leashes and collars. Not only are you supporting both a locally owned pet supply store and a local manufacturer, you’re likely to find more unique and interesting products.

Think Durability

We have a friend who has two big American Bulldogs that love (I mean LOVE) to play with the flying disc. Trouble is, every time they’d catch one, there would be tooth holes in it, as their jaws are so strong. Every day she’d throw away a mangled 99 cent disc. What a waste and a big expense for her over time. Then she found this product called JAWZ. It’s a flying disc made for competition flying disc dogs and it is so puncture resistant that it solved her whole problem. She’s had one of those things for three years without a hole in it. That means there are around 900 hundred fewer plastic discs in her landfill, and she only paid $16.99 for 3 years of flying disc fun (obsession?). We had a big epiphany when she told us about this, realizing that durability was going to be one of our definitions of a “green” pet product. Of course, there is no perfect toy, nothing that some dogs will not destroy eventually. However, it’s important to us not to bring in any old cheap or disposable product that’s destined for the garbage the same day you buy it. We skip the cheap plastic products that may seem like a bargain when you buy them, but end up being a repeat purchase fairly quickly. We’re always searching for the toughest and best made products, especially toys — got one you love? Tell us about it!

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