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We, as dog parents, often hear about being on the alert to keep toxic foods away from our pups so there's no chance of having our dogs ingest a toxic substance that could cause everything from a minor stomach upset to kidney failure, liver failure, even death. These potentially extremely dangerous foods include things most of us are, thankfully, well aware of: sugar-free gum (whether packaged or -ugh- found used on a walk), any sugar-free food like peanut butter containing xylitol, raw bread dough/yeast dough, alcoholic beverages, over the counter medications, macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins, onions/onion family (such as garlic), chocolate (chocolate poisoning is most serious with concentrated baking chocolate or dark chocolate)...
But what about all the everyday toxins for dogs that are less obvious?
Less visible and potentially just as dangerous as toxic foods for the short and long term are the everyday toxins surrounding and coming in contact with our dogs (and us) constantly.
Many dog owners ask me, as a canine nutritionist, about how to solve their dog's allergies or are looking for ways to help prevent cancer and other diseases and promote greater longevity. In addition to nutrition, we should all be looking at what we use, touch, and breathe every day for answers to keeping our dogs living healthy and longer!
Here are 5 tips I recommend every dog parent (and human parent) can easily change to remove toxins and live cleaner with your dogs:
Tip 1: Go green & clean your dog's bowl
One of the first things I recommend is using ceramic or stainless steel bowls instead of plastic ones. Many plastics leach chemicals and harbor bacteria. You know that slimy film you feel on your dogs' bowls? That's build-up of bacteria! Often, plastics become scratched during use and that bacteria gets stuck in those scratches and are much harder to sanitize.
I recommend switching from plastic to ceramic or stainless steel and cleaning well daily (apple cider vinegar -50/50 with water- is a great cleaner/rinse with natural anti-bacterial properties). While it may not seem like a big thing, when built up on a daily basis (your dog likely uses that bowl several times a day), it can have a big impact!
Tip 2: Choose & clean toys carefully
There are SO many new toy options coming to market. Some are even targeted to your dog's chewing power level. While these toys might be durable and stand up to chewing, it's important to know what they are made of, since they are going to be in your pup's mouth and possibly pieces in your dog's stomach. Any chemicals leached from plastic toys could be absorbed into your dog's bloodstream.
Ideally, you can choose toys made from natural materials like cotton or hemp, BUT if you have a power-chewer, those stuffies will probably not last long! In that case, opt for NATURAL rubber or BPA and Phthalate free plastics or silicone-based products. Also be sure to routinely wash hard-sided toys to remove dirt and bacteria build-up. I like to soak them in a bit of baking soda and warm water, followed by a 50/50 vinegar/water rinse.
Tip 3: Keep your household items & laundry clean - WITHOUT chemicals
Many, even most, common laundry detergents and household products for cleaning contain a long list of chemical or synthetic ingredients no one could pronounce.
Why it matters
Our pets are more exposed to these toxins because they're walking on all fours, picking up any cleaners and then ingesting them when they lick their paws and groom themselves. Floor cleaners are especially problematic here - I remember a big scare back when the "swiffer-type" mops first came out, as dogs were becoming ill from the cleaning solution. There are lots of great green/natural products now that work just as well for cleaning without all the toxic ingredients.
Just as they do with household cleaners, our dogs come in close contact with laundry detergents. Washing their bedding (and yours, if they sleep with you) and clothing can be done using eco-friendly natural detergents. Look for products that have simple ingredients you can understand and natural fragrance sources. (I like to use Dr. Bronner's, also noted below, (it's concentrated so very little needed) to wash our dogs' beds as well as our own bed linens.
We shop at eco-friendly stores that stock green, natural products, AND it's also super simple to make a lot of our own household cleaners using vinegar, water, lemon juice and essential oils (only where they cannot be picked up and ingested and only those safe for pets). White vinegar is a natural disinfectant. It contains 5% acetic acid, which has antimicrobial properties, and it is great at cutting through grease.
Here are a few of my favorite DIY cleaners:
- Floor cleaner: ¼ cup distilled white vinegar, 1 tablespoon liquid Castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner's - effective, gentle, & includes light essential oils like lavender & peppermint), and 2 gallons hot tap water.
- Pet toy rinse: wash with diluted pure Castile soap, then soak in half white vinegar/half warm water. OR soak in 3 tablespoons baking soda to 1 liter of water, followed by a 50/50 white vinegar/water solution. Rinse well. For stubborn-to-clean toys like natural rubber feeder toys, a great tool to use is a baby bottle brush to reach those tricky areas.
- Counter surface cleaner: 1 cup distilled white vinegar, 1 cup water, optional: 1 or 2 drops of grapefruit (or other citrus) essential oil.
Tip 4: Keep your home's air smelling fresh -- AND free of harmful toxins
Loving and living with pets does come with occasional odors, of course. Many pet parents try to mask the smell of dog odors with scented products like candles, incense, and room sprays. Unfortunately, many of these contain harmful toxins that are released into the air which both you and your pets breathe in.
Why it matters
According to the American Lung Association, burning low-quality waxes can emit toxins into your home’s air. Testing by the EPA has confirmed that those candles, and the smoke they give off, contain several dangerous chemicals in significant quantities.
When selecting home fragrance, here are some guidelines to make healthier choices:
- Ideally, use products that don't release smoke into the air.
- If using candles, choose ones that do not use paraffin wax. Look for products made with 100% organic soy and/or beeswax.
- When choosing any candle or wax melt, choose ones that use natural essential oils instead of synthetic (chemical) scents. Unfortunately, most aren't made that way. Most store-bought products, unless otherwise indicated, and even those BIG Multi-level marketing companies who won’t list their actual ingredients are using synthetic fragrance. “Proprietary blend of…” doesn’t actually guarantee organic, non-toxic or safe. So know what ingredients are in your home fragrance products!
- So what about diffusing essential oils - those are natural so they must be safe, right? Did you know our dogs have over 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in humans. Now imagine what WE smell when we burn a candle or diffuse essential oils and MAGNIFY that by hundreds of millions of times! Wow – that would be pretty overwhelming, right? So while these can be a safer option, they should be used in SAFE DILUTION and only ones that are safe for pets! They need to be used in well-ventilated areas, and your dog should always be able to leave if the smell bothers them. Not all essential oils are safe for use around dogs, and MANY should not be used in close proximity to cats. In particular, tea tree oil is very toxic to cats and can be toxic to dogs also. If you plan to use EO's around your pets, consult a trained aromatherapist to guide you to make safe choices.
- A side note on Essential Oils - I do not recommend using EO's topically on your pet without the guidance of a trained Aromatherapist. EO's must be used in safe dilutions and use carrier oils with pets. NEVER allow your pet to ingest them!
Tip 5: Lawn & garden products -- beware, everywhere
Everyone loves a lush green lawn, but if it means using harmful pesticides to achieve it, it isn't worth it.
Chemicals that kill weeds, insects and plant diseases are sold either on their own or with fertilizers such as "weed and feed." These products include herbicides and pesticides that are toxic. They have been created to kill pests and most are broad-spectrum biocides.
Why this matters
As broad-spectrum biocides that kill pests and weeds, they are poisonous to a wide variety of living organisms, including garden plants, wildlife, pets, your neighbors, your family, and you. Many common pesticides are linked to many unhealthy conditions in dogs and humans, as well as to cancer and other diseases. It's important for your dog's short and long term health to avoid using them around your home and, when out walking in the neighborhood, keep your pet off treated lawns.
Remember they're lower to the ground, breathing it with every sniff and walking on 4 shoe-less paws. Most places, homeowners are required to put a sign on the lawn if it has been treated, but we just don't take the chance and recommend every pet owner do what we do and avoid all lawns on our way to the pesticide-free park, beach, or hike!
What about bug sprays for controlling pests like ticks and mosquitos that transmit disease? You can get natural products for the yard that work very well, such as garlic-based sprays, neem oil spray, diatomaceous earth powder and cedar wood chips. Spreading these natural products around the perimeter of your yard helps prevent pests from entering.
Now you know my favorite simple changes to reduce toxins in & around your home... and set up your pup for long-term health!
If you have any questions on any or all of these tips for removing toxins from your and your dog's life, just ask me!