December 23, 2013

Liz Swafford: Pets can be eco-friendly, too

Are you part of the 23 million American households who gave their pet a Christmas gift this year? Yep, me too.

You don’t have to dote on and treat your dog like a small child to be gracious enough to give him or her a gift. A super special treat or a new toy can go a long way in keeping your pet entertained while the family opens their gifts. Pets in general are such a huge part of our lives that they have become an integral part of the family. And, as part of the family, we want the best for them. An easy way to improve your pet’s life is to make eco-friendly choices for them year round. Here are a few tips to get you on the right path.

• Give sustainable toys and accessories: Products that are sustainable are made with materials that are renewable or from those that are manufactured from recycled products. For example, items made from bamboo are sustainable because new shoots of bamboo replace the bamboo that is harvested to make new products. Bamboo is therefore classified as renewable. Pet products that are sustainable are those made from hemp, which is typically free of herbicides or pesticides. Try to choose leashes, harnesses, collars or even pet beds made from hemp when possible.

Products made from recycled materials could include pet beds or leashes made from recycled plastic bottles. Plastic water and soda bottles labeled with the number 1 recycling are a type of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. When recycled, PET can be converted into fibers that can be used to make textiles such as fabric, and even new carpet. Look for labels on products that say PET or eco-spun and have a recycling symbol. Most sustainable options don’t cost any more than regular pet products.

• Use natural cleaning products: When buying soaps and shampoos to clean your pet, choose those without toxic chemicals. You wouldn’t want those on you, so don’t lather up your pets with them either. Read the labels and look for items with limited ingredients, and those labeled all natural, eco-friendly, green or hypoallergenic. Also, when buying cleaning products to pick up those messes pets may leave behind on the floor, choose the most natural ones you can find. You could go the do-it-yourself route and make your enzyme cleaner and scrub with natural ingredients like baking soda and lemon. A web search for “enzyme cleaner” will bring up several recipes for you to try.

• Safer ice melt: It’s still winter, and if you have a pet that likes going outdoors, keep in mind that rock salt and salt-based ice-melting products can cause health problems for pets, especially if ingested. Supervise your pet while outdoors to make sure they don’t eat the rock salt on the driveway. Also, if they step on the stuff, wash off their paws when they come back inside to avoid irritation. When shopping for ice melters, look for those that are free of salt and labeled as pet and child safe.

• Clean up the poop: For dogs, choose biodegradable doggie doo bags instead of regular plastic which can take many years to decompose. Pet waste left outdoors can be washed into storm drains where it can drift into local streams and contaminate the environment. Always take an extra minute to pick it up and dispose of it properly. If you have cats, choose kitty litter with no clay or artificial ingredients. Always look for the litter made with natural products such as corn, pine, cedar or wheat.

• Make your own: Get crafty and make your cat some fun toys with leftover scraps of fabric and yarn. Depending on what you have on hand, you won’t even need a needle and thread. If you have a green thumb you can grow your own organic catnip or cat grass indoors. Give yourself bonus points for growing the plant in a reused plastic bottle or bi-metal can.

• Choose healthy food: Did you know that some pets could suffer from food-related allergies? The most common allergens for dogs include dairy, wheat, eggs, soy and beef. When shopping for pet food, look for those labeled as having limited ingredients, no by-product meals and no artificial ingredients. If you’re able, consider making your pet food at home with healthy and organic ingredients from the grocery store. Please do your research and talk to your veterinarian before doing so.

As a responsible pet owner you need to be aware of the foods that can be toxic to your pet. The wrong foods can cause a simple upset stomach to more serious symptoms requiring urgent veterinary care. For dogs, make sure you keep them away from avocado, raw bread dough, chocolate, grapes and raisins, nuts, onions, garlic and the sweetener xylitol. Cats need to stay away from some of the same foods as dogs, including onion, garlic and related root vegetables, green tomatoes, raw potatoes, chocolate, grapes, raisins, avocado, milk, raw fish and raw eggs.

Liz Swafford is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Have a recycling question? Contact her at (706) 278-5001 or lswafford@dwswa.org.

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