"Going Green" is a marketing catchphrase applied to a broad spectrum of actions. You can "go green" by buying $20 bottles of "natural" cleaners or by using $1.50/gallon white vinegar. You can buy designer clothing made from organic cotton or "recycled" clothing from the thrift store. You can buy carbon credits to "offset" the effects of your transatlantic jet flight or ride your bike to work every day, and all of you can pat yourself on the back for "saving the planet." (Quotation mark abuse, much?)
Most of us, though, seem to take a common sense, flexible, and yes, frugal approach to this whole green lifestyle thing. And if you're "greening" your human life, it makes sense to green up your critter life while you're at it.
|Bunnies are friends, not food.|
However! A lot of practices that are good for humans, like limiting your exposure to certain chemicals and eating real foods, are good for pets. I only own/have owned dogs and various small mammals (rabbits, rats, guinea pigs), so I only address their concerns here. I know nothing about cats, birds, or reptiles/amphibians, so feel free to add your own tips in the comments!
Going Doggone Green
Evaluate your pet's diet.
The most important factor in your pet's health is his diet. Now, if things like free-range and organic are important to you in human food, you can make them important in your pet food as well. But let me tell you something. Organic, free-range, etc. commercial pet foods are expensive as hell. Maybe that's not a big deal if you're Paris Hilton and her three-pound Chihuahua. But if you're an average middle-class family with an eighty-pound Labrador, you would need to take out a second mortgage to buy that kind of chow. If these sorts of considerations are non-negotiable for you, don't have a big carnivorous pet. Get a rabbit or a guinea pig or something.
I could write a whole post on dog food. There's a huge range of options, depending on how much time and money you want to invest, from feeding him BARF (Bones And Raw Food) to making your own dog food to using dehydrated dog food mixes to a whole range of commercial foods. I'll just say two things here:
- Changing your dog's food can fix some of his minor and even not-so-minor health problems. Stop feeding him corn and cardboard and start feeding him something made of meat and grains he's less likely to be allergic to. Sites like http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com/ give great in-depth reviews that help you evaluate foods based on the criteria that are important to you.
- Check out a feed store or local pet store for dog food and supplies, rather than the mega-chains like PetSmart. A lot of excellent food manufacturers won't sell to the big chains, and pet food especially is often cheaper at these stores.
My rabbit eats a plain pellet food made from timothy hay (I originally said this food was organic, but when I double-checked my new bag, I noticed it no longer says pesticide-free. I guess they changed it and I'll have to find a new one), timothy hay from the WalMart of the pet food world, Kaytee, and mostly-organic and/or homegrown veggies. I try to limit her pesticide exposure, but hay is freaking expensive. Small mammals should eat:
- A pellet food formulated for their species (you can't feed a rabbit guinea pig food and vice versa) and get lots of fresh fruits and veggies.
- Hay is important for many small mammals to aid in their digestive systems (fiber, y'know).
- Fruits and veggies. Check out a list of foods commonly toxic to your animal and those ok for it to eat; this will vary some. Guinea pigs are like furry garbage disposals and can pretty much eat any of your plant trimmings; rabbits are a little pickier.
Choose Pet Supplies Wisely
Stainless steel and ceramic/glass are best for pet dishes just as they are for human dishes. Besides whatever chemical/petroleum/BPA concerns you may have with plastic, plastic dishes harbor bacteria and mold, are harder to clean, wear out more quickly, and are more easily destroyed by anything that chews (Labradors, rabbits, toddlers, etc.). You can get stainless and ceramic bowls in all sorts of cute colors and designs, or you can buy ueber-cheap plain ones. Perhaps you even have some old people bowls or buckets lying around that will make excellent food and water receptacles for your pawed friends: recycling bonus!
For leashes and collars, I prefer leather. I guess if you are a veg*n type person, you maybe wouldn't. But leather is much easier on the hands than nylon (which, after all, is another plastic), looks nice, and wears well. Trust me, if you have a dog that pulls, your hands will appreciate a leather leash! Leashes, collars, and choke chains (the collars you use for walking most dogs; this will depend on your breed!) are all commonly available from Made in the USA manufacturers. There are also all kinds of recycled/reused/plant-based-type leashes and collars available, made out of everything from hemp to used tires. Go to a pet store and buy basically anything but the made-in-China nylon nonsense and you'll probably be okay.
|Jayne and his Kong.|
- You can look for toys made with sustainable or recycled materials.
- You can look for toys that will last for-freaking-ever regardless of what they're made of.
The rabbit has a knotty wood thing and also gets paper towel/toilet paper tubes to shred. She is quite the interior decorator and will build statues out of the stuff we give her.
There are possibly even more options for treats than there are for food!
I usually buy grain-free treats for the dogs that they get each morning and when I come home for lunch. Wellness makes some good ones that are reasonably priced at my local pet store. The dogs also usually get the innards from any whole bird I cook (bonus if it's still got the neck). Sometimes I'll buy them cheap meats for a treat, too: chicken necks, organ meats, etc.
Note: RAW poultry bones are fine for dogs. They are pliable and digestable. COOKED poultry bones should never be fed to your dog, as they can splinter and puncture his intestine.
Chewing is great for your dog's dental health, and of course you want to direct his chewing energy to something other than your couch and shoes! Those big "bone-shaped" rawhides that you see are not really a good idea, as the rawhide can become impacted in the dog's intestines and generally cause digestive issues. Instead, choose:
- Real bones are always good (and the dogs will love love love them); they're about the most "natural" option around--what do you think wild dogs eat?
- Our dogs enjoy the occasional pig's ear, but these can cause digestive issues as well. They should be reserved for an occasional treat, and if your dog has a bad...experience...don't give him one again.
- Bully sticks (aka bull's penises) are an excellent choice if you can afford them; they don't last very long if you have a determined chewer, though.
- The best thing I've found for the Labrador actually is an antler. Our local pet store sells elk antlers in various sizes. Because they're not hollow and marrow-filled like bones, they last longer (it usually takes him a week or two to work through a good one, as opposed to a day for a similarly-sized bone), and he loves them.
Small mammals should receive pretty much exclusively fruits and vegetables as treats: they love them and they're good for them. The commercial bunny etc. treats sold in pet stores are filled with sugar and often other questionable ingredients. Find a list of toxic foods to avoid and have fun experimenting with everything else! Meg loves cilantro and apples, and also happily eats chard and other winter greens as well as carrots, pumpkin, and various herbs.
If you have ever owned a small mammal, you know that they will chew pretty much anything and everything. Make sure everything within mouth reach is nontoxic. Untreated wooden toys made out of a non-toxic wood, whether made for animals or humans, are excellent choices, as are cardboard tubes.
If you have a dog with dry, flaky skin or who scratches a lot, try 1) switching him to a corn-free, soy-free food and 2) giving him fish oil. You can get special dog fish oil and liquid fish oil to squirt on his food or, honestly, depending on his size, you can give him the same fish oil capsules you take. Both Beagle and Labrador get one of these each morning; when we first got Labrador and he was having some skin issues, he got two a day. For reference, they weigh twenty-five and seventy-five pounds, respectively.
Labrador also has joint issues, and supplementing him with glucosamine has really helped. I do notice a difference in his movement if I stop giving it to him for awhile. He gets one tablet a day, same as I do. I put peanut butter on their pills and they eat them right up.
My rule for supplements: I find the similar product in the health aisle of my pet store and compare it to my human version. If they have roughly the same amount of the same active ingredient, I feed the dogs the much cheaper human version. I AM TOTALLY NOT A VET THOUGH, and you should consult yours before doing any such thing.
Cleaning the Animal
Frequent baths are not good for your dog's skin! He builds up a layer of oils that help protect him. Honestly, unless the dog rolls around in a dead skunk or something, you probably do not need to wash him more than once every two or three months. When you do, look for a gentle shampoo specifically for dogs (cat person warning: do NOT use dog shampoos on cats!). Their skin is completely different from humans' (has a different pH) and very sensitive.
Dogs, really, are sort of like babies: delicate and sensitive to all kinds of things, and they put everything in their mouths, so avoid essential oils. Diluted vinegar will work, as will heavily diluted castile soap. Otherwise, look for a gentle, unscented commercial product--dogs have a much more sensitive nose than humans, and that juicy shampoo that smells so delicious to you is overwhelming to him. If you have a homemade soap routine that you use, make sure to research all of the ingredients and their suitability for use on animals.
Do not need to be bathed. It's actually bad for them and can lead to respiratory infections. Some animals have special requirements; chinchillas, for example, need to take dust baths in special volcanic rock powder. If your other small mammal somehow gets really dirty, wipe it off with a damp cloth and make sure to keep it warm until it is completely dry. Don't use soap. The animal will eat the soap residue when it washes itself and get sick! If you absolutely must, get a special small mammal or cat shampoo (NOT dog shampoo). In fifteen+ years of owning rabbits, both indoor and outdoor, I have never needed to give one a bath.
Cleaning the House:
Dogs and small mammals, like toddlers, explore the world through their mouths. They lick that carpet and chew on the couch and generally are closer to a lot of surfaces than adult humans. They'll appreciate it if you use natural cleaners in their areas. I use vinegar and baking soda to clean the rabbit cage; most of my household cleaners pretty much involve vinegar, also.
For pet messes, an enzyme cleaner such as Nature's Miracle will help break down the fats in the urine that a) make everything stink and b) tell the dog, hey! dude! this is a good place to pee! you should totally pee here!
We do not treat the animals for fleas and ticks with Frontline or anything similar. This is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Frequent vacuuming (seal and throw out the vacuum contents after every vacuum!) and bedding washing can nip an infestation in the bud. Dawn dish soap kills fleas just as effectively as any chemical-filled shampoo; wash the dog every week at the first sign of a flea until you haven't seen a flea for four weeks. Diatomaceous earth sprinkled at doorways and window sills will help keep fleas out naturally.
I use aspen chips and pellets for the bunny cage so that I can compost her waste; it also makes excellent mulch. Bunny waste is AWESOME for your garden; dog/cat waste is NOT. Carnivore waste spreads diseases. Throw it out.
What are some of your favorite ways to go dog(or cat or rabbit or bird or lizard)gone green?
Disclaimer: I'm not a vet or in any way licensed to give animal advice. I've just owned (and showed) dogs forever and small mammals almost that long. ^_^ Consult an actual expert regarding your own animal and its needs.
Disclaimer two: Obviously, this post was mostly just an excuse to picspam you with Fotos of the animalz. ;-)