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ALTERNATIVE CARE FOR YOUR PETS

Ensuring Good Nutrition

Dr. Silver says that despite advertising claims, even the best commercially prepared food that uses strictly organic ingredients can fall short when it comes to the nutritional requirements of dogs and cats. He believes the best diet for our pets is "freshly prepared, raw, and well-balanced." While there are excellent books available that contain nutritionally balanced pet food recipes, Dr. Silver acknowledges that most people do not have the time or inclination to prepare fresh, raw food for their pets. Dr. Silver advises that the best compromise is a commercial pet food that is "minimally processed, preserved with antioxidant vitamins, made from human-grade organic raw meats and grains, contains food-bound or chelated vitamins and minerals, and is well-balanced. In addition, based on recommendations from your holistic veterinarian, supplements of fresh, raw, wholesome food should be added in balance with the rest of the diet." Dr. Silver also strongly recommends supplementing with digestive enzymes (proteins which break down food in the digestive system so that nutrients can be absorbed into the body), high-quality essential fatty acids (required for cellular neurotransmission, cell repair, and cell growth, and which are processed out of foods cooked at temperatures exceeding 120), probiotic cultures (friendly bacteria that aid digestion such as bifidus and acidophilus), and any other vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in the diet.

When shopping for prepared pet foods, be sure to carefully read the ingredients label. Look for foods that contain human-grade meats, whole grains, eggs, milk, vegetables, minerals, vitamins, and nutritional yeast. Keep the following guidelines and proportions in mind:

In general, your dog should eat 2-4 cups of food for each 25 pounds of body weight each day, adjusted up or down for its individual activity level. Dogs should get 40%-60% of their nutrition from complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, potatoes, and pasta. 10%-40% of a dog's food should come from protein sources, raw or lightly cooked, such as poultry, lamb, beef, egg yolks, and tofu. Also, cooked game, fish, and pork, and modest amounts of organ meats are acceptable. Dogs should also get 20%-40% of their nutrients from raw and lightly cooked vegetables of all types.

Whether you freshly prepare your dog's food, or need to add nutrients to a high-quality commercial food, Dr. Silver recommends nutritional supplements in amounts prescribed by your holistic veterinarian. A vitamin/mineral formula containing nutritional yeast, kelp powder, lecithin granules, and bone meal can be added to your dog's food each day.

Garlic powder and calcium or sodium ascorbate can also be added. An essential fatty acid formula should include safflower oil, cod-liver oil, wheat germ oil, flaxseed oil, and vitamin E (as a preservative). Cats have somewhat different nutritional needs. They should eat one cup of food for each ten pounds of body weight each day. Cats require 25%-50% of their diet from complex carbohydrates, 30%-70% of their nutrients from protein, and 10%-30% of their food from vegetables.

Also, the essential fatty acid formula for cats should include olive oil instead of safflower oil. Obviously, you should consult your veterinarian for proper proportions and amounts.

For both cats and dogs, the addition of vitamins A and C (antioxidants), zinc, and garlic can boost and support the immune system. Of course, the most basic nutritional requirement for your pet is plenty of fresh, clean water. You should provide your pet with the purest water available. If you won't drink what comes out of your tap, you shouldn't give it to your pet, either!

Please Don't Kitty Litter!

There are 59 million cats in the US who all have to "go" somewhere. In most households, that "somewhere" is a litter box. The US Bureau of Mines estimates that in 1994, approximately 1.5 million metric tons of clay were mined to make the absorbent type of cat litter alone. Much of the clay is strip-mined, which raises concerns about the environmental impact of clay litter use. Of course, the litter used in litter boxes ends up in the trash can, particularly clumping litter which cannot be flushed down the toilet. Some industry sources claim that cat litter accounts for more volume in landfills than disposable diapers.

In addition to environmental issues, some sources in the natural pet products industry cite pet health problems stemming from the use of clay-based litters. Those problems include respiratory infections caused by inhalation of dust from clay litters; urinary tract infections caused by dyes and perfumes processed into the litters; and potentially fatal intestinal blockages, especially in kittens, from ingestion of the clumping litters. Dr. Silver agrees that such problems are possible (although rare) when a pet ingests large quantities of litter due to an emotional or physical disturbance. He warns, however, that clay litters should only be considered as a source of health problems after other potential causes have been eliminated.

For those who are concerned about using clay litters, there are many alternatives that offer the benefits of being nontoxic, biodegradable, renewable, dust-free, concentrated, and can be composted, mulched, scooped, and flushed. One product, made of compressed pine sawdust, is a by-product of lumber industry waste (no trees are cut down to make the product). Others are made of corn or wheat plants, walnut shells, peanut shells, and even recycled newspaper.

It is important to introduce new litter products to cats in stages. Cats can become very upset by a change in their environment, especially their litter box. Too sudden a change can cause your cat to use a site other than its litter box, and neither you nor your cat will be happy with the results.

Gentle and Safe Flea Control

As every pet owner knows, it's not easy to get rid of fleas. You must kill fleas, their eggs, and larvae in your home and yard, as well as on your pet. To do this, you must repeat the treatment process over and over again until all eggs have hatched and any pupae (which can lay dormant and invulnerable for months in an unoccupied area) have been eradicated. Then you need to use products that will repel any fleas that try to stray onto your turf.

But traditional flea control products are toxic to pets and people. There are natural products on the market, including sprays, dusts, shampoos, soaps, collars, bed liners, and food supplements, which are designed to eradicate fleas from pets, homes, and yards, without the risk of toxicity.

The substances most commonly used to kill fleas naturally are citrus oils (frequently in the form of the extract d-limonene) which kill fleas on contact; pyrethrin (a derivative of a flower related to chrysanthemums) which paralyzes the nervous systems of fleas; natural grade diatomaceous earth (which acts as an abrasive on the surface of the fleas and desiccates them); borax and salt (which also dehydrate fleas on contact); and surfactants (soaps, which cause the fleas to drown).

Citrus oils and surfactants are used in shampoos, soaps, sprays, and dips and are made for direct application on your pet. The other materials are used to dust furniture, carpets, and bedding indoors, and are also used in your yard. Outdoors, spread diatomaceous earth (natural or insect-grade, not pool-grade) on lawns to control fleas. Take care not to inhale the dust as it can irritate the respiratory system. Indoors, salt, borax, and even diatomaceous earth can be used in the same manner. Sprinkle them over carpets alone, or mix salt with lavender or rosemary oil. People who live in humid climates, however, should avoid using salt indoors as it will absorb moisture and cause mildew and mold growth. All of these substances should be vacuumed up regularly so that dead fleas do not provide a food source for hatching fleas, and to minimize the risk of ingestion and inhalation.

Commonly used aromatic flea repellents are citrus, cedar, eucalyptus, tea tree oil (melaleuca), citronella, bay, and pennyroyal. All of these ingredients are included in various formulations of shampoos, soaps, sprays, collars, and bedding liners. Garlic and nutritional yeast can be added as a supplement to your pet's food, causing a body odor which repels pests. A teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a pet's food or water each day may also help repel fleas.

Proper skin care is another important aspect of flea control. Dry, irritated, and broken skin is more attractive to fleas. And many pets are allergic to flea bites, which cause skin irritation and rashes, which in turn invite more flea bites--a vicious cycle of misery for your pet. Shampoos and skin conditioners (in spray, creme, and liquid form) containing tea tree oil, aloe vera, coconut oil, jojoba oil, vitamin E, chamomile, calendula, oatmeal, and eucalyptus can all help to sooth and heal dry, irritated, and broken skin. Dietary supplements of essential fatty acids are also helpful, as those nutrients protect against many skin ailments.

While many of these ingredients can be effective, some of them may be too strong for the extremely sensitive sense of smell of your pets, especially cats. Certain ingredients such as pennyroyal oil and pyrethrin, although natural, can be toxic even when used externally. If a pet shows any signs of discomfort or illness after introduction of a new product, discontinue its use immediately. Of course, it is always a good idea to consult a veterinarian before using any product you have questions about. All flea control procedures must be repeated weekly for about two months to be sure that all newly hatching fleas are killed. And as with traditional flea control regimens, it is important to keep rugs, upholstery, and bedding clean and vacuumed regularly, and to use a flea comb on your pet. It is also a good idea to spread towels or blankets down where pets lay and then wash the towels weekly. Be aware, however, that fleas and flea infestations vary from year to year. What works one year may not work the next, and it may be necessary to use a combination of products.

A Natural Change

Before you begin to use natural healing methods for your pet, remember to make changes in environment and diet gradually. Sudden changes can upset a sensitive pet, making existing health conditions worse or causing new ones. Pet owners should provide proper nutrition for their pets under the supervision of a supportive holistic veterinarian. And when we read or hear about environmental or nutritional contaminants and deficiencies that are bad for wildlife and our families, we need to think about our fuzzy family members, too. Chances are, these very same things can be causing similar health problems in our pets, too.

Written by: Lisa Morton


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