By Dr. Becker
Many people are looking for ways to lead a more natural, greener lifestyle, and this includes with their pets. Both your pet and the environment stand to gain from going natural, but there are some caveats to consider, especially when it comes to food.
In a Nielsen survey of U.S. and French pet owners conducted last year, participants said they were most looking for non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) and natural pet foods.
Pet food manufacturers know this, and as such many have altered their product labels to appear healthy and natural. They may claim to be “natural” and have pictures of natural foods on the label, but it’s very much a buyer-beware market.
Oftentimes, the word “natural” on a pet food label means nothing; the food may actually be highly processed and full of artificial additives. The same holds true for other “natural” products, like those used for grooming and as supplements.
How to ‘Go Natural’ With Your Pet
1. Natural Pet Food
You’ll want to look for foods that use human-grade ingredients (review company websites and call about raw material sourcing).
Read labels. Look for ingredients you recognize and can pronounce (for instance, turkey or organic ground beef instead of turkey meal and chicken liver flavor). Avoid feeding starches, including grains, potatoes and tapioca.
Ideally, however, preparing a nutritionally balanced species-appropriate homemade diet is going to be the most natural and freshest option for your pet. Hand selecting your own ingredients gives you the ultimate peace of mind when it comes to exactly what your pets are consuming.
After that, a commercially prepared raw, frozen or dehydrated diet made from a reputable brand (usually small family companies most people haven’t heard of) with real ingredients is preferable to highly processed canned foods or, the worst option, dry food (kibble).
Avoid foods that contain synthetic vitamins and minerals, including the cheaper oxides and sulfates found in poor-quality foods (and most of the big brands).
2. Natural Grooming Products
A visit to the groomer can expose your pet to a number of chemicals, including those in pet shampoos, fragrances and flea products. If your pet has sensitive skin, he may return from the groomer with itchy, irritated or flaky skin as a result of the chemicals in the grooming products.
You can request that your groomer use all-natural products, but a better option is to supply your own. Look for a shampoo that’s organic, very gentle and mild, pH balanced for your pet, free of chemicals and coconut oil-based if possible. Coconut oil also makes a safe natural moisturizer.
3. Natural Supplements
Vitamin and mineral supplements have a place in some pet foods and on a case-by-case basis for certain pets. However, keep in mind that your pet is designed to obtain these nutrients from eating whole foods.
This is actually much harder to do these days, given the nutrient depletion of our soils and therefore meats and produce.
It’s entirely possible, with commitment and knowledge, to create a balanced, fresh (or even dry food) diet without synthetic nutrients; it’s just pricey (i.e. the best source of zinc for pets is oysters!).
When a synthetic nutrient is created in a lab, it will be structured differently from the whole-food version, and your pet may lack the specific receptors necessary to use these synthetic forms.
Not only does this make some synthetic nutrients less efficient in your pet’s body, but your pet may also have to process it out as waste, which adds stress to her system.
If you are unsure whether or not your pet needs supplements, work with a qualified professional or holistic veterinarian and make sure they are the correct choice for your pet’s current health needs.
4. Natural Flea and Tick Control
I’ve written a lot about the dangers of chemical flea and tick control products, including that their indiscriminate use is now causing some pests to become resistant. Fortunately, there are natural ways to keep your pets free of fleas and ticks.
A multi-faceted approach works best, starting with keeping your pet healthy (healthy pets are less likely to have parasites) with a fresh, nutritionally balanced and species-appropriate diet.
In an interview with Dr. Jean Hofve, staff veterinarian for Only Natural Pet, PetMD reported several additional guidelines you can use to control fleas and ticks naturally, which are very similar to my own.
“Certain supplements, such as B vitamins, garlic and yeast are reportedly aversive to flea and tick taste buds … Use a flea comb frequently to make sure you’re staying ahead of the game.
Frequent bathing with a natural flea-repellent shampoo may be needed in heavy infestations. Diatomaceous earth, borax and beneficial nematodes (worms) can be used in the yard, and frequent vacuuming in the house and car will scoop up flea eggs before they can hatch.
Keeping a tidy yard and misting your pet with a safe herbal repellent before outdoor excursions will also keep bugs away.”
5. Natural Treats
Pet treats are a nutritional minefield. Worse, some may even contain toxic ingredients that could make your pet sick. Jerky treats from China are a top offender to avoid, as are treats that contain added sugar, artificial preservatives, grains and rendered animal by products and fillers.
In fact, most store-bought treats are less-than-ideal for pets. Fortunately, you can make your own homemade chicken jerky treats quite easily. Blueberries, broccoli, chia seeds in coconut oil, bits of fresh meats, raw pumpkin seeds and even fermented vegetables and kefir may super-healthy snacks for dogs. You can also try out these banana basil towers.
6. Natural Cat Litter
There are many types of seemingly “green” cat litters on the market, but many have drawbacks to cats. Corn-based litter is biodegradable, for instance, but corn is problematic for many pets. Since your cat will ingest a bit of this litter when licking her paws, I recommend avoiding it (and wheat-based litters for the same reason).
Pine litter is also environmentally friendly, since it’s typically made from lumber scraps, as is recycle paper litter, but ink on newsprint may be toxic. Clay litter is not biodegradable and the dust may be irritating to your cat’s lungs. Whether or not your cat will use the litter you choose is another issue, as most cats prefer small particle sizes (like the consistency of sand).
An excellent option that is new to the market is biochar litter, which is environmentally friendly, non-toxic to cats and outperformed corn-based and walnut-based litters in clumping ability and absorbency. If you’re already leading a natural lifestyle, it’s a natural next step to get your pet on board.
Fortunately, with more and more pet owners taking an interest, it’s easy to find truly high-quality, natural items for your pet. Buying natural products is only one way to go natural, of course. You can find 10 more ways to “go green” with your pet here.