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Ask EcoGirl

A syndicated eco-advice column
Written by Patricia Dines

"Encouraging the eco-hero in everyone!"

"Making it easy to be green!"

This Month's Column:
Pet Care Without Toxics

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Pet Care Without Toxics

By Patricia Dines
Published in the Sonoma County Gazette
September 2010
(c) Patricia Dines, 2010. All rights reserved.

Dear EcoGirl: I love my pets. How can I protect them from fleas and ticks without using toxic materials? Signed, Pet Lover

Dear Pet Lover: Thank you for your great question. Yes, very often folks will grab mainstream pet care products without even realizing that they can be toxic, and thus potentially put both pets and people at risk. Pet products such as collars, sprays, shampoos, dips, and dusts can contain neurotoxic pesticides that harm the neurological systems of animals and humans, even in small amounts. Studies have linked these chemicals to a wide variety of health problems, from tremors and hyperactivity to cancer and neurological disease.

Children are especially vulnerable, because their systems are still developing and they interact closely with pets. Additionally, it's estimated that hundreds, even thousands, of pets have been injured by pet care products.

Remember, just because a product's for sale doesn't mean it's safe, even when used as directed.

To Protect Your Family

Here are some ways that you can help keep your family safe:

• Understand the risks of the pet products you're using or considering. Read labels carefully, and take warnings seriously. Especially avoid products with the keywords "Danger" or "Warning," and don't use flea collars with TCVP, propoxur, or carbaryl. For brand name specifics, go to www.greenpaws.org and click on "Product Guide." Also, see the EPA's concerns about Frontline and Advantage at www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/is-frontline-safe-0318.

• Phase out your use of toxic pet products. First eliminate organophosphates and carbamates, particularly around people or animals who are pregnant, young, ill, or elderly. Never allow children to apply toxic products on pets.

• For emergency help with a pet or human poisoning, call the National Poison Help Line at (800) 222-1222. Also report the incident to the EPA's National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at (800) 858-7378 or www.npic.orst.edu.

• Dispose of toxics properly. For more information, see www.recyclenow.org or call (707) 565-3375.

• Encourage stores to stop carrying the most toxic products. For an easy action, see www.greenpaws.org.

Less-Toxic Approaches

Luckily, there are less-toxic ways to care for your pets. For example:

• Physical measures. You can often control fleas by bathing, brushing, and combing your pet. Use a gentle non-toxic flea shampoo and a flea comb.

• Vinegar. After bathing, rinse your pet with diluted apple cider vinegar; fleas don't like the smell. (Test a small amount first to get the right dilution level.) You can also add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to your dog's water bowl.

• Protective nutrition. Healthy pets are more able to repel bugs. Feed them natural pet food and consider adding immunity boosters to their meals, including brewer's yeast (1/2 teaspoon), grated garlic (dogs only, 1 clove per 30 pounds), safflower oil (1 tsp), or powdered seaweed (1 tsp).

• Essential oils. Buy natural essential oils (not synthetic), and put a few drops on your pet's collar. Good options include: lavender (repels mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas), peppermint (mosquitoes), lemongrass (ticks), and citronella (fleas, dogs only). Also consider lemon, cedar, eucalyptus, and neem. You can make combinations, such as blending equal parts of rosemary, thyme, lemon, citronella, and tea tree oil.

• Carpet and furniture treatments. Establish a regular pet sleeping area, and launder pet bedding in hot water every couple of weeks. Vacuum regularly in areas that pets frequent; immediately discard the vacuum bag to eliminate flea eggs. To deter fleas, flies, and ants, combine two cups of natural diatomaceous earth (not the pool product) with one cup each of baking soda and cornstarch. Sprinkle on carpets and furniture, let sit for 1 to 2 hours, then vacuum. (Consider steam-cleaning beforehand.) Flea Busters also offers a low-toxicity home treatment using a boron-based salt. www.fleabusters.com, (800) 6NO-FLEA.

• Yard care. Mow often in areas that pets frequent. Consider getting beneficial nematodes, which are non-toxic and feed on flea larvae. They're available locally at Harmony Farm Supply, (707) 823-9125, www.harmonyfarm.com.

For more pet care information and ideas, see Home Safe Home, by Debra Lynn Dadd, and www.care2.com (then do a search, say for "cat fleas"). You can also find natural products and books at health food stores and online.

Ask EcoGirl is written by Patricia Dines, Author of The Organic Guides, and Editor and Lead Writer for The Next STEP newsletter. Email your questions about going green to <EcoGirl [at] AskEcoGirl.info> for possible inclusion in future columns. View past columns at <www.AskEcoGirl.info>.

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© Copyright Patricia Dines, 2010. All rights reserved.

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Poisons on pets (2009 report)

Poisons on Pets: Health Hazards from Flea and Tick Products. This 2000 report still has useful info.

Another alternative method to try:

* Lemon spritz. To repel fleas, cut 6 lemons in half, boil in a quart of water, steep a few hours, then strain into a spray bottle. Spritz your pet's fur, avoiding the eyes, and brush.

Do you have a successful less-toxic pet remedy? I invite you to share your experience with me!

For more about neurotoxics and health problems, including ADD/ADHD, see these two issues of my STEP newsletter

For the EPA's concerns about Frontline and Advantage, see my STEP newsletter http://www.ci.sebastopol.ca.us/pdfs/programs/step/stepvol10no4.pdf

I hope that you find this information useful. Please let me know your thoughts; you can email me at [ecogirl [at] askecogirl.info]!

For more information on this and related eco-topics, see my other Ask EcoGirl columns.

For more about my writing in general, on eco-issues and more, see my What's News page. My latest big article is True Green, published in NorthBay biz magazine. It's mission is to readers avoid green imposters and choose to buy and be authentically green. I had so much fun writing this!

This entire website is (c) Patricia Dines, 1998-2011. All rights reserved.
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