Our furry friends deserve the best. Many of us spoil our beloved pets more than we do ourselves! As we are entirely responsible for their well-being, we’re often highly conscientious about their care. However, there may be toxins lurking in your environment. Many of the synthetic chemicals that harm us can also affect our animals — some more intensely. There are also chemicals that are harmless to us but quite toxic to certain species.
Of course, you want to keep your animal friends safe. Here are the most toxic chemicals in your pets’ lives, where to find them, and how to switch to toxin-free pet care.
As for humans, the most common source of toxic synthetic chemicals in our household is, ironically, the very products ostensibly intended to keep us clean and safe.
Cleaners, detergents, and grooming products all tend to have phthalates, parabens, glycol ethers, chlorine, etc. Chronic exposure is already harmful for humans. However, your pets may be even more sensitive.
First, remember that dogs and cats have highly sensitive eyes and noses. They also lick themselves — a lot. So when they lie on your recently mopped floor or freshly laundered blanket, they’re picking up traces of chemicals that can cause respiratory damage, skin irritation, and other harmful effects. They continue to absorb the chemicals through grooming and breathing.
Also, your pet’s annoying habits, such as chewing their bed or drinking from the toilet bowl, add yet another level of exposure.
Consider which cleaning products you use on all items and surfaces in your pet’s life:
- Laundry detergents for bedding and blankets
- Dish soaps for bowls and dishes
- Disinfectant sprays on surfaces where they may walk
And of course, watch out for parabens and irritating surfactants in your pet’s shampoos and coat care products.
A quick note about essential oils:
Essential oils can be toxic to some pets. Cats cannot metabolize them, so they build up in their organs over time, causing neurological and liver/kidney damage that may prove fatal. However, essential oils are often used as a natural cleaning alternative.
You’ll need to use 100% pure essential oils, then dilute them properly. Never put pure essential oils directly on an animal, and know which species are affected by which ones. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Lavender: ok for dogs and cats
- Cedarwood: ok for dogs
- Chamomile: ok for dogs and cats
- Citrus: ok for dogs
- Eucalyptus: ok for dogs
- Fennel: ok for dogs
- Lemongrass: ok for dogs
- Mint: ok for dogs
- Rose: ok for dogs and cats
Never use any of these for dogs: cassia, cinnamon, clove, wintergreen.
Never use any of these for cats: any citrus, any mint, lemongrass, rosemary,
Thyme, pine, tea tree, and pennyroyal oils are toxic to both dogs and cats.
Lawn Care Products
Obviously, products such as herbicides and insecticides are toxic to humans. But our pets are much more likely to come into direct contact with them if they go outdoors. There, they are inhaling any residual fumes, getting the product into their fur, then potentially ingesting it when they groom themselves.
Substances that may not be overtly toxic to humans, such as turf fertilizer, can still affect our animals as they walk through or roll around on the lawn. Also, many of these products are terrible for aquatic life. Once the first rain hits, excess nitrogen runs into the waterways, where it contributes to toxic algal blooms and coral bleaching.
In short, it’s rarely ideal to use commercial products on your lawn. Both weed/fungal control and fertilization blends contain toxic chemicals that can cause more harm than good — especially for your furry friends who want to run and play in your yard!
What to Do Instead:
There are plenty of natural substances that inhibit plant growth, as well as many that promote it. Proper lawn care, such as frequent mowing with a sharp blade, can encourage lush lawns while preventing fungal infections. Healthy turf is also more resistant to weeds.
Here are some simple household items that can control weeds:
- Kill weeds with vinegar. A vinegar-water spray can also eliminate fungal spores on plants with blight.
- For major plant removal, such as difficult vines, pour a mixture of sugar and chili powder into the base.
- To prevent weeds in a flower bed without killing desired plants, sprinkle cornmeal across the soil.
- To prevent any plant growth in an area, salt the ground.
The best way to promote plant growth is with natural fertilizers such as compost. You can also buy fertilizer from the store, but be wary of high-nitrogen formulas that may be toxic to pets (and humans!)
Parasites are every pet owner’s nightmare, and they carry plenty of health risks, including heartworms, typhus, and dermatitis. Unfortunately, there are few flea/tick prevention products that don’t rely on toxic chemicals.
Spot treatments, commonly marketed for both cats and dogs, contain permethrin and pyrethrin, both of which have been linked to severe neurological effects. While some of these products are labeled as “dogs only,” they can easily rub off onto your home’s surfaces. If you have both cats and dogs, your feline friend can encounter the toxin when they groom themselves.
Even “natural” pest control can be dangerous. Many use citrus essential oils and chemicals such as limonene, both of which are toxic to cats. Tea tree oil has caused severe allergic reactions in some pets.
Speaking of pest control, avoid mothballs at all costs. Their vapors cause serious damage to your pets’ lungs, liver, heart, and nervous system.
What to Do Instead:
The best way to control fleas is to make environmental changes that discourage them:
- Use diatomaceous earth around your home to ward off fleas and other pests. (This is safe for mammals such as cats and dogs.)
- Plant catnip in your garden to repel mosquitoes. (Yes, it works — and your feline friends will love you forever.) Geranium will repel fleas.
- Regularly launder any pet blankets and vacuum your carpet to remove any eggs.
At the first sign of fleas, bathe your pet with non-toxic dish soap. This suffocates fleas, which — believe it or not — can swim. Regular bathing plus flea combs can
For dogs, try using eucalyptus, peppermint, or rosemary essential oils. Just be sure they’re pure essential oils, not a blend with potentially toxic ingredients. Then, dilute with water.
Cats are highly sensitive to most essential oils, but lavender seems to be both safe and effective at repelling fleas.
It is possible to enjoy a clean home, tidy yard, and a safe, non-toxic environment for both yourself and your animal friends. Remember, they’re more sensitive than humans — and they’re counting on you to keep them healthy. A bit of research and a few lifestyle tweaks can make a world of difference in your pet’s overall well-being.
This article is based on an interview with Chris Huppe, a certified animal aromatherapist and non-toxic pet care specialist.