Create eco-friendly home for pets

0314webecohomephotoBy Sherry Warner

In addition to nutritious food and plenty of outdoor exercise, a healthy living environment is essential for keeping your pets healthy and happy for life.

“A lot of the things that you can do to set up a healthy environment in the home for your pets are the same things you can do for your family,” says Patricia Cameron, executive director of Green Calgary, an urban environmental charity.

Pets are very much like infants and young children, says Patricia. They have small bodies, are closer to the ground, tend to put things in their mouths and are usually more sensitive to toxins in the environment than adults.

“Cleaners are a big source of toxicity in the home,” she says. Most contain harmful chemicals such as parabens, a preservative used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Many of these chemicals can act as endocrine disruptors, interfering with the body’s endocrine system and producing adverse developmental, neurological, reproductive and immune effects in both humans and pets. “Here at Green Calgary we’ve put together a recipe book so that people can use ordinary, non-toxic substances for their cleaners.”

All you need to give your home a good cleaning are basically three products — cider vinegar, baking soda and castile soap. “You can do virtually all of your cleaning using these non-toxin, low cost, minimally packaged products and they’re safe for both people and pets,” says Patricia.

Just one example is using a mixture of cider vinegar and water for glass surfaces. Pets love to lick windows, so if they happen to lick a window cleaned with cider vinegar and water rather than a commercial cleaning product, you can be certain they’re not ingesting any toxic substances.

In addition to cleaning products, pet guardians need to be careful when choosing bedding, food dishes and toys for their pets. With respect to pet beds, some contain stuffing that’s been sprayed with flame retardant, a known carcinogen. “Pets love to sleep, sometimes as much as 18 hours a day and they are being exposed to (flame retardants) that can have some serious long-term health effects” says Patricia.

When it comes to toys, pet guardians need to think about what their pets’ toys are made of because they spend a lot of time in your pets’ mouth. Many toys are made of plastic, a petroleum-based product that breaks down into microscopic pieces that get into your pet’s body as well as in the air, surfaces in the home and in the soil outdoors, says Patricia.

And if you are still using plastic dishes for your pet’s food, please consider switching to healthier  alternatives like glass, ceramic or stainless steel.

Sadly, the manufacturing of pet products is not a regulated industry so pet guardians need to do their homework when it comes to choosing safe and healthy products for their pets. Cameron suggests looking for certified organic products, which are produced without the use of toxic chemicals.

Building materials in the home are another source of concern for people and pets. Flooring, carpet, paint, wood finishes and furniture, to name a few, all have the potential to off gas — the release of chemicals into the air through evaporation —  toxins such as formaldehyde, phthalates and BPA (Bisphenol-A). These can cause serious health problems for the whole family, especially pets and small children.

Once the snow is gone, pets and people love to spend time outdoors. As with our indoor environment, the use of harsh chemicals outdoors is not healthy for you or your pets.

“Not only for a pet but for all people and all other animals that live in our world with us we really shouldn’t be using any chemicals in our yards,” says Jori Baum, healthy homes advisor with Green Calgary.

“There is a lot of research and studies done by organizations like the Cancer Society, Lung Association and environmental groups showing the harmful effects of chemicals on our health and the health of insects, animals and the environment,” she says. “Eliminating pesticides and fertilizers are what we advocate for.”

Jori explains that pesticide and fertilizer use in our yards is a fairly new practice in human history. People have been taking care of their yards and gardens for a long time in an organic way. “The issue with chemicals is they are not a solution — they actually might solve one issue but they are so specific that they create other issues within the eco system so they’re not a one-stop solution for weeds etc.,” she explains.

Organic methods are known to be a lot more broad in their effects, Jori adds. One organic method is to use compost in your flower beds, vegetable gardens as well as watering it into your lawn. You can either make compost yourself or purchase it at your local garden centre. Keeping your soil healthy is the best way to discourage weeds, such as dandelions, from growing.

Grass recycling, or returning your grass clippings to your lawn rather than bagging and disposing of them is another way to keep your soil healthy. This can be done with a push mower or a mulching mower, says Jori.

“Personally, I feel when we look at our pets, they are very close to nature, I think that’s one of the things that’s so appealing about them, and many of the things we bring into their life, they don’t need and they don’t want,” says Patricia.

Pets may look cute in their little outfits but they really aren’t a necessity. Being eco-friendly means thinking about the real cost and environmental impact of producing the goods we purchase including pet products. “Our pets are quite happy with natural foods, a stick or a ball, a comfy place to sleep and lots of love, attention and outdoor activity,” says Patricia.

“At Green Calgary we want to make sure that anyone who wants to live a more healthy, sustainable life, and help our environment, has access to our programming,” she says. “People are eager to make these changes but they just don’t know how to start and they need some support.”

Once such program is Green Calgary’s FREE Healthy Homes program. A Healthy Homes advisor will visit your home and provide education and the tools you’ll need to make your home more environmental friendly. For more information or to sign up for your free consultation visit