Green pets

How to reduce Fido’s carbon footprint.

A pet prairie dog (photo credit: REUTERS)
A pet prairie dog
(photo credit: REUTERS)
All pet food, toys and hygiene products are flown thousands of miles to Israel non-biodegradable packaging that doesn’t biodegrade. They are also expensive. A growing eco-movement argues that given those factors, keeping a pet in today’s world isn’t justified, and eco-conscious pet owners are now exploring ways to green their pet’s food and environment.
Real food for pets Cooking homemade dog and cat food is one of the easiest ways to improve your animal’s, and the planet’s, health.
Commercial pet food is bulked out with lots of fiber to cover up minimal nutrients. To compensate for essential nutrients lost in manufacture, kibble is sprayed with fats, oils, minerals and vitamins. Taurine, an especially important amino acid, is replaced by a synthetic product. It’s easy to see that homemade food is best for pets, as it is for humans. The required chicken necks, grains and other natural ingredients provide far more than the minimum daily required nutrition. And it’s cheaper. Also, making it requires only 10 minutes of preparation, maybe 20 minutes of cooking once a week, or a fortnight, plus another five minutes for packaging and freezing individual portions.
Metro interviewed the country’s sole (as of this writing) certified pet nutritionist, Sivan Zilber, this week.
“Israeli pet owners are just beginning to get interested in natural pet food,” she said. “I’m interested in educating pet owners about food meant for pets, not ‘pet food.’ Over 90 percent of Israeli pets subsist on dry or canned pet foods, which are mostly made of agricultural by-products. Nutritional deficiencies from this diet result in all kinds of ailments. You can compare this to humans who eat only commercially prepared foods; you’d expect their health to degrade, too. Dogs and cats that eat natural, home-cooked foods have fewer allergies, dental and skin problems, and illnesses related to obesity. Pet obesity, like human obesity, is already a problem in Israel.”
The wisest thing an eco-conscious pet owner can do is get the correct recipe for his or her particular pet. A study that UC Davis did in June 2013, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, showed bad results for common pet food recipes. Of 200 recipes culled from veterinary textbooks, petcare books and websites, only nine supplied adequate nutrition for long-term use.
Zilber adds, “Every pet has its own nutritional requirements, which change according to its age, weight and condition as it ages. Most pet owners bring their animals to the veterinarian several times a year for immunizations and routine checkups – that’s the time to report on behavioral changes or other signs that the pet’s diet should change. A puppy, for example, needs a different ratio of meat, fat and fiber than an older dog or a pregnant dog. Nowadays we also add natural, nutrient-dense supplements like spirulina to pet diets.”
Zilber speaks excellent English and counsels in person, by email and by phone. She is available at 050- 990-1092, and her website in English is www.nfpets.
Dealing with pet waste The law demands that owners clean up dog waste, but Israel has no biodegradable bags (made from corn or soy) as the US and Europe do. The best this reporter can say is, use recycled bags. Cat litter is composed of compressed sawdust; clay/sand mixes, with or without silicon nuggets to absorb odor; or agricultural waste like corn and wheat husks. Baking soda can be added to control odors. Litter made of wood shavings or corn husks is biodegradable and can even be composted once the solid waste is removed. For the gardener, an online search will yield methods of composting cat litter. It’s important to find out which kinds of trees and vegetables can stand up to the high ammonia level in it.
Litter made of clay settles and hardens. It can be argued that this actually benefits landfills, as clay forms a solid barrier that prevents leakage of toxic wastes into surrounding ground. Clay mining used to raise concerns for the environment, because in the past, companies that mined clay and other substances left vast, barren areas behind. Today, those companies are obliged to repair mined land. For example, the Wyo- Ben company in Wyoming, which mines bentonite, reclaimed a 40-acre area with native vegetation and a 12-acre reservoir to benefit native animals, reptiles and water fowl.
Recycled pet toys Toys aren’t a luxury for spoiled pets. Because so many pets live in apartments and get only minimal outdoor exercise, it’s important to provide them with toys that engage their curiosity and make them move.
Pet owners know how expensive pet toys are, and how cheaply made. A typical cat toy stuffed with catnip and sporting a colored feather or a bell can easily cost NIS 70. And cats, especially, quickly get bored with their toys. Instead of investing in plastic toys (and their packaging), turn to the ever-ready Internet and discover how easy and cheap it is to make pet toys out of recycled materials found around the house. And donating used leashes, pet gates and old, clean pet beds to an animal shelter is simply a mitzva.
One example is a “snake” of connected toilet paper rolls that the owner pulls around on a string. Any cat will follow and pounce on the wiggling “snake” – for a while. Another is the plastic rings that separate off milk jugs, tehina jars and the like. Cats love to murder those.
A cat jungle gym is a good project for the DIY-minded, if there’s space in the house where it can stand.
Pet grooming supplies There are fewer natural pet shampoos and toothpastes in Israel than in the US and Europe.
However, natural flea powders are available in most pet supply stores. A Bach flower remedy for calming a hysterical or traumatized animal is also available in Israeli pet stores.
Dog and cat beds It’s not hard to make a soft, comfortable place for your pet out of recycled clothes and towels. YouTube has videos showing how to make some. WikiHow is another good source.
Laundering cat and dog beds and clothing Yes, clothing. Hairless breeds suffer in cold weather and often have a little sweater wardrobe of their own.
Commercial detergents include a variety of chemicals: perfumes, brighteners, bleachers and surfactants. Many animals are sensitive to these substances. Add half a cup of vinegar or baking soda to the load, which will soften and deodorize fabric as well as stripping it of detergent chemicals. This is also good for breaking up mineral deposits from our hard water in your washing machine.
There are plenty of alternative options to commercial pet supplies. Pet owners will be surprised at how willing the local veterinarian may be to discuss those options. This reporter was.