Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Eco-friendly Pet Care

Pet Column for the week of November 22, 2010

Related information:

Related site - Furnetic, Healthcare for the pets that move you
Services - Public Health

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brittany Way
Information Specialist

More and more people are making life-style choices that take into consideration environmental health as well as individual health. The green movement offers eco-friendly options for pet owners, too. Despite the myths, these choices aren't necessarily higher in cost.

Kelsie Dolezal, a certified veterinary technician at Furnetic, the Chicago-based primary care practice of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, spoke recently on "greening" your pet.

What defines an eco-friendly product? "There is no standard definition," says Dolezal, "but the product should not be harmful to the environment and should leave our Earth just as resource rich as when we acquired our pet."

Eco-friendly pet care items on the market include cat litters, organic or high quality foods, recycled plastic toys, beds and confinement systems such as leashes, collars and fencing.

Dolezal says cat litter preference should depend on your cat. "Any clumpable litter is going to be better for the environment, because you are only scooping the waste and leaving the untouched litter. There are brands such as SWheat Scoop (wheat), Yesterday's News (recycled newspaper), and World's Best Cat Litter (corn) that are more eco-friendly than your normal clay litter. If you change brands of litter, you want to make sure you leave at least one litter box with the litter your cat is used to. If you suddenly change the type of litter and your cat does not prefer this new litter, you can create a house-soiling problem," she advises.

In addition, items such as the CatGenie can eliminate the need for litter all together by flushing your cat's waste into the sewage system.

According to Dolezal, organic foods can be hard to find and are often expensive. She says choosing a pet food is like choosing a cut of meat: "Your filet mignon foods have whole-meat ingredients from named animal species (chicken, beef) and named high quality fat sources (grape seed oil). Sirloin-cut foods have food fragments, byproducts, and artificial colors."

In order to buy the best food for your pet, compare nutritional requirements against the diet's ingredients, or have your veterinarian recommend a balanced diet suitable for your pet.

Homemade diets are confusing for many people and often result in an imbalance in the pet's diet. Dolezal recommends the website, which will allow you to buy recipes for making a balanced diet.

Another environmentally sound practice to consider is choosing to invest in a high-quality item that will last, such as beds made of organic products or products made of recycled plastics, instead of buying a cheaper item you'll have to replace many times. This is more of an investment in the beginning, but can end up being cheaper in the long run.

Say you just want to change one thing in your daily routine to help make your pet more "green," what can you do? If you are a dog owner, pick up your pet's poop! Pet waste often contains parasites and bacteria that can cause diseases if spread. Just picking up the poop can give your pet the "green" stamp of approval.

How you acquire a pet has environmental implications too. Dolezal says, "Adopt from a shelter!"

Being an eco-friendly pet owner is becoming easier, and you can take small steps in helping your pet become a "green" citizen.