Out of all the toxic environments that your pet will be exposed to in its lifetime, it is the place where we feel safest that may be the most dangerous to your pet's health — your home.
The typical modern home has more chemicals, gases, and natural toxins than anything your pet is likely to come across while roaming the neighborhood, yet most pet owners are blithely unaware of the dangers being posed by such seemingly innocuous products like air fresheners and furniture polishes.
Just as humans can fall ill as the result of sensitivity to chemicals, animals suffer from physical reactions to chemicals that are used to manufacture furniture and textiles in the home, and cleaning products that leave residual films. Air fresheners, meanwhile, may give the appearance of leaving a clean, fresh scent, but are actually irritating to the breathing passages and mucus membranes - especielly for brachycephalic breeds. Even damp carpeting can pose a health risk to pets, especially since they are so close to the source.
To make matters worse, plants, which are often used to keep indoor air clean, can be toxic for your pet as well, should Kitty or Fido decide to take a bite out of one of them.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect your pet from "chemical overload."
Some of the biggest offenders of indoor pollution come from a class of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These carbon-based chemicals evaporate at room temperature, but can remain in the air for long periods, depending on the ventilation and temperature of the indoor air. Often found in disinfecting solutions (e.g., pine-, lemon-, or citrus-scented cleaners, bleach, etc.) or furniture made of composite wood products, prolonged and chronic to VOCs can lead to cancer, liver and/or kidney damage, and damage to the central nervous system. Short term exposure, meanwhile, can bring on bouts of dizziness, vomiting, breathing problems, and irritation of mucus membranes in the eyes, mouth, and nose.
Because of their proximity to these products (e.g., laying under furniture or on freshly cleaned surfaces), house pets are at a heightened risk for having a toxic reaction.
New carpeting also has a host of chemicals that go into the process of making and installing them. Along with formaldehyde, benzene, and acetone, carpets are treated with stain protectors, moth proofing, and fire retardant. They are then attached to the floor with volatile adhesives.
So when buying new carpeting, be sure to talk to the salesperson about allowing the carpet to "gas off" before installation. When possible, have the carpet installed with staples rather than adhesives, and air those newly-carpeted rooms with open windows and fans. Similarly, with new furniture, a lot of chemicals go into the protection of the wood, fabric, and components of the pieces. Allowing the new pieces to air out before you pet is allowed to stretch out on or under them will dramatically lower the risk of a chemical reaction.
Air fresheners, somewhat surprisingly, are near the top of the offensive air polluters list. Although they make your rooms smell less "doggy" and "catty," they are constantly emitting volatile chemicals into the air.
Pet-friendly plants will help to filter the air in your home, and baking soda is great for neutralizing odors, even in carpeting. But for replacing a bad smell with a good one, try simmering a pot of your favorite herbs and seasonings such as cinnamon sticks with cloves. Or, for a sweet smell, stick with all natural oils and use an oil burner. Vanilla or lavender oils are fantastically soothing fragrances for you and your pet, and lemon or orange oils can help perk your home up.
One of the most common causes of toxicity in pets is from the use of pesticides and rodenticides. Every time you bomb or spray your home, the chemicals settle into the carpet and cracks in the floor. Where is your pet during all of this? Right down there, breathing the chemicals in all the time.
When possible, use natural or non-toxic methods for treating pest and rodent problems in your home. Sticky and non-lethal rodent traps may be more difficult and hands on, but in the end, they are safer for your pet. If you must use a pesticide bomb, remove your pet from your home for a couple of days and then air the rooms out as best as you can. But be aware, the chemicals in pest bombs do post-work by attaching to the floors and walls, so there is a limit to how much you can clear away.
As "going green" becomes more embedded in our everyday thinking, making changes in the one place we can control, the home, is the cornerstone of the movement. After all, it only takes a few simple steps to ensure that your pet breathes easier and remains healthy.
Image: Derek Purdy / via Flickr
A type of slime that is made up of certain salts, cells, or leukocytes
An animal with a wide head, short in stature.
Chemically described as CH3COCH3, created from the fermentation of sugar and starch. Acetone can be found in the urine of a diabetic animal, the breath of certain lactating animals, and in blood. When found in lactating animals, acetone indicates a deficiency, usually of carbohydrates resulting from an inability to properly oxidize fat in feed.