The following article was written with care by pet lover and diyNatural community member Mary-Margaret McSweene. She is a writer in her spare time, in addition to being a graduate student. Mary-Margaret enjoys learning about and practicing sustainable habits, including composting in the den of her city apartment!
“I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.” – Abraham Lincoln.
For a dog owner, the 16th president’s quote rings so true. For someone who writes from home all day in the company of only my pit bull/lab mix, Jake, it feels like, well, gospel. And as I began to read labels on substances with which I come into close contact, I thought of my constant companion. If I was encountering toxins, surely a creature who sleeps and eats on the floor was too. And sure enough, the list of ingredients in my floor cleanser was long and full of toxic material.
When I began replacing my own cleansers and grooming products, I made a list over several days of every item I used. Then, as those items ran out, I researched and experimented and found natural recipes to replace them. I began the same process with my dog, from the ground up.
Luckily, I learned that Jake and I were actually battling many of the same enemies. Our first common enemy was just at our feet: the floor. Because I have a dog, and because we’re city folks, I have always been serious about cleaning the floors. When I look at the floor of the subway car, or the dog waste left by inconsiderate owners on our block I think, “We walk on that. And then into our home.” Of course, I can remove my shoes. But Jake’s paws stay on pretty tightly.
For general upkeep of the floor, try a bucket of boiling water, and steep two or three tea bags therein. Mop with the weak brew. The tannic acid makes for a nice shine.
For the serious stuff you brought home from the subway you can summon the big guns without declaring chemical warfare. Mix ¼ cup white vinegar, about a tablespoon of natural liquid dish soap, and ¼ cup washing soda in 2 gallons of hot water.
Jake used to race in from his walks and race immediately for the bed or sofa. It only takes one smudge of something awful on the bed in which you sleep to start ritually wiping paws. Several pet sites suggested Clorox wipes. While this would kill germs, the packaging is fraught with warnings about ingesting the product. Like most dogs, Jake licks his feet. Even the gentler chemicals were drying to the skin. So, I found a recipe for DIY Clorox wipes online, and modified.
Cut up an old bed sheet, t-shirt, or other soft fabric into squares. Stuff into an air-tight container. In a small bowl, mix together 1 cup of water, a couple tablespoons of liquid castile soap, and 2-3 drops of an antibacterial (and pet safe) essential oil such as lavender or eucalyptus. Pour over your rags and shake to coat. If you have enough rags, it will absorb the liquid rather nicely, leaving them all damp rather than creating a Slip ‘N Slide situation for your pooch. (Note: Many essential oils are toxic to animals, so great care should be taken to make sure you’re using one that’s safe and 100% pure. Find 100% pure essential oils here. Never use essential oils with puppies under 10 weeks old.)
Liquid castile soap is a gentle, natural soap that is safe for use in bathing dogs. Not only does it clean, but it can help control a flea infestation. There have been several unsettling stories about the commercial chemical flea and tick treatments actually killing the animal they were meant to protect. Liquid castile soap is a great alternative to a chemical dip. Peppermint or lavender castile soap may be beneficial in eliminating fleas, but be careful not to get it in your canine’s eyes. (Find liquid castile soap here, or another all-natural pet wash here.) After bathing, Diatomaceous Earth can be used to further combat fleas. This powdered substance is all natural and non-toxic to humans and pets. It can be rubbed directly into the fur of your pet and also sprinkled on any of your pet’s bedding. (Find it here.)
As common as dirty dogs are pukey dogs. If they find it, they will eat it. To curb mild stomach and bowel ailments, try replacing their regular food with plain white rice, boiled yam or sweet potato, pure canned pumpkin, or plain yogurt. I once took Jake to the vet for an upset stomach and he was given a pill—one of the listed side effects was nausea. How helpful.
Mind and Soul
I’ve purposefully saved this tip for last, hoping that all dog-less people will have moved on by now. I’m talking about separation anxiety, and doggie downer pills. Most dog-less people will likely find that insane. However, vets do prescribe anxiety meds for nervous dogs. Jake was a rescue dog, and for years shook and drooled and cowered whenever I left the house, when he needed to ride in a car, and when he heard a loud sound. Our vet offered meds, but it made me nervous. Consistent dog training is of course the best answer, but even after years of that, Jake still has his hang-ups. Enter Thundershirt.
Thundershirt is a tight-fitting vest that swaddles your dog. It is similar to the vests autistic humans wear, and produces a similar effect: comfort, security, and calm. This vest helped Jake transition from being nervous and created when I left to being able to laze on the sofa all day, whether I was here or not. Retailing for around $35, it’s also a much cheaper option than medication.
One of my favorite quotes about dog ownership is, “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”
And what better way to honor your defender?