This article first appeared in the May/June 2007 issue of Dogs Life.
Whether you have a pooch with sensitive skin, a fussy eating habit or arthritic joints, an amazing array of natural products are available to help keep your canine happy and healthy. Dogs Life editor Caroline Zambrano finds out how these products can make a difference in your dogs life.
Natural products are free of chemicals, artificial colours and preservatives. For many pet owners, natural is the best way to go to provide their dogs a happy and healthy life.
Dogs Life caught up with naturopathic pet consultant Sarah Griffin from Sydney Naturopathic Pet Care to find out the types of natural products available on the market and what makes them beneficial for our pets wellbeing and the environment.
In todays climate many dog owners are becoming increasingly aware and concerned about the impact we and our dogs are having on the environment, Griffin said. By choosing to use natural products many people feel that they are making better choices. Often the companies that manufacture these goods share the same concerns and have made an effort to provide a viable alternative.
Griffin believes natural shampoos are more beneficial for animals as the natural products are gentler on the skin.
Dirt is dirtier than it was 50 years ago, even dirtier now than it was 20 years ago, she said. Dogs roll and play in gardens and parks, thereby getting soil and debris mixed up in their fur. The park keepers and a lot of home gardeners use pesticides and chemicals to promote plant growth and to kill weeds and pests. All are ending up on the dog.
Griffin says this can lead to chemical sensitivities and allergies in canines, not to mention problems with digestion.
To then add another chemical cocktail to remove this dirt seems a bit harsh to the poor dogs skin, she said.
But to dissolve the grease and remove dirt from your dogs skin and hair, one needs a surfactant so when you finish, you end up with a clean dog.
But it is better to use a milder form that will remove all the dirt and grease, but will not leave the skin irritated and sensitive, Griffin said.
Two of the main ingredients used in natural and chemical shampoos are oatmeal and coal tar. Although considered old-fashioned remedies, both are still effective and are used extensively in a lot of products, she explained.
Natural fibre dog coats
Griffin says natural fibre dog coats are more pleasant for the dog as cotton or wool products are effective at providing warmth and they wash and maintain well.
The downside is a problem in wet weather, she said. Although there are some smart oilskins around these days.
Natural fibres are effective for enabling the skin to breathe and allowing air circulation between the coat and the fur, Griffin told Dogs Life.
A huge problem with long-haired dogs in winter is the extra matting of the fur from constant wearing of their coats. This still happens somewhat with natural fibre coats but creates less friction than polyester-type fabrics so tangles are reduced (slightly), she said.
In fact, her senior Cattle Dog, Creole, it seems gets very attached to her blue corduroy coat in wintertime and wants it on all the time.
She got hers when she got older and it comes out every winter, Griffin said, laughing.
When getting natural fibre dog coats, it is also important to consider the type of washing detergent you are going to use, she added.
Its no good providing lovely natural fibres for a coat and then using heavy chemicals to wash it in. Detergent residues can linger on fabrics, she said.
Natural fibre dog beds
Dog beds come in many different shapes and sizes, and convenience and hygiene must play a large part in choosing the best one for your dog, Griffin said.
A bed needs to be able to be washed weekly to control the flea population, especially over summer, and to remove the dirt and odours. Synthetic fibres can be easier to maintain in this regard, she said.
Fabric beds, such as wool or sheepskin, can be awkward to wash continuously. The effort does pay off, however, as odours are removed more efficiently. Plastic or synthetic beds can, over a period of time, absorb odours permanently, meaning the bed becomes sour smelling no matter how hard you scrub it, Griffin said. Natural fibre beds are more efficient at helping to regulate body temperature cooler in summer, warmer in winter.
Natural food and supplements
Griffin says there are two types of individuals in the world: those who live to eat and those who eat to live.
Whichever category your dog falls into, they can benefit greatly from a natural diet and appropriate supplementation, she said.
Dogs are a lot like people in the way that they can develop bad eating habits, Griffin told Dogs Life. Some dogs would like nothing better than to eat a diet high in fat and sugar. A lot of commercial pet foods use this to their advantage. Also pet foods that are highly processed into small biscuits can make controlling portion size a challenge, leading to overfeeding and unhealthy weight gain.
Griffin says a balanced natural diet should provide all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that dogs need to suit the stage of life they are at.
By providing a natural diet, you have greater control over the amount and quality of the ingredients you use, she said.
When it comes to supplementation, it should only be used to suit a specific purpose, such as pregnancy, illness, growth or old age.
Supplements are a lot like diets, she said. You can find natural supplements or commercially manufactured supplements.
For example, vitamin E comes in two forms: naturally occurring in wheat germ and rice bran oils (known as d-alpha-tocopherol) or synthetically made from petroleum (known as dl-alpha-tocopherol). The non-natural form does not confer the same health benefits the only benefit appears to be that it is cheaper to purchase, Griffin said.