Pet Friendly Green Cleaning

You're doing the environment a favour, but are environmently friendly products safe for our pets too? Vet Ben Wilcocks gives us his advice...

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the implementation of environmental initiatives such as the Kyoto protocol and the newly established carbon tax, as more and more people and industries choose to be as eco-friendly as possible.

The pet industry hasn’t been immune to the green movement, with pet owners becoming more and more conscious of their carbon ‘paw-print’ and how pet products – including their food, vaccines, fleas and tick treatments, and shampoos - impact their health and the environment. The most obvious example of this, is the huge trend towards eco-friendly kitty litter, that you can read more about HERE.

Recently, I’ve had a few pet owners enquire about the suitability and practicality of eco-friendly cleaning products used at home around pets, particularly cats. One anecdote I distinctly remember, was from a pet owner who started using eucalyptus oil as a cleaning product. She noted that her cat, aptly named Steve, started to spend less time at home, and when she did a bit of research, quickly learnt that cats hate the smell of eucalyptus. In fact, eucalyptus oil is often used as a deterrent to feral cats in gardens and areas around the home.

So what eco-friendly cleaning products are we talking about here? I’m talking about products such as vinegar, bicarbonate soda, oils (eucalyptus, lavender and citrus), citrus peels, and herbs (including rosemary, mint, thyme and witch hazel).

To understand what products are suitable to be used around cats, you need to understand a bit about their basic physiology. Just like with us, the liver is the main organ involved in detoxifying and metabolising products in cats and dogs.

However, cats are deficient in a number of enzymes necessary to effectively metabolise certain chemicals and toxins. In particular, they lack an enzyme known as glucuronyl transferase, which facilitates a process known as hepatic glucuronidation. Simply put, cats lack the capacity to detoxify certain chemicals, making them prone to toxicities. This risk is even more pronounced in cats with underlying liver disease, as their ability to metabolise toxins is compromised even further.

With this in mind, when considering whether a product is safe to use around your cat, my best suggestion is to strictly follow the instructions on the label. For instance, if the label directions state, “Keep children and pets away from the area until dry”, then keep your cat away from the product until it’s dry. Often there are a number of factors which influence whether a product is potentially toxic to your pet, including the amount of product your pet is exposed to, the conditions under which the animal was exposed, your pet’s species, age, breed, weight, and health status, and so on.

Remember that essential oils will stick to a cat’s coat, and cat’s are serial self-groomers, so the chances of ingesting a product that was never originally intended to be swallowed is suddenly quite high in cats, simply due to their nature and the consistency of the product. Assuming you carefully follow the directions on the label, and use some common sense when choosing a cleaning product, the safety of any of the products mentioned above shouldn’t be a major concern.

However, safety is only one of the factors to consider. Cats are olfactory beings! They heavily rely upon scent, and a new, unfamiliar, or repulsive scent can have a huge impact on the cat’s behaviour, social interactions, and familiarity to their home and family. Try to be conscious of this when choosing products to clean with, and as a general rule, the more ‘neutral’ the scent, the less offensive it will be for your cat.

Hopefully this helps give everyone a basic understanding of the considerations to keep in mind when choosing eco-friendly cleaning products for your home.

Dr Ben Willcocks is a Veterinarian, and a regular contributor to the pet website, www.vetico.com.au.

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