Friday, December 18, 2009

Pet care without toxic chemicals (and rescue organizations!)

From the laptop of a wiener-dog-loving suburban greenmom...

Last June our family welcomed a new member. Not a human member--my stretch-marked belly and tired breasts have had quite enough of that, thank you--but a second dachshund to keep our 13-year-old Tristan company.

We adopted Mindy, a three-year-old miniature, through All American Dachshund Rescue, whose motto is "don't breed or buy while shelter pets die." Lots of people who have a particular breed of dog in mind when they go looking at shelters aren't aware that often when specific breeds come into shelters (from puppy mill raids and such, especially), the local (or not so local) specific breed rescue groups step in and take in these animals for fostering and eventual adoption. The whole ethos of animal rescue goes to so much of what the grassroots green movements stand for--don't go out and make/get new stuff, try to honor and care for what's here. If it's true for inanimate objects, is it not all the more true for living creatures?

I'm hugely in favor of rescue organizations and pet adoption. I know some people who have various reasons for not going through them--one reason I hear is "the rescue dogs are in secure places, I'd rather adopt through a shelter, where the dogs have less time and might be euthanized sooner." (These friends seem to inevitably not find the dog they wanted in a shelter and go buy one somewhere else.) (Okay, maybe not everyone, but about 4 of my friends have done this.) This is admirable in theory, but many people don't realize that freeing up a spot in a rescue organization foster home means that another animal from a kill shelter can move into it. These organizations have good relationships with the shelters--foster families never stay dog-less for long, and shelters place a lot of dogs in them off the bat. Another objection I hear is about how stringent some rescue groups are about letting people adopt through them, to the point of rudeness and overt suspicion, and people just don't want to deal with it. I have to say that in some cases this may be true; most of the adoption screening (with the groups I've encountered) happens via the foster families, and some of them go a little overboard sometimes in making sure the dogs go to good homes, to the extent of driving away anyone who's not the Absolute Perfect Always Home Fenced Yard Walk The Dog Every Two Hours adopter...but on the other hand, they get a lot of creepy people trying to adopt pets to send back to puppy mills, or be backyard breeders, or people who just aren't equipped for it--their job is to send the dogs to homes they'll stay in and not wind up back in the shelter system. And yes, the process was a lot more complicated than walking into a pet store and plopping down a credit card. (I needed letters of recommendation. Haven't needed those since grad school applications.) But on the other hand, I got a puppy whose veterinary care had been exemplary, who had been spayed already, who had lived with a family and not in a cage during the weeks she waited for her new home, and who had been loved and cared for and well socialized.

One of the issues that came up in Mindy's adoption is my convictions about not wanting to give heartworm preventative medications every month all year. (Now, as with everything else I say, do your own research and make your own decisions!) My reasoning: first of all, the "monthly" heartworm medications are only marketed as monthly because they think people won't be able to remember "every six weeks"--once a month is easier. (And incidentally allows them to sell 50% more pills.) But the meds are absolutely tested to only be needed every six weeks. Secondly, I live in Chicago, where everything dies off during the winter, including heartworm eggs and larvae--they need 57 degree weather to grow. For six-plus months of the year, the dogs are in absolutely no danger of catching heartworm, so there's no real reason to give the preventative except, once again, to aid in keeping the habit. Mindy came to us from North Carolina, though, and she lived outside a lot, and there it is fairly important to keep the meds I am giving her the heartworm meds through this one winter to make sure she's okay, and then next winter we'll discontinue them. Every spring we get a heartworm test, and assuming all is well, we start the dogs up with a June pill. (Again, this is going to be different depending on your climate. Do your research, talk to your vet.)

I also don't give Frontline or any of the other "preventative" monthly pest control meds. My reasons are fairly simple: these meds don't actually prevent infestation, they just keep a consistent level of insecticide in the dog's bloodstream sufficient to kill whatever larvae or eggs get in there. There are a number of holistic options for preventing fleas and ticks without toxic chemicals (I did a whole long post on it here), and for getting rid of them if an infestation does occur. Many vets believe that keeping the persistent toxicity in the dog wears down the dog's immune system and actually increases the likelihood that the dog will be infested and uncomfortable, and be prone to other health problems later in life.

As with all of these things, your mileage may vary widely--I have had dogs for 16 years and in all that time have only had two minor flea infestations and one tick. That's all. Hardly worth it to feed my dog expensive poisons every month to prevent that. (My blog post also has suggestions for how to clear up an infestation if it does happen.)

Fleas and ticks are mostly nuisances, though--heartworm, especially in a small dog (the heartworms are the same size in an Irish Wolfhound as in a Chihuahua...but a Chihuahua's heart is a lot smaller than a wolfhound's, so the damage done by the worms will be much worse), is a very very serious matter, and it's not although there are suggested holistic regimens to prevent heartworm infestations in dogs, I choose to give my dogs the meds nonetheless, every six weeks, during the at-risk months. I give them the most basic version, without other anti-parasitics combined in the same pill; again, I hold to the conviction that a healthy pet with a good immune system and a good natural diet will naturally resist infestation, and thus far in the life of all my dogs this has worked really well.

With pet care as with everything else--it pays to ask questions!

--Jenn the Greenmom


Daphne said...

I've owned two dogs in the last twenty years. Both from shelters. Both mutts. I always figure that the mutts are the hardest to get homes. Everyone seems to want a pure breed dog.

concretenprimroses said...

What an adorable dog! I have cats and would like a dog someday, my dh is leery tho.
I think that frontline initiated seizures in one of my cats, so i don't want to use it anymore. Dh is upset because the fleas like to bite him too. i have discovered that if i am vigilant I can kill the fleas with diatomaceous earth. This is a very fine clay like substance (dry its like powder) that destroys the hard shell of the flea. I rub a pinch of it around my kitties neck, being careful not to make a dust cloud that gets in their eyes because it is a dessicant remember. Then a little later i comb the already damaged fleas out of them. Ideally vacuum and sprinkle more d earth in their beds and other areas like corners behind the couch where dust and fleas can accumulate. The hard part is being vigilant and keeping it up. I stopped in November, and because we've had such warm weather, Zorro picked them up again. Now that its finally cold i should be able to get rid of them for the winter.
Its actually ok for the cats to eat the D earth too, kills internal parasites (I bought food grade). Our new kitten from the humane society may have worms and although he has been traditionally dewormed, this will help too. During the summer i applied the D earth outside and rubbed more on them. I'm not sure if it will work next summer without having previously applied Frontline. We'll see.

Jenn said...

@Daphne--That's awesome, good for you. My last dog was a rescued mutt (shelter-bound, but she hadn't gotten there yet) and she was wonderful. I think in general the mutts tend to be healthier than the purebreds, because they haven't had weird traits bred into them; if more people realized that, mutts would probably be more sought after...unfortunately, my husband and I are both mildly allergic to dogs, so we need something vaguely hypo-allergenic, and doxie shorthairs do well with us. And our family has been Dachshund-y since my mom was a kid, so we know how to deal with doxie particulars, like weight and back problems and such.

@Concretenprimroses--the diatomacious earth is a new one to me--I'll check it out!

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

so interesting. i never thought about alternatives to heartworm and flea meds. i think that it is GREAT that the rescue organizations are so picky about who they give their dogs to - that way the dogs won't end up back on the street!! my boyfriend's dogs make my life hell because there wasn't enough conversation between him and the shelter/breeder he got the dogs from about whether our small city apartment situation is appropriate for them (it's not). i also see how rescue organizations probably put more effort into rehabilitating/socializing an emotionally disturbed dog before finding a new owner, which is also beneficial for the new owner.

The Nurturing Pirate said...

YAY! YAY! That's one YAY for breed rescue, and one YAY for Doxies! We're a weiner-dog loving family too. Our beloved rescued dachshund died in June at age 14 of cancer. Bereft, we started contacting dachshund rescues. But after adopting our last dachshund, we had the audacity to have children, which was a no-go for several foster families, despite my efforts to show them how respectful my kids are of all dogs. Unfortunately, dachshunds have gotten a bad rap as "not good with children". Eventually, we contacted San Diego Dachshund Rescue and they had a perfect match for us! So we have had our little chocolate and tan Reese (after the YUMMY candy!) for several months. He just turned two and is a ball of energy!

YAY! also for discussing the importance of those heartworm meds. My parents adopted a weiner who had heartworm! Fortunately, there has been recent success with treating dogs (even small ones) with heartworm. San Diego, despite its warm temps, has a very low mosquito population (the carrier for heartworm), since it's so dry. So we haven't had our dogs on heartworm meds. I looked at the incidence of heartworm (check out this map: and made the decision not to do it. But fleas are a different story, and sometimes we have to resort to Frontline. I've read about the DE approach, and just need to actually buy some.

May I make a suggestion for another dog-related blog topic? Vaccines. Vets have learned by doing titers on dogs that they retain immunity for much longer than they'd previously thought. A good example is the rabies vaccine, which now has a 3-year shot. I'd also like to give a plug for the "Whole Dog Journal" which discusses holistic practices and better feeding options. Sorry for the long comment, but as you can see, I'm pretty passionate about my dogs and keeping them healthy!

greeen sheeep said...

I adopted a rescue dog this summer - she's wonderful! The process was way more involved than I had anticipated, but totally worth it. People shouldn't let the background checks, letters of reference, or home inspections scare them off. Knowing the rescue organizations put so much care into the placement of their animals is a good thing. You wouldn't hand over a child to just anybody. Why should the placement of an animal totally dependent on your care be any different?


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