Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Natural Cat Litter, Part 2. The Scoop.

In out first installment, I talked about the environmental and health costs of clay and clumping litters.  Bad stuff.  Now let’s talk about some alternatives.  They’ll turn just about anything into cat litter these days and most of them are biodegradable.  When you shop for natural cat litter, you will find litters made of corn, wheat, walnuts, recycled newspaper, pine nuggets, cedar.  Here are some pros and cons of some that we've tried here at Green Earth Pet Food.  Prices are averaged out over several sources.

1.  Feline Pine.  $0.65/pound.

PROS:  Made of highly absorbent, non-clumping pine fibers in pellet or sawdust form.  
Light pine scent and good odor control.
Low dust.  

CONS:  Packaged in plastic.
Cats can track the fine particles throughout the house.

My cats didn't "do" Feline Pine personally, but I think that's because I didn't give them enough transition time.  The pellets are unusual and not at all like other litters, so give your cat plenty of time to make the switch, mixing in a little at a time with their usual litter.

2.  Swheat Scoop.  $0.96/pound

PROS:  Made of renewable, naturally clumping wheat.
Fairly good odor control--the natural enzymes in the wheat work fairly well to control odors.
Minimal tracking.
Fairly low in dust.
Easy to transition.
Recyclable packaging.
Mild, pleasant bready scent.

CONS:  Mild, pleasant bready scent may be attractive to dogs.  Kristi's dogs thought the litter was an extra treat in the box and had to go on a low carb diet.
Not appropriate for a gluten free household.

3.  World's Best Cat Litter.  $1.18/pound.

PROS:  Made of renewable, naturally clumping whole kernel corn.
Good odor control.
Low dust.
Low tracking.
Mild "farmy" scent.
Long lasting.

CONS:  Plastic package.

In spite of the price, this litter lives up to its name.  AVOID the scented multi-cat formula, though.  In fact, AVOID all scented cat litters.  In general, scents are added chemicals (VOCs) that will just irritate your cat and possibly make her want to avoid her litter box.

4.  Yesterday's News.  $ 0.67/pound.

PROS:  Made from 100% recycled newspaper, including the packaging.
99.7% dust free (lowest of all the litters)
Excellent absorption of moisture.
Low tracking.

CONS:  Does not clump.
I think it smells a little funky (but that's just me).

5.  Cedarific Cat Litter.  $0.87/pound

PROS:  Made of hardwood and cedar chips.
Pleasant odor (doesn't smell like hamsters, I swear!)
Low in dust.
Recyclable package.

CONS:  Non clumping.
A little on the light side, so cats track it out of the box more easily.

These are just a few of the brands that we have first-hand experience with.  There doesn't seem to be a "perfect" natural cat litter, but hopefully this non-scientific review will help you choose what works for you according to your priorities.  

REGARDING FLUSHING AND COMPOSTING:  Almost all of the litters advertise that they are "flushable," but in my research I found that the most environmentally friendly thing to do is to NOT flush cat waste down the toilet, where it will enter the waterways and even the ocean.  Cats have a parasite--toxoplasma gondii, if you were wondering.  It has been found in dolphins, humpback whales, sea otters, monk seals.  It doesn't belong there, so bag your cat poop and throw it away.  As for composting, your compost pile will not heat up enough to kill this parasite, so don't put your litter in compost intended for food plants.

BONUS FOR THE FRUGAL:  I loves me some World's Best Cat Litter.  It's my top pick, but it's expensive.  What else is made of corn, absorbs moisture, controls odor and is otherwise identical in every way but costs a quarter the price?   Chicken Feed.  That's right.  You can get a 50 pound bag of chicken "crumbles" for about $15.  It doesn't clump as tightly as WBCL, but it really is super economical.  Buy a small bag first to see if this is a good option for you and keep extra in the freezer to minimize bugs.  Get only unmedicated feed and, again, make sure it is in crumble form.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Links of the Week

So you get to do a little “green” reading this weekend (my favorite kind)!

We’ll start with a great article discussing the new and improved (and becoming less expensive) LED lights.  They do not contain mercury (like CFLs), have a better lighting quality and can be dimmed.  As each of my CFLs die out, I’ve decided to replace it with an LED light.

Next, check out this wonderful website that has oodles of suggestions on how to rid your life of plastic!  I already do the first two on the list, and I’ve set a goal to incorporate into my life one item from the list each week.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes …

And lastly, Mark Bittman’s article illustrates the audacity of big corporations, like Coca-Cola, to make consumers believe these big companies are trying to make our lives better and healthier.  Oh please, please don’t let consumers fall prey to their marketing ploys!

Happy reading!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Links of the Week

Here is some information worth sharing I stumbled upon this week.

1.  The Yellow Dog Project

The Yellow Dog Project was created to bring awareness to dogs who need space while training, recovering from surgery, or being rehabilitated.  If you see a dog with a yellow harness, leash, ribbon, whatever, this is a dog that needs space.  Do not approach this dog and give the dog and his owner time to move away.  CLick on the link to find out 
more and be sure to share this information with your friends.

2.  Should You Walk Your Dog On or Off Leash?

Dr. Laurel Davis of Sunvet Wellness continues her series, Top 10 ways to connect with your dog and makes a good point about your dog's need to just be a dog sometimes (hint:  it involves the nose).

3.  Free Puppy Social Saturday, January 19 at Asheville Humane Society.

Go to Carolina Mountain Dog for details.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Natural Cat Litter, Part 1

I read a heartbreaking story recently from Marina Michaels at Catmom.  She raises Japanese Bobtails and lost almost every kitten from three litters just when they reached litter box age.  She put two and two together and realized that the clumping cat litter that is so convenient and so popular was likely the cause of what must have been painful, yet preventable, deaths.  So I looked into it myself, and I’d like to share what I learned in my two part post--the bad, the good and, for Kristi, the frugal!


The most popular and readily available and cheapest litters are made of clay, which is naughty for two main reasons.


Clay litters contain silica, which is a known carcinogen and can cause silicosis, a respiratory disease characterized by lesions in the lungs and throat and caused by breathing the silica-laden dust found in clay litter.  No thank you!

Clumping litters contain sodium bentonite, which is basically expandable cement.  They tell you not to flush the clumps because they can clog your pipes.  Sodium bentonite expands 15-18 times its original size.  If it’s hard on your home’s plumbing, imagine what it did to those little Japanese Bobtails’ plumbing when they licked it off their paws after using the litter box, as cats do.  Clumping cat litter plus cats who groom themselves is a recipe for disaster.  Please get rid of this stuff immediately.


Getting rid of clay litter or clumping litter is easier said than done.  You can’t compost them.  They NEVER biodegrade, so they just sit in the landfills.  Forever.  And just as disposing of clay litter is hard on the environment, producing it is equally destructive. Clay litter is strip mined without regard to the land, the water or the miners.


Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives to traditional clay litter.  Some of the environmentally friendly litters even offer clumping ability, if you must.  You can find natural litters made from a variety of renewable resources including wheat, pine, walnuts, corn cobs, and recycled newspapers.  Next week I am going to review some of the brands and materials, plus the pros and cons according to my relatively unscientific research.

See you then.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Links of the Week

Here are some good reads I encountered this week.

1.  Happy Together:  How to Train Successfully in a Multi-Dog Household 

Because January is National Train Your Dog Month and I, for one, am CELEBRATING!  WOOT!  And Karen Pryor is the doyenne of clicker training, my personal hero.  I also recommend her book, Reaching the Animal Mind.  It is a fantastic look at using positive reinforcement to shape the behavior of ALL the animals in your life.  The website has fascinating videos of clicker trained fish, ferrets, a cat that does an entire agility course, a dog that blows bubbles in his water bowl.  Start HERE, then click through each chapter number at the top to see all the fun videos.

2.  What's Behind the Campaign to Condemn Raw Diets for Pets.

Dr. Karen Becker does it again, pointing out all the flawed "logic" the AVMA and AAHA use to try to get you to feed  your pet the unhealthiest of foods--kibble.  

3.  Top 10 Ways to Connect with Your Dog #1:  Take a Hike

Dr. Laurel Davis, holistic vet for Sunvet Animal Wellness in Asheville starts a series on bonding with your pet.  After she counts down for dogs, she promises to count down for cats.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

House Training 101

Awwwwwww....what a cute puppy!  But this is not just a gratuitous puppy picture.  According to Dr. Karen Becker, "looking at cute animals at work can fine-tune your focus and improve your attention to detail." You're welcome!


Our last post before Christmas was a New Puppy Checklist, in case someone may have been planning for a little ball of fur under the tree this year.  Hopefully, you are well-prepared and  ready to teach him the rules of your home.  In particular, where to go to relieve himself.

Let’s start with some important facts.

During the third week of life, puppies start moving away from the nest to eliminate, and by 5 weeks old they begin taking care of their business in a regular place.  From this point, up until 8 and a half weeks old, they will start developing surface preferences for elimination.  You know...grass, carpet, pine needles, piddle pads.  During this period, puppies start to get control of their bladders and bowels.  Your efforts to potty-train will be most rewarding from 7 weeks on!  And remember patience, because your puppy does not physically have complete control over his bladder until at least 4 months old so little “accidents” may happen.

Here are some steps for you to follow:

1.  Take the puppy outdoors to the same spot to eliminate.  Most important times are upon awakening, 15 minutes after meals, and after play sessions; take him out 6-8 times a day.  Be vigilant and soon you will recognize the signs that he is ready to go--sniffing, circling, looking for a remote area.  You may have to pick him up and carry him out to keep him from letting ‘er rip before you get him outside.  It is best to have your puppy on a leash and take him to the same location so that he can sniff previous odors.  It may take 15-20 minutes of sniffing; avoid playing so the puppy concentrates.  This can be excruciating.
2.  Choose a simple phrase, like “go potty,” or “be a good boy,” and repeat it to exhaustion, before and especially while he is going.  Don’t be too enthusiastic or you will distract him.  Just praise quietly until he’s done, then HAVE A PARTY.
3.  Reward your puppy immediately after getting the job done (within 15 seconds).  You can offer praise, food treats or playtime.  (This means you must be with your puppy while she eliminates, so you can praise before she engages in another activity.)
4.  Supervise your puppy indoors (like a hawk!), or use a leash or bells on the collar.  Whenever you can’t watch the puppy, he should be placed in a puppy-proof area, like a crate, a large box, a small bathroom (without rugs).  See below.
5.  Provide appropriate indoor elimination areas if you’ll be away for a long time.  An 8-12 week old puppy usually can go 2-4 hours without needing to eliminate.  For longer periods, use paper or housetraining pads, place them inside a crate or a confinement area.  Make sure the puppy has space for a rest/dining area away from the wastes.  Upon getting home, immediately take the puppy outdoors.  You may wish to take a sheet of soiled paper to the outdoor bathroom to reinforce the message.  By 7-9 months old, usually puppies can go 8-10 hours without soiling.

6.  Teach your puppy to signal when she has to go.  You can hang a bell onto the doorknob and teach the puppy to nudge it, then you open the door.  You can also cue the dog with a key phrase, like “need to go out?”  The puppy’s reaction will indicate whether he needs to eliminate.  Many will learn to bark as a signal.  Rico still rings the bell and the jingling never stops since he taught the cats to ring, too.
7.  Properly feed and water your puppy.  A full stomach stimulates the colon to contract within 10-30 minutes--a good time to take your puppy out!  Not to mention another good reason not to free feed and leave food out constantly.  But pets need access to water at all times.  If you’re concerned that thirst and/or urination is excessive, please bring that up with your veterinarian.
8.  Punishment for mistakes.  Like the name says, mistakes are mistakes and are best prevented by constant vigilance.  If you see your puppy is sniffing and assuming position, quickly grab the puppy and run outside!  If you find a puddle or a pile in the house, clean it up really well with a product specific for that use, which will degrade the odor (don’t use bleach).  Scolding your puppy after the fact will only confuse and intimidate her, and possibly damage your relationship.
9.  Develop versatility.  Once the puppy reaches 4-6 months of age (most are house trained by this age), you can introduce him to different surfaces and locations.  For example, dogs who usually eliminate in the yard should now learn to do it during a walk; or off leash; or on soil rather than grass.  Use your key phrase and then praise to tell the puppy it’s okay.
10.  Discuss problems with your veterinarian.  If you’re having problems that are not responding to these techniques, there may be physical or emotional causes that together you can identify.
There is really no one answer to the question, “How long will it take?”  All dogs are different and some catch on more quickly than others.  As with so many things related to teaching your new puppy how to live harmoniously in your household, it all boils down to the trainer--your consistency and patience are directly proportional to how successfully and quickly you and your puppy get through this stage. 

Did I mIss anything?   Please post a comment if you have any other tips that readers might find useful.  Or share a puppy picture so that we all can get more done at work!

Best of luck and have fun with your new puppy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year’s Resolution: The 4 Healthy Ps!

It’s that time of year again … time to decide on our resolutions for the New Year.  For this year’s resolution, I’m thinking of a simple guideline - the 4 Healthy Ps:





I have decided that 2013 is the year I make all my decisions based on the question: Will it help benefit any of the 4 Healthy Ps?  If I answer yes to any one of them, then it’s a good decision.  If I can answer yes to all of them, then it’s an outstanding decision!

For example, if I decide to only buy organic or pastured eggs for me and my pets, then I am answering yes to 3 out of 4:  (1) healthy for people (pastured eggs have twice the omega-3s as conventional eggs), (2) healthy for my pets (more omega-3s for my pets, too), and (3) healthy for the planet (these chickens are not fed arsenic-laden feed nor given massive antibiotics).  It may not be healthy for my pocketbook, but I can live with that.

And who knows, perhaps my next decision in 2013 will be healthy for my pocketbook.  For instance, I may decide to learn how to make my own pizza instead of buying a premade pizza.  That also passes 3 of the 4 "tests":  (1) healthy for me (I can use lots of organic veggie ingredients), (2) healthy for my pocketbook (making it myself is cheaper than store-bought or restaurant pizza), and (3) healthy for the planet (no packaging to throw away).

So this year I will base my decisions on the 4 Healthy Ps test, aiming for 4 out of 4 on every decision.  How many Ps will your decisions impact in 2013?