The Seventh Generation Guide to Natural Dog Care | Seventh Generation
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The Seventh Generation Guide to Natural Dog Care

Author: the Inkslinger

I have two kids. One is an 8th grader who loves jewelry-making, track and field, and a good book. The other is a two-year-old Australian shepherd who lives for flying discs, belly-rubs, and fresh berries. Except for a few extra legs and some fur, there's little difference in my mind between the two. Both deserve the best.


That puts me in the school that thinks that if you're not willing to see your dog as an equal member of your family (albeit one stuck at age three!), you should ask yourself if having one is the right choice for you. Because dogs' complex emotional lives and physical needs demand the same respect we afford our human pack members. Yes, they're different from us in many ways, aliens from Planet Dog who've landed their lovable spirits in our midst, but when it comes to what matters—the ability to love, feel pain, know sorrow, find joy—dogs are more like us than many dare to admit.


Yet too often they lead second-class lives, and that's if they're lucky. The good news is that it's easy to provide our dogs with the same healthy lifestyle everybody else in the family enjoys. Here's how to practice some serious puppy love:


Reconsider diet.  Entire books have been written about the issues with commercial pet foods, and "dead," overprocessed foods made from dubious ingredients(1)  have been blamed for for everything from skin problems to cancers.(2)  Yet healthy homemade diets based on fresh, human-grade meats and produce are surprisingly easy to serve.  Research recipes and work with your veterinarian to find the right one for your dog.


But first you'll have to find a good vet. Rather than pick yours from a phonebook, seek one who's aligned with your values and philosophies as the parent of a pup, and screen like you'd screen for the perfect pediatrician. Many dog lovers opt for a holistic practice that mixes conventional care with alternative therapies like herbal medicine and acupuncture.


When it comes to toys, don't play around. There are no government standards for toxic chemicals in pet products,(3)  and many contain questionable synthetic materials, choking hazards, dyes, preservatives, lead, arsenic, mercury,(4)  bacteria, and other unhealthy things.(5)  Tests of pet products conducted by the Ecology Center found that 45% of 400 products tested had detectable levels of at least one hazardous substance.(6)  Look for toys made from natural and/or organic materials that declare themselves free of things like BPA and phthalates. Some vets recommend raw beef stew bones for gnawing.(7)  Whatever you pick, always monitor your dog when he or she is chewing or playing.


Flea and tick solutions are another thing that can bug your dog's health as many rely on toxic pesticidal chemicals.(8)  The NRDC offers guide to the dangers in pest control products and advice for safer strategies.


Always give your dog its own safe and comfortable place to sleep, one with lots of padding to protect joints and insulate from cold floors. Believe it or not, dogs have different "sleeping styles." This guide will help you identify a better bed for yours.


Unleash a safer walking arrangement. Traditional leash-and-collar systems can damage your dog's neck region, especially if your pup pulls a lot when you're out and about. Choke and prong collars are particularly odious. A much safer bet is a harness with an attachment at the shoulders or chest. (Chest attachments make it easier to control errant pooches.)


Don't overwash. While different breeds have different bathing needs, baths strip away vital oils that keep fur and skin healthy, and should be used sparingly. Don't use people shampoos—their pH is significantly different.(9)  Look instead for natural formula dog shampoos that rely on a minimum of synthetic ingredients.


Since a dog considers it reasonable to eat just about anything, watch what plants you keep around the house and yard. This guide will show you which to avoid. Whatever you grow don't use pesticides! Dogs live close to the ground and have substantially increased exposures to any you apply.


Finally, remember that your dog is a person, too. Just like your human kids they need love and attention to thrive. Make sure you spend time each day tending to their physical and emotional needs from walks and playtime to snuggling and grooming. You'll benefit, too—studies show that time spent with our pets provides a variety of surprising health benefits that, just like your dog, you won't want to live without!


(1)Food Pets Die For, Ann N. Martin, New Sage Press, Excerpted at
(2) Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, by Richard H. Pitcairn, Rodale Press, 2005, Pages 9-28
(4) Ibid.
(7) Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, by Richard H. Pitcairn, Rodale Press, 2005, page 45




Eco-girl picture
Your dog is not a person. That said, respect your dog for being a dog. He/she has different needs than a person. Your false assumption really becomes obvious regarding end-of-life care. What makes sense for a human child or human adult in the family does not always make sense for a dog. There are accidents and illnesses that your dog (or cat) may undergo that will cause you to question whether you should do surgery at any cost, undergo chemo when your dog is slipping so fast from life and more. I personally spoonfed my dog beef broth for a week because it was all she would eat, while waiting for the biopsy to come back. They offered for us to send her to another state and do chemo (then more experimental) but we could not be with her. She was already so weak and miserable already. It felt inhumane to us. We said no and had her put down. Had it been my child, that would not have been my answer. I also would question the phrasing "dumped at a cat shelter" by one of the posters. We lived on a country road growing up. People would drive out and leave their dogs and kitties. Often they would wait by the side of the road and get hit by a car. That is dumping. Admitting that your pet is beyond your ability to take care of and finding a shelter who can is a much better choice.
Weatherlight picture
Of course diet affects the immune system, but feeding your dog a good dog doesn't make it a good idea to risk ticks and parasites. The risk will be smaller, of course, but still significant. The risk of side effects from the safer insecticides like Advantage are smaller. I don't currently have a dog, but our two cats get human-grade nutritionally-complete vegan cat food, and are on monthly Advantage despite being indoor cats. We must have brought in fleas from the yard once; the little cat's allergic reaction was terrible. In many regions of the country, heartworm can be a problem for cats as well as dogs (something we'll have to research before we move), and although the preventatives are drugs made by Big Pharma (or whatever you like to call them), are tested on lab animals (including dogs) who are then killed, and certainly not vegan, it's one of those things "there's no way around." I honestly don't care whether something is natural (cyanide, Lyme disease, hurricanes) or unnatural (antibiotics, modern buildings made with wood/plaster/etc, computers), I just care what it does to myself, my family, and the world. PETA is definitely not the best source of dog care information. They bash all crating, except for transportation and vet care. Why? Because it's inhumane to crate a dog 12 hours straight every day. I would agree with that bit, but it doesn't prove that crating for 30 - 120 minutes at a time, as age appropriate, in a dog who likes hir crate and is comfortable there, is inhumane. Prong collars aren't as bad as strangle collars (aka choke chains), but that's like saying beating your child with a wooden bat isn't as bad as beating it with a metal rod. Some brands of front-attachment harnesses, such as the one Premier manufactures, work by hurting the dog for pulling too, such as by pinching the sensitive underarm skin. Do your homework when searching for a management tool that lets you walk your dog before s/he is trained. I personally prefer comfortable, padded harnesses, and leashes with elastic to absorb the shock, such as from Larz. Do what works for you. In the meantime, find a method of training based on sound scientific principles and open communication with your dog, without the use of physical force, coercion, aversives (eg water sprays, saying "No!" or "bad dog," leash jerks/tugs, electric shocks, jabbing, kicking, etc). And if you're still living in the days of WW2 dog training and think it's impossible to have a well-mannered, reliable family pet (or competition dog, eg agility, obedience, tracking, Schutzhund, etc, or working dog, eg service for the disabled, therapy, police, etc), or that it only works on calm, friendly, obedient-personality dogs/breeds, check out this link: As you can see, it will work for all dogs, cats, pigeons, goldfish, tigers, etc. It can get hard to get used to at first, so see if there are any trainers in your area. Some trainers also offer online courses/seminars. Good books include: "Don't Shoot the Dog" by Karen Pryor--She's not my favorite person, she dumped her cat at a shelter when she gave up halfway through training it to stop peeing on the stove, but she knows her stuff and writes entertainingly, not like a boring textbook. It will explain all the basics of WHY different training styles work, and why R+ based training, like clicker training, works better and faster, as well as being more humane, than P+ based training. Despite the title, it's not so much about dogs, it's equally about humans, polar bears, etc, just how living beings learn and are trained. "The Culture Clash" by Jean Donaldson, 2nd edition--The 2nd edition is awesome, and she clearly loves and cares about dogs. She focuses on the canine species, not just general training but also problem behaviors, what truly causes aggressive behaviors, what "socialization" and "habituation" mean in practice, etc. If her tone sounds at all defensive or condescending, (or worse, she offends you because she contradicts what your dog trainer in the 80s told you,) read Don't Shoot the Dog first to understand the context. There are also lots of books about clicker training dogs (and other species), such as Click for Joy, Clicker Training for Dogs, etc. You'll find a ton with a google or amazon search.
the Inkslinger picture
the Inkslinger
Ticks have started to become a serious problem here in Vermont, too. Didn't used to be that way, but I fear climate change is creating a brave new parasitic world for our pups. We use Advantix on our dog, a chemical solution, which repels ticks either before or shortly after they bite. (They need to be latched on for at least 24 hours to cause a Lyme infection.) The way I understand it, Advantix, which is applied in drop form to the skin along the spine, migrates throughout the subcutaneous tissue (i.e. the first few layers of skin), where it stays for a month before being flushed out. Our former holistic veterinarian, who we trusted very much, told us he considered it the best of all possible choices in a world where inaction was no longer an option and natural solutions have been proven ineffective. In his view Advantix was reasonably safe and the studies he'd seen on it didn't suggest any reason for alarm. It's still a chemical cocktail, but it appears to be a relatively benign one. It does work, and our previous dog used it for her entire life and lived to the ripe old age of 16. That said, I'm not a trained veterinarian or even an untrained veterinarian, so you should definitely consult with your own vet before deciding on a course of action. The other thing I would say is that I think diet is absolutely critical. When our dogs get a healthy balanced diet of whole, fresh, human-grade foods, I firmly believe their immune and detoxification systems are far better able to deal with illnesses like Lyme as well as any pesticidal products we might use to protect them. When real food replaces dead canned food and kibble, which is often made from ingredients that are unappetizing at best (and dangerous at worst), their bodies receive the antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other nutrients they need to maintain optimal health and increase the odds that they'll successfully beat back environmental challenges that cause big trouble in dogs subsisting on lesser food sources. My theory (and it's just a theory without proof and one that's mine alone!) is that a lot of the illness and health issues we see in people and their pets, including a susceptibility to Lyme disease's debilitating effects, has its root causes in the fact that our bodies lack the resources they need to properly defend themselves because the diet is not providing the essential raw materials needed to create them. When we (or our dogs!) eat garbage, we trash our bodies' ability to shrug things off as they otherwise might. I may be wrong, but where my dog is concerned, I'm not taking any chances! The last thing I would say is that if you gave your dog antibiotics, it might be wise to feed him or her a little yogurt with dinner for a bit to build back up any intestinal bacteria that was killed by the treatment. A healthy gut ecosystem is vital to immune response!
grabr picture
"...if you're not willing to see your dog as an equal member of your family (albeit one stuck at age three!), you should ask yourself if having one is the right choice for you." I'm right there with you! One problem I have though... I live in an area for high risk of ticks that carry Lyme and other diseases, can't find a natural approach that works. The year we decided not to use the chemical solution... my dog caught Lyme's and had to go on antibiotics... Any tips? I've asked the vet and he said there's no way around this one...