Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
You probably practice safe grooming on yourself and your kids by using chemical-free shampoos and conditioners. But what about your pet?
Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that most mass-market grooming products designed to keep pets clean actually conspire to shorten pets’ lives. Shampoos, conditioners, and other pet-grooming products don’t just contain toxic sulfates, parabens, and phthalates, some also include DMDM hydantoin (a formaldehyde releaser), not to mention carcinogenic artificial colors. Yikes!
I know what you’re probably thinking: How will I ever keep my furry dirt-magnet clean without chemicals? Here’s the good news: It’s surprisingly easy.
For starters, make friends with an effective dry-cleaning tool such as the FURminator, a product designed to brush away excess animal hair. The scalp stimulation and thorough brushing help to distribute the skin’s natural oils across a pet’s hair shafts, balancing out both dryness and oiliness. This, in turn, simplifies the shampooing process. At times when it’s less desirable to bathe animals-winter in a very cold climate, for instance-an effective dry-grooming routine is a “dogsend.”
When it comes to shampoo, it’s important to select one that’s free of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, DMDM hydantoin, chemical colors, and artificial fragrances. It’s especially shocking to find sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) in pet shampoos, as it is the same ingredient used in the dreaded Draize test (a test administered by some cosmetic companies to induce skin irritation in laboratory animals).
If you have a pet with white fur, be aware that some shampoos designed for white fur contain toxic optical brighteners for that “blue-white” effect. Here’s a simple alternative for dogs: In a plastic bowl, combine 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 tsp. of SLS-free dishwashing liquid. This is the recipe for deodorizing dogs who have been sprayed by a skunk, and its powerful bleaching action brightens white coats. Mix it up fresh each time-this concoction cannot be bottled, or it will explode. Be sure to keep it away from your dog’s eyes, as it can cause serious irritation. Follow up with neem shampoo, so your pet’s skin doesn’t feel itchy after bleaching.
Neem Me Up
Any pet shampoo that contains non-toxic neem oil is an excellent choice, as this extremely demulcent extract of the neem tree will ensure a glossy haircoat. Neem oil soothes skin irritation, whether caused by chemicals or sun exposure. TheraNeem is an excellent brand, but you can also add about 10 drops of neem oil to your favorite brand of pet shampoo to experience neem’s extra-emollient action. A fringe benefit of neem is that it’s also a biopesticide-absorbed into the bloodstream via the skin, neem makes dogs and cats resistant to mosquitoes and fleas.
Rescued animals who have endured mistreatment often have dry, flaky coats, or sometimes evidence of cigarette burns and other injuries. Bathing with neem shampoo several times a week can help. If you discover hot spots, bald patches, scars, or scabs on your animal’s coat, apply a few drops of undiluted neem oil to help them heal.
Beware Hair Dryer Hazards
When bathing your pet, consider the hazards of hair dryers. The EPA has labeled magnetic fields a class 3 carcinogen. Magnetic fields occur around electrical motors such as refrigerators. Surprisingly, your hair dryer can actually emit greater magnetic fields than your fridge. Pets who get blown out frequently-for example, Malteses, Bichon Frises, Afghan Hounds, and Poodles-are especially vulnerable to the life-shortening effect of hair dryers.
Whenever possible, let your pet air-dry after a bath, in the warmth and comfort of the great indoors. If you’re concerned about your interiors getting wet-it’s a fact of life that just-washed animals may be counted on to self-massage on rugs and upholstered home furnishings-then acquire an extra-thirsty microfiber towel and arm your furnishings with a durable, machine-washable protective layer.
All about oils
Secrets to a shiny coat and fresh breath
Moisturize your pet’s skin from within by supplementing his/her diet with nourishing oils such as Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet. Not only will this soften the skin and yield a gleaming haircoat, it will also boost your animal’s immune system. And the addition of tasty oil to a pet’s diet makes any type of kibble or canned food more palatable and nutritious.
Coconut oil, meanwhile, is antiviral and antifungal, and adding it to a pet’s diet can deodorize the skin and haircoat from within. And when used in place of conventional pet toothpaste, coconut oil is also excellent for keeping pets’ choppers clean and healthy-and its taste ensures that Spot won’t resist the tooth-grooming chore.
Whenever possible, let your pet air-dry after a bath.
Julia Szabo is a journalist and healthy living advocate whose work has appeared in The New York Post, Cesar’s Way, Dogster.com, and Catster.com. Her new book Medicine Dog: The Miracle Cure That Healed My Best Friend and Saved My Life, was published in March 2014 by Lyons Press.