I didn’t realize just how sensitive pets can be to food chemicals that are deemed safe for humans, until a friend fed his pet fish pre-washed spinach. The next morning, every fish and shrimp in his aquarium was dead. I don’t know if it was pesticides, preservatives, or color enhancers, but it sure brought home the fact that ‘safe’ is relative when it comes to animals.
Aquatic pets can be very sensitive to chemicals, but so can other pets. Cats are notoriously sensitive, as are rabbits and reptiles. Dogs have a higher tolerance, but that doesn’t mean the chemicals aren’t effecting them (especially if they’re prone to allergies). When pesticides have been tested on animals in high doses, they caused cancer, nervous system damage, and birth defects. Certainly no species encounters these chemicals in the wild (with the possible exception of polluted waterways).
Most people think of pesticides first, but there are other additives in human food that may cause an allergic reaction (or worse) in pets:
- Color enhancers
- Flavor enhancers & sweeteners
- Antibiotics and other drugs
- Growth hormones (such as the bovine human growth hormone)
- Synthetic fertilizers can produce inferior products.
Organics offer more than chemical-free eating for pets. Other bonuses include no genetic modification, a more nutritious product (depending on farm practices), environmentally-friendly production, and often a more humane lifestyle for animals.
The expense of organic ingredients for pets is often a deterrent, but there are ways to save money on them:
- Buy organic meat, vegetables and fruit on sale and freeze them in airtight containers.
- Feed your pet the parts that are less appetizing to humans, such as end pieces of vegetables.
- If you can find a butcher shop that processes organic meat, you may be able to buy their ‘scraps’ and organ meat for a much less expensive homemade pet food.
- Contact local organic farmers to see if you can purchase fruit, vegetables, or eggs directly from them.
- Local organic farmers may be willing to sell you large bags of scraps, such as bruised apples or radish greens that are just fine for pet food.
- Many local organic farmers will offer a ‘side’ or whole animal, which is cut to your specifications for much less than you would pay if you bought it individually from stores. They may only do this once/year, but you can ask them to give you a call when they’re ready.
Even if you can’t afford to feed organic food to your pets all the time, doing so when you are able will still reduce chemical impact on your pet’s health. At least try to buy organic versions of foods known to be heavily treated with pesticides, like apples, bell peppers or peaches. For a full list of the worst and best produce for pesitcide residue, visit the Environmental Working Group.
Sometimes, there simply isn’t an organic version of food available. When encountering that situation in making natural Bottom Bites fish food (organic tubifex worms aren’t exactly common, for example), we still reduce chemical content by contacting manufacturers and asking them what preservatives and other chemicals they use. This allows us to avoid those preserved with ethoxyquin, etc. When you can’t avoid chemicals entirely, you can still help your pet rid their body of them with natural, gentle detoxifiers like Calcium Montmorillonite Clay.
Pets are ahead of the chemical roulette game if they’re fed a homemade diet, even if you don’t use organics. However, if you’re going to go to all of that trouble, you might as well go all the way with organic ingredients if at all possible.
Do you have any tips about feeding pets organically? Please share them in the comments below.
Schardt, David. Organic Food, Nutrition Action Health Letter. 2007.
Riviere, Jim E. Pet Food Safety: A Shared Concern. The British Journal Of Nutrition. 2011.
Pesticides and Food: What You and Your Family Need to Know
Dangour, A. D. Nutrition-Related Health Effects Of Organic Foods: A Systematic Review. American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. 2010.
2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Environmental Working Group.
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