When my healthy, young dog got suddenly and inexplicably sick with an inflammatory “autoimmune” condition — which seems to be code for “we really have no idea what causes this” — reducing his toxic exposures became critically important to me.
What causes toxicity in dogs?
According to The Natural Vets there is a “stacking” effect with toxins, so that a healthy dog might well tolerate a few but if the burden gets too much, disease results.
Our bodies are constantly bombarded with chemicals — in the air we breathe both inside and out, in our food and water. Unfortunately our modern living conditions make it literally impossible to avoid toxins.
Our dogs cop the chemicals even moreso because they’re so much closer to the ground, walking barefoot and they really inhale the scents. Their noses are a key part of how they interact with their world.
This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.
Keeping exposures as low as possible makes it more likely the body’s natural detoxification mechanisms can keep up. It’s a matter of controlling what you can control, because there’s so much you can’t. You cannot single-handedly bring down the level of pollution in your city or stop your council spraying weedkiller in parks. But you can do something about the air quality inside your home and make small changes that might cut down your dog’s exposure to lawn care chemicals in public green spaces.
Here are the things I’ve done to clean up my dog’s environment.
Maybe some sound crazy to you. (You can get pretty out there when you’ve had a dog at death’s door.) Others might make sense. Whatever you can do will help. A lot of little things add up.
1. No household chemicals
In the past, I used all sorts of sprays and wipes in the kitchen and bathroom, many of them scented.
Now I use only a homemade mixture of vinegar and citrus peel, for everything. Here is the recipe. It works just as well, without the toxic residues and vapours.
2. Steam cleaner
This is the other major breakthrough in our home that’s allowed us to avoid all chemical cleaners. The Karcher steam cleaner works on absolutely everything – floors, showers, kitchens, windows, stains — and it uses nothing but superheated water. Brilliant.
3. Clean dog paws
Less need for this when we’re on our farm where we know what’s been done to the land. But when we’re in the city, this has become a must.
My dog Shiva walks on roads sprayed multiple times a day by street sweepers and he walks on fields and parks and roadside verges treated with weedkiller and fertiliser.
Each time we come home, I pop him in the shower and wash his paws in Dr Bronner’s baby unscented liquid soap, then rinse thoroughly. I had my shower head replaced with a hose style nozzle to make this easier.
Be sure to dry your dog’s feet afterwards too, paying particular attention to the hair around the tops of the nails, between the toes and beneath the paw pads. If you leave your dog’s feet constantly damp you’ll end up with a brown discolouration around the nails and between the toes. Besides, soggy feet don’t feel very good!
If you leave them wet your dog is also more likely to lick them which is definitely not what we want. I use a hair dryer on the cool setting.
4. Reconsider chemical wormers and flea and tick preventatives
These products can cause many adverse side effects, up to and including death. This Facebook group has more than 17 000 members who can attest to it. And remember, toxins are cumulative in their effect. Just because your dog has been fine the first however many times, does not mean one day it won’t cross your dog’s threshold.
Understand your dog’s specific exposures and risks to decide how necessary these products are. Heartworm, for instance, is transmitted by mosquitoes and the worm life cycle requires a run of days above a certain temperature. Which means in most places heartworming is completely unnecessary in winter months because the worms can’t survive in the cold anyway. And, not every mosquito transmits the worm. It has to have first bitten an infected dog.
5. Lawn chemicals and dogs
Dogs and perfect iridescent green lawns are not a good mix. Don’t use lawn chemicals in your yard. Give me a few weeds and a healthy dog any day.
Be conscious that public gardens, parks and sports fields will be sprayed with herbicides and fertilisers.
Where I live the councils regularly spray public green spaces with weedkiller. When I inquired how I could stay aware of when sidewalk grass was being sprayed, I discovered this information is not made publicly available. More than that, it’s not gettable — even if you ask. I also found out my council regularly uses RoundUp on sidewalks. RoundUp contains glyphosate, an ingredient that has been linked with causing cancer in people. Its maker Monsanto insists it’s safe but has made hefty payouts to those who’ve gotten sick after using it.
Councils often do this spraying in the very early hours of the morning, so you are not going to see it happening or know it’s been done. There is usually no signage.
Basically, you have to assume any publicly-maintained grass has herbicide on it. Gardeners sometimes use a blue stain that denotes weedkiller is present but most often there is no way to tell.
You don’t want to completely ruin all your dog’s fun by stopping him sniffing a single blade of grass. Dogs live to read the pee-mail!
Instead, I try to offset this risk.
I make an effort to mix up where I walk with my dog and make sure Shiva’s local walks are interspersed with trips to the beach and other destinations that are likely to be more chemical-free.
I have seen council officers using chemical wands to spot target weeds in lawns. So I try not to let Shiva linger on sniffing weeds.
It’s far from satisfactory, but I try to be strategic about when I let him run and play on grassy areas. We take the chance after heavy rain. I’m figuring the rain will have washed chemicals deeper into the ground where they’re less likely to harm him.
6. No scented candles
Everything from perfume and hair sprays to toilet deodoriser, scented candles and hand washes. Avoid as many of these products as possible. It saves you money too and you’ll be surprised how little you miss them. What you can’t avoid, use mindfully. Like, don’t lather your hands with cream and then pat your dog so it goes on his fur and then he later licks it off while grooming.
With candles, I avoid them and I avoid taking my dog to other people’s homes if they use scented candles and incense or room sprays.
7. Dog toys
Be conscious of the materials used to make any toys you give your dog. I once had the dyes on a leather tug run when the toy got wet with my dog’s saliva. The stain came off in his mouth. Not good. There are non-toxic options out there.
8. (Truly) clean water
Depending on where you live, the quality of your tap water will vary. Giving natural spring water avoids the chemical treatment process that tap water goes through including the addition of chlorine and fluoride which dogs obviously would not naturally have in their bodies.
Another thing you can do is empty and refill your dog’s water bowl as often as possible. At least daily, if not more. Why? There is a reason you can remove the chemical odor from a freshly painted room by leaving out buckets of water. Water absorbs chemicals from the air. So your dog’s bowl is a magnet for any airborne chemicals in your home.
9. Feed fish sparingly if you want a healthy dog
These days, all marine life is unfortunately subject to contamination with heavy metals like mercury, pesticides like DDT and other chemicals like PCBs. Large, long-lived fish like tuna are at the top of the food chain and so accumulate more toxins. But even small oily fish like sardines should be fed only occasionally to be safe.
10. Take dog vaccination side effects seriously
Vets treating dogs with inflammatory autoimmune conditions write waivers exempting them from future vaccinations. Some dogs have relapsed when vaccinated.
Do your own research. Understand your dog’s likely exposure to the conditions vaccinated for.
If you vaccinate, spread the vaccines out to give your dog’s body time to recover, rather than doing all-in-one shots that create a huge influx of toxins all at once. Use fasting and fruit to detox after vaccines.
Question any vet who still pushes yearly shots. Most now acknowledge three-yearly is more appropriate. You can also titer test before vaccinating to see if your dog still has protection.
11. No drinking from puddles
Puddles in public parks and sports fields are nasty. Other than it being run-off from high traffic dog excrement areas, the water is bound to be full of leached out lawn care chemicals including weedkillers.
12. No doggy sunscreen
These products are made of things that don’t belong inside your dog’s body.
If you put it on his nose he will undoubtedly lick it off. It becomes another toxin the body has to work to clear. Instead I use behavioral management to make sure my dog doesn’t lie with his white bits in the blasting midday sun. Always provide shade for your dog.
13. Beware washing powders
I use laundry powders that are as low-chemical as possible. When I wash my dog’s bedding or coats I do an extra rinse cycle afterwards to help make sure all traces of detergent are removed and don’t stay on the fabric to irritate my dog’s skin or mucous membranes.
14. No teeth brushing products
No doggy toothpaste, mouth rinses, fresh breath sprays or processed dental chews. These products contain chemicals that go not only into your dog’s mouth, but which he swallows. These artificial measures will be completely unnecessary if you feed a weekly raw meaty bone like a lamb neck, like your dog was built to chew on. Nature’s toothbrush!
15. Avoid medication and anaesthetic procedures wherever possible
Drugs like antibiotics, cytopoint injections, steroids, apoquel, anaesthetic are all are toxins you dog’s body is far better off without.
Vets readily dispense antibiotics, steroids and other drugs with barely a glancing mention of the side effects, which can be serious and permanent. Sometimes they seem so unaware of or unconcerned with can happen that it borders on a failure of duty of care to their patient. I say this from direct experience.
See also: What prednisone does to your dog’s body
It’s staggering how many owners are putting their dogs on regular injections or medication with no end in sight, without first addressing the toxic exposures and poor feeding that are likely to be the root cause.
Vets will gladly sell you these things. It’s up to you to explore all alternatives and only resort to drugs if there is absolutely no other way.
Look first at the diet. It’s a powerful determinant of health.
Evaluate whether any proposed treatment is addressing the cause of the ill-health or just suppressing symptoms.
Removal of cause is the only way to avoid recurrence of the problem, get your dog off the merry-go-round of drugs and achieve true healing.
16. Air purifier
While the outdoor air is affected by pollution, our indoor air can be hazardous too. Chemicals used to treat the wood our furniture is made from. Off gases from the paint that covers our walls. These are just a few examples of the toxins we and our dogs can be breathing in without knowing it.
An air purifier will detect unsafe levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and particulates and filter them out from your home. During the most recent wildfires where I live, the cities were blanketed with smoke for days on end but inside our apartment was clean air thanks to the air purifier.
The way I mostly use the purifier is to alert me when VOCs become elevated. Then I know to open the windows and air the apartment out for a few minutes.
17. Fasting and fruit
When the body doesn’t have to divert its resources to the energy-intensive process of digestion, it can ramp up cellular repair and regeneration. This process is called autophagy and it’s one of the reasons why there’s increasing recognition that fasting promotes health.
Wolves routinely fast because of natural cycles of scarcity and abundance in the wild. Dogs evolved eating this way. As a result, their biology is adapted for periods of fasting.
Incorporating fast days into your dogs routine can help maintain good health. Fasting is also a good first response whenever your dog is unwell. Fasting accelerates healing. Digestive rest can see ear and eye ailments and things like UTIs rapidly clear. Quite possibly faster than your vet appointment comes around.
Dogs are “facultative” carnivores
This means meat is their preferred food source but when prey is scarce they can maintain themselves on a secondary food, which in nature is fruit. Wolves in Northern Minnesota have been observed to eat 80% blueberries for a full month at the height of summer, for instance.
You can use this fruit-eating ability to enhance your dog’s health.
Like fasting, feeding fruit-only days as part of your dog’s meal rotation relieves pressure on the kidneys. According to Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst, constant protein-heavy meals can lead to kidney disease later in life. It makes sense when you consider that meat every day is not how dogs naturally eat.
Eating fruit also saves energy, compared to eating meat. Fats and proteins are the hardest macronutrients to digest, with carbohydrates easier and simple sugars easiest of all. Fruit takes very little work to digest. In this sense it provides “free” calories, energy that the body doesn’t have to labor to release.
Fruit is also full of water. Its hydrating effect helps flush toxins from your dog’s digestive system, urinary tract and lymphatics, which are like the body’s sewer system, super important for removing toxins, wastes and other unwanted materials.
When the primary organs of elimination — gut, kidneys, liver — are overburdened, toxins push out through secondary avenues. Typically problems first show up in:
- the skin (as itching)
- paws (chewing, licking or gnawing)
- eyes and ears (as symptoms commonly perceived as “infections” or “yeast”)
A word on “allergies” in dogs
Often these symptoms are perceived by owners as “allergies” and labelled as such by vets.
However, many owners who’ve been told their dogs are “allergic” to chicken or some other protein can happily feed chicken with no problems once the diet as a whole is fixed. This usually means ditching kibble or canned foods and feeding a fresh, raw, biologically-appropriate diet based around raw meaty bones.
Improper diet, such as highly processed dog food, contains a lot additives and preservatives and extraneous material that is not present in the dog’s natural diet. To the body these are toxins that need to be excreted. Of course, chemical wormers, flea and tick preventatives and vaccines also contain many ingredients that fit this category.
Overwhelmed, the body’s normal organs of elimination send excess toxins and wastes to the skin, eyes, ears and paws as a means of getting it out. If we take the example of an ear “infection”, the waste shows up as brown gunk inside the ear. If yeast and bacteria are involved at all, it’s not as the cause of the problem as such.
Yeasts and bacteria are normally present on the skin. When there’s an excess of waste in the ear, those microbes feed on that waste and overgrow, thereby helping the body dispose of it. When the cause is removed by fixing the diet, the waste burden drops back to manageable levels and the ears are no longer dumping sites for it. Accordingly the microbes fall back to normal numbers.
18. Homemade raw diet to avoid preservatives and additives
Kibble and canned food (and many dog treats) are highly processed and frequently contain additives, preservatives and fillers. These products are also cooked at high temperatures which destroy nutrients, denature proteins and create compounds known to be carcinogenic.
Then there is the fact that cooked food is just not the natural diet dogs ate for a million years during their evolution. Cooked food is something dogs began eating relatively recently in the grand scheme of things, when they began their association with man at domestication. It’s commonsense that emulating natural conditions is likely to be a good guide to health.
Feeding a fresh, raw diet that you prepare yourself avoids these issues. You know exactly what’s in the food and it’s far closer to a natural dog diet. It’s clear that avoiding processed foods is healthier. We know it’s the case for humans and the same goes for dogs.
Feed organic meats
It’s not always affordable but if you have the option, feeding organic meats reduces exposure to toxins even further because the methods used to farm the animals ban most chemicals and the animals lead lifestyles closer to natural.
Animals store toxins in fatty tissue, so trimming fat from conventionally-farmed meats will go some way towards addressing this kind of toxic exposure.
19. Power points and appliances
Don’t have your dog sleep with his head right next to a power outlet, or your wireless router or lie in the kitchen right near appliances like fridges and microwaves.
All these devices emit electromagnetic fields and — without understanding all the ways these technologies affect biological systems — you can bet it’s safer to minimize, as much as we can, how much our bodies (human and doggo) are bombarded.
20. Colloidal silver
This is now the only substance that goes near my dog’s skin, and only very rarely. I have used it on a cotton pad to wipe out his ears, for instance. Increasingly though, I just use a dry pad or even a fingernail, or a tissue. Keep it simple. The fewer potions the better.
Colloidal silver does have antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. It is far gentler than any ear cleaner product you could put inside your dog’s ear.
21. Wash your dog with something natural
Keep the ingredients of your dog shampoo really simple. Make sure you understand what’s actually in the product. I use a soap made for dogs from essential oils. Otherwise I would use Dr Bronner’s unscented liquid baby soap.
In conclusion: Last thoughts on how to have a healthy dog
I don’t know for sure, but I believe my dog sniffed roadside weedkiller.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Perhaps if his body had not been full of chemical wormers, flea and tick preventatives, heartwormer, tapewormer, vaccinations and processed pet food, his system would have been more able to clear the toxin and it wouldn’t have resulted in inflammation of the lining of his brain and arteries as it did.
With a little thought and small changes, cutting down on toxic exposures is doable — it just might save your dog’s life.