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What do Easter lilies and antifreeze have in common? These, and many other substances, are all poisonous to felines. “Cats have a very low threshold for toxicity,” explains Dr. Trisha Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary Specialists. This uber-sensitivity in cats results from their body producing little of the enzyme that other mammals rely on to break down chemicals, leaving cats generally more vulnerable to toxins.
Jumping on the green-tech bandwagon, a handful of pet care companies are now hocking organic cat wares to save Fluffy from the evils of plastics and perfumes. Below, Dr. Joyce weighs in on what to try and when to proceed with caution.
Plastic has received bad press in the last few years as worried parents keep their children away from the chemical BPA and legions of water drinkers refrain from refilling their plastic bottle empties. But is plastic potentially bad news for your cat too? Yes, but for different reasons than for humans.
“A cat’s life span isn’t long enough that carcinogens impact them the same way as humans,” she explains. Still, Dr. Joyce emphasizes that ceramic and metal dishes are not only better for the environment in general but also for your cat’s skin. Plastic dishes retain bacteria and can cause chin acne, an uncomfortable condition for your pet.
Veterinary Verdict: Choosing ceramic or metal over plastic is good for the environment and kitty’s complexion.
The slew of chemicals in traditional flea and tick products may seem like reason to stay away from them, especially when “natural” flea remedies tout compounds that won’t pollute your pet’s bloodstream and your family’s home. However, buyers beware. “I’m not a fan of any over-the-counter flea preparation,” Dr. Joyce says. “You can get away with it for a dog, but cats are more sensitive and can have bad reactions. Sometimes, chemicals can be good.”
Veterinary Verdict: Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a flea and tick medication. If you must try a natural product, use one that’s approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Check with your pet’s doctor before applying.
Without a doubt, natural cat litter made from wheat and corn is better for the environment. It breaks down naturally rather than spending a lifetime in a landfill. The impact on your cat’s health? Inexpensive litters in general create more dust, which can trigger asthma attacks. If you’re concerned about your cat’s lungs, monitor how much dust is stirred up in the burying process. Switch litters if necessary.
Veterinary Verdict: Natural cat litter is best for the environment and produces the least dust, which is also best for your cat’s respiratory system.
Over-the-counter cat shampoos often contain perfumes, which smell pleasant to cat owners but may irritate sensitive feline skin. If so-called organic cat shampoos are perfume-free, your pet may tolerate them. However, veterinary-prescribed cleansers are less likely to cause dry skin and allergic reactions.
Veterinary Verdict: If you choose an organic, over-the-counter product, make sure it is cat-specific as opposed to a general pet shampoo. Look for the AVMA seal of approval. Be on the alert for signs of allergic reactions (e.g., excessive scratching) after the first use.
When it comes to beds, collars and toys, carcinogens are not a big kitty health concern -- for reasons explained above -- though the well-being of the environment may be. Such items are currently made from a variety of recycled and organically grown materials, taking less of a toll on the natural world. “With cat toys, the main health concern is not lead paint but a small piece that may break free and be ingested by the animal,” says Dr. Joyce.
Veterinary Verdict: If being kind to the environment is on your priority list -- and it should be -- organic cat accessories can help you meet your goal. When buying cat toys, forgo those with small pieces that may break off.
General Tips for Choosing Organic Cat Products
While organic goods appeal to consumers for a variety of important reasons, Dr. Joyce warns that the industry is not yet well-regulated. “Theoretically, organic has less chemicals, and that’s best for cats because they’re so sensitive,” she says. “But I recommend caution in experimenting with new products. Try things slowly and only in moderation.” Those are words for the healthiest cats to live their nine lives by.
Darcy Lockman is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Daily Cat. Her work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times and Rolling Stone.