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Provide a Non-Toxic Environment

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books


Pekingese senior dog

If you're reading through my health care program in order, we've talked about keeping your dog healthy by feeding real food and minimizing vaccinations.

Let's look now at his environment – your home and yard – to see if anything there might affect his health, for better or for worse.

His environment means:

  • the air he breathes
  • the floors and carpets he walks on
  • anywhere he sleeps
  • the yard where he wanders around
  • wherever you take him for walks

How your dog's environment affects his health

aerosol canWhen your dog breathes in something other than pure air – for example, chemical droplets from an aerosol can of hairspray – his immune system recognizes an "intruder"  in his respiratory tract and tries to fight it.

A few sneezes might do the trick. If not, the immune system will delve deeper into its arsenal, altering your dog's body biochemistry in an attempt to oust the intruder. Histamines may be produced to "wash it out." An army of white blood cells may be mustered and dispatched to fight it. And so on.

The immune system usually wins, but the problem is:

Frequent battles STRESS the immune system and make it hypersensitive, which can lead to chronic allergies.

You don't want your dog's immune system to become stressed and hypersensitive by being forced to fight against toxic substances in his environment.

Of course you can't change the pollution levels in your city,  but you can make sure...

...that there are very few fumes or chemicals in your home and yard that will end up in your dog's respiratory system or on his skin or paws, triggering a reaction from his immune system.

You'll need to make some decisions about whether to continue using certain products that make your own life easier and more convenient, but may damage the long-term health of your dog.

Imagine your dog to be an empty barrelwooden keg

Every chemical he breathes or absorbs through his skin fills a part of the barrel.

×  If you hang air fresheners in your house, his barrel will no longer be empty. Air fresheners contain chemicals that affect a dog's eyes, nose, and respiratory system.

× If you smoke indoors, you've added more chemicals to his barrel.

box of powder× If you give him a bath with a typical pet store shampoo.... if you wash his bed with a typical brand-name laundry detergent.... if you clean your house with a typical brand-name cleaning spray.... if you spray your bushes with fungicide.... if you let him lick your hands after you've applied skin moisturizer....

How fast his barrel fills up is different for each individual dog, depending upon his biochemical make-up, the strength of the "intruders" that are filling the barrel, and what his past exposures have been.

The furniture polish on the coffee table beside his crate, the mothballs in the linen closet, the weed killer on the lawn.... When he smells these substances or walks on them, his nasal passages, skin, and immune system must deal with them.

Chemicals build up. And when his barrel overflows, he will get sick. Either an acute illness or more commonly, chronic ones.

If you can reduce the number of chemicals your dog is exposed to, you'll give his immune system a chance to rest and recuperate.

So let's start "emptying his barrel."

Eliminate products with "fragrances"

If you could do only one thing in your house to protect your dog's immune system, this is what I would recommend:

Replace products that contain fragrances with products that are fragrance-free.

bee smelling a flowerThe word fragrance on the label of any product is a huge red flag.

You and I might think of fragrance  as meaning "a lovely scent, like a fragrant flower."

Unfortunately, in the manufacturing industry, a fragrance contains dozens of chemicals and the company doesn't need to disclose any of them to government regulatory agencies or to consumers. Why not? Because of "trade secret" loophole laws.

So on the label, all you'll see is fragrance  or parfum,  but rest assured that behind that simple word is a complex concoction of chemicals that are linked to all sorts of health problems.

Fragrances are one of the top 5 causes of allergies in both people and pets. The UN Global Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals has identified more than 1,000 chemicals used in fragrances that qualify for a "danger" or "warning" level classification based on associated health issues such as allergies, respiratory problems, and cancer.

So if you could just remove products that say fragrance and replace them with products that are fragrance-free,  you'd be doing a lot to protect your dog's future health right there.

Products that typically include fragrances are household spray cleaners, floor cleaners, dish detergents, laundry detergents, dryer sheets, hair shampoos, and skin lotions.

You don't want your dog breathing fragrances from these products, or licking them off your skin, or coming in contact with them through clothing or bedding.

And of course, there's perfumes and colognes. I always feel sad when I see a small dog carried in the arms or sitting on the lap of an owner who is reeking of perfume or cologne. You and I have 5 million scent receptor cells. Your dog has over 100 million. The canine olfactory system is extremely sensitive, so it's just unkind to overwhelm it with perfumes or colognes.

Unscented vs fragrance-free

In trying to avoid fragrances, you might think unscented  products would be just what you're looking for, right?

Unfortunately, manufacturers have twisted the word unscented  to mean "You can't smell anything in our product."

Bah! They accomplished that by adding odor-neutralizing chemicals  to the mix! So there might be no "detectable scent", but the original underlying chemicals are still there... now accompanied by odor-neutralizing chemicals! Nice, eh?

So... you want to avoid products with fragrances AND products that claim to be unscented. Instead, look for products that actually SAY fragrance-free,  which means the company used NO synthetic fragrances and NO odor-neutralizing chemicals. Yes, the product might still have a smell to it, but it's the natural smell of its ingredients. That's fine.

Sadly, some manufacturers lie. Their products say fragrance-free, but they're lying. Not much we can do about that.

Companies I use for fragrance-free products

The Seventh Generation and Ecos make a lot of good fragrance-free products.

I especially like their fragrance-free, vegetable-based cleaning products and detergents.

Most supermarket cleaners are based on harsh detergents, dyes, chlorine, ammonia, and caustic solvents.

Those chemicals irritate your dog's skin and paws, or create fumes that can damage his sensitive eyes, nose, and lungs. His immune system may also launch a protective counter-strike, and if this happens frequently, the immune system becomes hypersensitive, leading to chronic allergies.

Air fresheners

If you get rid of fragrances in your home, you might be tempted to turn to air fresheners to keep the house smelling nice.

Or maybe not.

I was astonished when I first learned how "air fresheners" work. Whether sprays, gels, plug-ins, beads, or hanging cardboard shapes, most "air fresheners" contain dreadful chemicals such as formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and nerve-deadening chemicals  that actually interfere with your ability to smell.

So odors aren't really gone and the "air freshener" hasn't "freshened" the air. Your ability to smell odors has been numbed. Sort of like Novocaine for your nose!

As you might expect, "air fresheners" can seriously irritate your dog's eyes, nose, and respiratory system.

A nice-smelling home!

You might be worried that your home won't smell nice without scented cleaning products. Here's how I do it:

Baking soda

I set a shallow bowl of baking soda on a counter or shelf my dogs can't reach. The bowls should be wide and shallow so there's a lot of surface area of baking soda. The goal is for odor particles that drift around your house to land on the baking soda and become neutralized.

Slow cooker/crockpot

Combine a few cinnamon sticks, apple peels, orange slices, and whole cloves in your crockpot. Cover the ingredients with water, and set it on Low for 8 hours. Experiment with covered vs uncovered. Makes your house smell like warm apple pie!

Essential oils?

I don't use essential oils. Too many of them are toxic to dogs, and even more are toxic to cats and pet birds. After sifting through the research, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on which essential oils truly are safe for pets. So I don't take chances.

Potpourri? Candles?

I don't use these, either. The scents in potpourri and candles come from either essential oils or chemical fragrances.

Cleaning "accidents" on the carpet

If your dog poops or pees on the carpet, it's tempting to break out the heaviest-duty cleaner you can find, complete with its fragrances or odor-neutralizing chemicals.

But the best way to clean up pet waste is with an enzymatic cleaner, a cleaner with natural enzymes that break down and "eat" the microscopic particles in waste, removing the odor and stain. I used to love Nature's Miracle, but the company has reformulated their products with scents and fragrances, so no more! Try NonScents Stain & Odor Eliminator on Amazon.

A walk through your house and yard

Let's take a quick walk through your home and yard, looking for everyday substances that you might consider changing.


Cleaning products, especially general cleaners, floor and carpet cleaners, or upholstery cleaners if he sleeps on the furniture


Personal care products that your dog comes in contact with when he snuggles up to you or licks your hands or face. Especially look at shampoos (both yours and your dog's!) and skin lotions. If possible, reserve perfumes and colognes for Date Nights rather than everyday use.

Laundry room

Laundry detergents and fabric softeners that your dog comes in contact with when he sleeps on his bed (or on your bed) or when he snuggles against your freshly-laundered clothes. Most laundry detergents contain dyes and fragrances, even when the manufacturer has boldly stamped "unscented" on the front of the box. I like Ecos and Seventh Generation detergents that are vegetable-based and fragrance-free.


I don't know if anyone still uses mothballs. Just in case, the chemicals in mothballs give off subtle fumes that can sicken a dog or cat when they leak from their storage place and permeate the whole house. If possible, better to store woolen goods in a cedar chest. Or stuff socks with cedar chips and tuck the socks around woolens as natural repellents.


Antifreeze made with ethylene glycol is extremely poisonous. If it leaks from your car's radiator or spills on the ground when you're pouring it in, pets may be attracted to its sweet smell.

Ethylene glycol  causes severe damage to the heart and kidneys and can be fatal.

Safer for a home with pets is antifreeze made with propylene glycol.  Your dog would need to drink more of it to get sick.

litter boxCat litter box

If your dog ever gets into the cat box, you don't want him ingesting "clumping" kitty litter. When it first came along, clumping litter seemed wonderful. It hardens into a compact little ball when it gets wet, i.e. when your cat's urine soaks into it. This clumping makes it much easier (and less wasteful) to scoop up.

But when something seems too good to be true.... it usually is.

We now know that when a cat licks clumping litter off his paws and fur, or when a dog gets into the litter box and (gross) eats the cat's waste plus a mouthful of litter, that litter gets WET from saliva and stomach fluids, and clumps in the animal's stomach. Now your dog or cat might be in trouble.

Clumping litter also includes chemicals and fragrances that can cause respiratory distress in pets.

I recommend trying litter made from recycled newspaper. It's non-toxic, dust-free, super absorbent, and environmentally friendly.

mowing lawnYour yard

Do you use pesticides in your yard or on your grass or garden?

Pesticides are poisons designed to kill insects (insecticides), weeds (herbicides), fungus (fungicides), or rodents (rodenticides).

Pesticides include active ingredients (the toxic chemicals designed to kill the pest) and inert ingredients (often carcinogens).

spraying pesticidesYour dog inhales pesticides and absorbs them through his paws and skin. Pesticides can poison a dog or cause severe neurological damage and metabolic diseases.

If you're willing to spend some time learning about organic gardening, your dog would surely appreciate it!


Even when gardened organically, any plant material your dog eats (even grass) may produce mild vomiting or diarrhea. But some plants are truly toxic to dogs, and even more are toxic to cats. See the most current list of toxic and non-toxic plants on the Animal Poison Control Center website.

Your dog's drinking water

You have several options: tap water, bottled water, filtered water, and distilled water.

Is your tap water safe? It might be declared safe by your community's standards. But we all know that such standards change as chemicals and additives once declared safe are discovered – surprise! – to cause cancer. City water (and some well water) can contain chlorine, fluoride, heavy metals, and other contaminants. Or your tap water might really be fine.

Some owners give bottled water to their dog. That can be fine, too. But often bottled water is just some other community's tap water poured into bottles and sold. And when bottled water sits on a shelf for a long time, harmful chemicals can seep out of the plastic into the water.

Some owners have a home filtration system and give filtered water to their dog. That can also be fine, depending on how good the filtration system is.

Finally, some owners give distilled water to their dog. This option is controversial because the distilling process removes all minerals, even good minerals. I have some concerns about that, but am not an expert in this area.

I don't think we can truly know which option is best. Personally, I give filtered water with no chlorine or fluoride.

The air in your home

If your dog has allergies, consider adding a whole-house HEPA filter to your ventilation system, or a stand-alone room HEPA filter to the rooms in which your dog spends most of his time.

Tobacco smoke

No need for lectures, you're an adult who already knows this isn't good for anyone to be breathing. Please try to smoke outside and away from your dog.

Interior painting projects

If you're repainting your walls, be aware that most brands of paints and adhesives today release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde, into the air of your home. If possible, choose paints that specify no- or low-VOC on the label.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

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book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say. Click here to read for free.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life. Get my honest advice about all 11 Things before you bring home your new puppy, because some mistakes with early health care cannot be undone. Click here to read for free.