Q. Is organic pet food regulated the same way as organic people food? Should I bother to get it for my dog? -- William H., Chesterfield, Mo.


A. The answer to your first question is yes. The USDA’s National Organic Program handles people food and pet food with the exact same set of regulations. Buying organic for your dog will, of course, reduce the amount of pesticide he ingests. But it will also go a long way to help support organic farming, which in turn will help keep pesticides out of lakes, rivers, oceans and soil. Yay!

But if you’re concerned about the chemicals your dog might be taking in, you’d do well to look at more than just his diet. Take a look at your dog’s everyday behavior and you’ll likely see him chewing, licking, and trying to eat all manner of things he comes in contact with. This is almost certainly how Fido ingests most of his daily diet of contaminants, according to a recent report from the Environmental Working Group. The report showed that dogs — as well as cats — are polluted with the same industrial chemicals that we are, and at much higher levels. Scientists believe that these exposures may be responsible for the increased rates of cancer and hypothyroidism in pets, and warn that better public health policies regarding chemicals are sorely needed to protect both people and their pets, who may be serving as metaphorical canaries in the coal mine. So sure, go ahead and feed your dog organic food if you can afford it, but don’t forget that protecting him from his surroundings will probably have even more impact. That means keeping him of out of the park if pesticides have been recently applied, replacing plastic toys that may contain BPA or phthalates with safer alternatives, and stopping him from gnawing on furniture that may be treated with stain guards or contain fire retardants. Why not lure him away from these dirty temptations with a nice, organic dog treat?

Story by Sarah Schmidt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in September 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008