Sustainable Pet Ownership: Ways to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Pets

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Sustainable Pet Ownership: Ways to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Pets

If you’re on this site, there’s a good chance that you’re an animal lover. Having animals in the home can enrich one’s life – pets have been shown to reduce depression and stress in humans. Whether you have pets of your own, want one, or are looking to get one, you may not have given thought to your household’s carbon pawprint. The challenge in being a conscientious pet owner is balancing the needs of your pet and of the environment – how can you make sure you’re doing all you can to make their lives better while also being mindful of your waste? I’ve put together some starting points to get you purr-ambulating down the right path.

Adoption Saves Lives

When you adopt an animal from a shelter, you’re likely saving its life. Many shelters are over-extended, and many are forced to euthanize the animals that don’t get adopted. By adopting one, you’re not only giving them a good home but helping to support the continuation of the shelter, allowing them to take in other animals. While I won’t shame anyone for getting a purebred pet, many purebred animals have genetic predispositions to degenerative diseases or joint problems. Many of the dog breeds we know today were created during the Victorian Era, when the rich used dog eugenics to selectively breed for aesthetic traits, regardless of the animals’ overall health. That’s not to say that purebred dogs can’t be lovely and affectionate friends, but be aware that when you get one, you must prepare yourself for caring for all their needs during their twilight years.

Sustainable Pet Ownership- Tips to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Pets

How to Handle Pet Poop

This is probably the biggest contributor to waste as a pet owner, and there is no one good option. First, you could flush the waste.  You can find water-soluble bags (and litter for cats) to flush waste down the toilet. This would be treated like any other waste, but it’s not a viable option for anyone with a septic system. Before making the shift, please check to make sure your city or municipality can handle that kind of sewage waste. There are also biodegradable bags, which could be handy alternatives to plastic to pick up dog poop on a walk; however, many only decompose in very specific environments. Those conditions are rarely like that which you’d find in a compost or waste facility. But under no circumstances should you just leave it instead! It is not only inconsiderate to your neighbors and fellow humans, but it also could end up washed into local waterways which would increase Nitrogen and deplete Oxygen, a destructive change in any aquatic environment. 

Many places suggest composting pet poop, but you must be careful to kill all the parasites that naturally live in predators’ digestive tracts. You would need to create a separate poop compost, many of the store-bought versions I’ve seen suggest burying them, then, after approximately a year, your poop will be safe to add to your normal compost, so long as you feel that gets hot enough to kill any remaining parasites.

Related Post: Eco-Friendly Pet Waste Composting with EnsoPet

Sustainable Pet Ownership- Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Pets

DIY Pet Food

Cans, bags, and other packaging plagues both human and animal food, alike. One way to avoid that for all members of your family is to prepare food at home. This is not something I’ve tried yet, but some have had success doing so in a healthy way. No matter what, please talk to your vet about what nutrition your animal needs! They can help you put together a diet of wet food you can make at home. Usually, organ meat and similar cuts are best for both dogs and cats. If you’re lucky enough to live near a farmer’s market, you could ask about using the cuts that would otherwise be thrown out, which would make the process even more sustainable. Making good food for pets is expensive and time-consuming, so it’s not for everyone, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor if you’re willing to put in the research, effort, and money.

If you’re not ready to make your fur babies’ entire diet, start with some treats. Meats, cooked eggs, and raw veggies (but only for dogs) work well. I personally give smoked salmon to my cats on occasion because I spoil them to death, and anecdotal research points to increased comfort vitality and longevity in cats regularly fed seafood.

“A medium-sized dog has a carbon footprint of 2.1 acres, roughly twice the 1 acre for a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle driven 10,000 kilometres  (6,214 miles) a year… cats occupy the same footprint as a small Volkswagon, while two hamsters equal the same emissions as a plasma-screen television.” – Darcy Matheson, words from her book Greening Your Pet Care.

Sustainable Pet Owners- How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Pets

Another option still is choosing sustainable and ethical packaged food. Certain brands use responsibly sourced ingredients and recyclable packaging if the above method won’t work for you. Make sure it’s certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council or Marine Stewardship Council, in the case of cat food, to make sure it’s not relying on drag netting, a dangerous practice that catches too many fish, and usually other animals like turtles and dolphins are killed in the process.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), “human grade” food is the most wasteful option and is usually not even the best nutritionally for your pet. They use prime cuts preferred by people, putting extra pressure on the global food industry. According to WWF, animal byproduct is good for pets – they are nutritious parts of the animals that humans don’t typically eat but are still safe for pets. This reduces food waste overall. The most important quality is the balance of the nutrients rather than the quality of the ingredients themselves – think of the difference between a very expensive, organic premium ice cream vs. a lettuce made from seconds at the grocery store. The second is obviously healthier. Check out the Pet Food Sustainability Working Group, which was created with help from WWF.

Finally, no matter what you feed your pets, make sure their bowls are BPA-free – I prefer using heavy duty glass because it’s inert and easy to clean.

Related Post: Eco Book Review: “Greening Your Pet Care” By Darcy Matheson

Sustainable Pet Ownership- How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Your Pets

DIY Pet Toys

My cats would be perfectly happy playing with paper bags for the rest of their lives, which we then compost once they’re ripped up. I do love buying them toys, though, as spoiling the cats makes me almost as happy as it makes them. My boyfriend makes little bugs out of muselet (the wire cages that keep the cork on sparkling wine bottles) that the cats absolutely adore. Turn old shirts or rags into small knotted balls. Just make sure the items you’re using are safe for the animals and won’t lead to choking or other hazards. 

There are many other options to consider, but these are the biggest waste makers I’ve seen in my journey as a pet owner. It’s always a balancing act, but as long as you prioritize your pet’s safety and try to apply the same criteria you have for other purchases in your life, you can keep your pets and the planet happy.

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