We love our pets—that’s a fact for many owners and pet parents out there. They provide invaluable support, companionship, kinship and joy to our lives. Like most loving owners, we want what is best for them.
However, in the process of caring for our pets, we also have to consider their ecological impact, in the same way that we try to make sustainable lifestyle choices for the greater good of the planet.
In 2017, a UCLA professor released the results of a study on the environmental effect of meat-eating dogs and cats. Gregory Okin found that furry pals in the U.S. alone created an equivalent of 63 million tons of carbon dioxide in a year. This is the same impact as one year of driving 13.6 million cars. He also found that America’s pets produce about 5.1 million tons of poo per year.
There is no easy or one-off solution to address this, but some companies are already coming up with eco-friendlier alternatives like using ground up insects instead of meat or fish for pet food.
Aside from reassessing our pets’ dietary choices, there are other ways to help minimise our furry pal’s environmental “paw print.” Here are five easy steps to get started on being a pet owner-slash-eco-warrior.
- Buy pet food in bulk. Whenever possible, take your own containers and buy loose treats. Go for pet food in tins rather than in plastic pouches.
You can also feed leftover fruit and vegetables to your hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs or rats. Look for nearby local farms where you can get your hay, instead of buying plastic-wrapped hay shipped from around the world.
And speaking of pet food, try switching your pet’s meat from beef to chicken, turkey, sheep, fish or as above-mentioned, ground up insects. Livestock production significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and water and land degradation. For treats, try grain or cereal varieties.
The pet food industry is a lucrative market and if more people buy sustainable pet food options, it sends a loud and clear message to companies and manufacturers that will, hopefully, make them rethink their business model.
2. Use plastic-free toys. These days, there are so many alternatives—from natural or recycled rubber and hemp to rope, cotton or canvas. Look for companies that make toys out of sustainable or reclaimed products. Avoid electronic toys, as much as possible. Digital toys are fun and flashy, but the environmental cost is high. Aside from the plastic required to manufacture them, electrical use is powered by fossil fuels.
Better yet, check shops for used toys instead of buying a new one. If you are feeling crafty, try making your own using materials you have at home. Do not forget to donate pre-loved and still-usable pet toys.
The same principle can apply to other pet accessories such as hamster cages or dog and cat carriers. For hamster or gerbil bedding, consider old newspaper. And opt for a stainless steel or ceramic bowl that lasts longer and are easier to wash.
3. Go green for grooming. Many pet grooming products contain chemicals and synthetic substances that are bad for the skin, especially with prolonged use, and are bad for the environment too. When these synthetic substances are washed into the sewage system, they can adversely affect bodies of water and marine animals. Try to look for organic formulations that are free of parabens and synthetic fragrances.
When it comes to managing pesky ticks and fleas, regular washing with good ol’ soap and water will do the trick. Sometimes, chemical products are necessary, like topical medication, sprays and collars, but whenever possible, look for “less toxic” products. Avoid synthetic neonicotinoids (like imidacloprid and dinotefuran) and for your grooming products, watch out for DEA (diethanolamine), SLS (sodium laureth), BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), and synthetic colours and fragrances.
You can also compost dog or cat hair to reduce post-grooming “paw print.” This can also apply to cage cleanouts for your rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs or birds.
4. Adopt, don’t shop. It’s the ultimate mantra of responsible pet ownership aka stewardship. Adopting helps reduce the number of animals that end up in the shelter. In the UK, thousands of cats and dogs remain homeless, and while animal shelters do their best to accommodate all animals in need, the reality is that many of these centres are overburdened and have to euthanise some of the abandoned animals in their care.
For current pet owners, spaying or neutering is a good way to prevent this needless death of animals. Spaying and neutering are routine pet surgeries that actually have health benefits. Spaying can reduce the discomfort of females in heat, eliminate the risk of uterine cancer and minimise the risk of mammary cancer. Neutering can help prevent testicular cancer and can protect against prostate cancer. However, it is still a sensitive issue for many.
For prospective owners, avoid breeders which are essentially puppy and kitten mills. Do not use pets as presents for special occasions because, as previous studies and evidence have shown, people tend to dump their pets once the excitement of ownership has died down.
Instead of ‘buying’ a pet, reach out to your local animal shelters. If you are looking for a specific breed, look for local breed-specific rescue groups.
5. Reconsider your cat litter and switch to compostable dog poo bags. The silica clay used in many commercial cat litter brands come from strip mining—a type of mining that is destructive to the environment and to wildlife. Consider an eco-friendly alternative like cat litter with recycled newspaper, wood shavings, wheat, maize or tree-nut crops. And of course, always remember: Never flush cat poo down the toilet because it can contaminate the water—both for humans and marine animals.
Dog poo also has contaminants that can cause people to get sick. So, make sure to scoop it up (do not wait for rain to wash it away because if you do, it becomes an environmental hazard) and dispose properly using a compostable poo bag like Adios Plastic.
A compostable poo bag is made from natural materials like corn starch, with no additives and best of all, no plastic. A used dog poo bag must be disposed in a home or industrial composter that accepts dog waste. Another option is to use a dog poo wormery and compost the dog poo for non-edible plants only. When in doubt about proper disposal, ask your local council.