Whether you walk on two feet or four paws, everyone makes a mark on the planet. For responsible pet owners who want to lead a sustainable lifestyle, this means reconsidering how they care for their fur babies.
Remember, although they’re animals, our pets are far from the wild creatures from which they descended. No longer adapted to the natural environment, they are part of the human world — and with it, a consumer culture that inundates us with products for our loved ones. That’s no dig at people who have come to adore dogs as man’s best friend and cats as roommates who sometimes want to be left alone. It simply means limiting our impact on the environment extends to how we care for our furry friends.
Here are nine impactful steps to reduce your carbon pawprint as a pet parent.
1. Adopt from a shelter
Because what better way to embark on eco-friendly pet parenthood than by adopting a sweet little furry soul who needs love and care and will forever appreciate you making them a member of the family? Millions of shelter pets need homes — and millions who don’t get one in time face euthanasia. By adopting from a shelter, imagine how many resources — food, toys, medical care, paid staff — are freed up to help another animal in need. Shelter pets are also just cooler — often coming out of their shelter shells to reveal the sweetest and most loyal personalities. Shelter over puppy or kitty mill, always!
2. Scoop the poop
No, it’s not natural fertilizer! And we know, it’s easy to make that argument when you don’t feel like cleaning up after your fur baby. First, animal feces can be a dangerous contaminator to nearby water sources. Throwing it in the trash, where it eventually gets dumped into a landfill, isn’t environmentally friendly either. Then there are zoonotic — animal-borne — diseases that have afflicted humans and the environment since we first began domesticating critters several thousand years ago. What’s the best way to dispose of the doody? Turn it into compost — don’t use it to fertilize edible plant gardens — or flush it down the toilet. If you’re one of the many who tucks it into a plastic bag for disposal, consider using a pooper scooper rake to transfer the mess to the trash. Plastic bags are awful for the environment, even the so-called biodegradable ones.
3. Green up your pet’s health
With so many pups and cats adopted during the pandemic, the pet care market is booming. And there are so many options now available to pet parents. You can do your part by purchasing products that promote environmental sustainability. For example, you can use grooming and food products that are sustainably sourced or packaged with recycled or recyclable materials.
Often, what’s good for the environment is also good for your pet’s health. You may have heard that common lawn pesticides can kill your canine, but what about the ones in your pup’s flea collar? Conventional flea poisons include pesticides that accidentally sicken and kill thousands of dogs each year. In most of these products, organophosphates are the main problem. But do you have to use hazardous chemicals to kill the fleas and ticks infesting your dog’s body? Thank goodness, you do not. Several non-toxic alternatives, like soapy water and electric flea traps, can do the job in a greener way.
4. Think big … or little
We love big dogs. Who doesn’t adore a sweetheart they can rough around with — and who can serve as an intimidating guard during a midday walk? But it’s been suggested that bigger dogs have a more significant impact on the planet than small dog breeds. How big is the difference?
According to studies, the ecological footprint of a medium-sized dog is about .84 global hectare (gha is a measurement unit for the environmental footprint of people or activities and the biocapacity of the planet or its regions); for a large dog, it is closer to 1.0 gha. But it doesn’t mean you can’t adopt and love a large doggo. It simply means you will have to pay more attention to greening the big guy’s care.
5. In the (green) doghouse
Whether you’re planning to buy a new doghouse or build your own, you can be environmentally sensitive. If you are building your own, there are many ways to access free reclaimed wood. Building a DIY doghouse can also be much less expensive — and more so if you have access to common construction materials. Not to mention, you and your dog will surely bond over the project. If you purchase a commercial doghouse, try to buy one made from recycled, if not biodegradable, materials.
6. Be intentional about food
Pets gotta eat, right? Right! So, consider purchasing food that is responsibly sourced with sustainable ingredients. You’ll be supporting a healthier pet and planet! Brands including Open Farm and Wellness TruFood also promote recycling through TerraCycle, a company that partners with brands to reduce the carbon footprint of their customers by finding innovative ways to recycle typically non-recyclable waste. It may not come as a surprise that the obesity epidemic is also weighing down our pets.
Pets are fed as much as 20% more than is necessary, according to the latest research. Too much food means unnecessary food waste, which extracts more from the environment. It doesn’t do your pet’s health any favors, either. And it’s a myth that domesticated canines are good at regulating their food intake. Most dogs will dine whenever yummy food is available, so you need to monitor their eating habits.
7. DIY your dog food and treats
Save money, avoid wasteful packaging, and keep pets from consuming questionable ingredients by making their food and snacks. Meals are straightforward. For dogs, use a crockpot and fill it with boneless meat (we use whatever cuts are on sale at the local market), plain white rice, whole sweet potatoes, carrots, a 1:3 ratio of broth and water, and in a few hours, you’ll have a meal your dog won’t be able to resist. It’s great for their digestion, fills them up, and you might even notice your dog’s coat shining a little brighter.
For treats, research easy, animal-friendly biscuit recipes, or feed them pet-safe people foods. Eggs, cheese, sliced apples or mangos, and ice cubes are generally safe for dogs. As always, moderation is key, and check with your vet before feeding your pet anything new.
8. Mix up the meat
Dogs eat a lot of meat — and the impact of meat production on the planet is exorbitant. You can reduce the strain on Mother Nature by investing in grass-fed animal products, which require less carbon for their production.
Also, not all meats have an equivalent impact. Eliminating carbon-intensive lamb and beef from the menu would be a substantial step in the right direction. When you do buy meat, try to buy locally and what is in excess to reduce food waste.
9. Choose eco-friendly toys
Our pets spend hours a day playing and chewing. So make your pet’s play planet-friendly. Consider what “junk” of yours might be your furry friend’s new favorite toy — whether it’s a knotted T-shirt or old ball. (Just make sure it’s safe.) You can even try to make your own.
Our furry friends are easy to please, as long as we love them. Why are many dog toys bright red when canines cannot see that color? Because the toys aren’t marketed to dogs — they are marketed to their owners. But dogs don’t share our sensibilities. They don’t care about fashion, and they don’t discriminate between new, brand-name toys and ones upcycled from ordinary stuff lying around your house. Here are some starter ideas for upcycling your pet’s next accessory:
Rope toy: Tie an old T-shirt into knots.
Chew toy: Stick a plastic bottle in a sock.
Puppy sweater: Use old kid’s clothes from the attic.
Remember that our pets don’t care about how fancy things are, they simply love being your fur baby. So, think twice about how you may be increasing your carbon paw print. Swapping beef for chicken or a bright-colored toy for an old T-shirt will keep your pet happy and healthy — while also helping the Earth stay green.