Pets may bring joy to our lives, but recent research suggests our furry friends have a surprisingly high ecological impact. Thankfully, a few simple, sustainable tips can help anyone be a more eco-friendly pet owner.
Think twice about ‘human grade’ pet food
‘Human grade’ pet food – offering cuts of red meat or fish preferred by Western diets – is on the rise across Europe, but recent research suggests pet food is already responsible for around a quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuels, phosphates and pesticides.
While dogs and cats do need protein – and cats, which are obligate carnivores, do need meat – eco-conscious pet owners may want to consider pet foods made from meat byproducts, offal, chicken or rabbit, and avoid those containing red meat and fish which, by comparison, have a much higher environmental impact and no scientifically demonstrable health benefit for dogs and cats.
Pick up after your pets
Cleaning up your pet’s waste may be unpleasant, but it’s vital for a healthy ecosystem. Pet faeces can carry disease, pollute waterways and coastal zones through runoff, resulting in an adverse impact on wildlife. Whether it’s in your own backyard or when you’re out on a walk, be sure to pick up after your pet – even if their waste is outside of areas where people might walk.
Switch to biodegradable waste bags
Picking up after your pet might be required of all eco-friendly owners, but the small plastic bags commonly used to dispose of it are an unnecessary environmental problem. These single-use plastics fill landfills and potentially pollute oceans, killing birds and marine life, and taking hundreds of years to biodegrade. Instead, opt for compostable bags, which are made from natural, rather than synthetic plastics, and take three to six months to decompose fully.
Change your cat litter
Cat litter has a significant environmental impact, with the silica clay commonly used in supermarket brands derived from environmentally-destructive strip mining, in which mining companies bulldoze the surface until finding the desired mineral – a destructive process that can destroy local environment, displace wildlife due to habitat loss and contaminate water tables. This type of litter has also been linked to health problems in cats that breathe in, or ingest, the chemical-laden dust.
Thankfully, eco-friendly alternatives are readily available for green pet owners including litters made from wood shavings, recycled newspaper, and even fibrous material from annually renewable wheat, maize and tree-nut crops.
Go chemical free
While keeping pets clean, smelling good and free of ticks and fleas is a priority for all pet owners, many shampoos, conditioners, sprays and repellents contain chemicals and nerve agents which can poison wildlife and pets alike. Environmental runoff and chemical pollution can also affect rivers and oceans.
Try eco-friendly alternatives including flea combs and citrus extracts such as D-limonene and linalool for fleas and ticks, or any of the many organically-made shampoos and sprays on the market. Serious environmentalists can even consider making their own wash brew from non-toxic ingredients such as castile soap, vinegar or olive oil.
Keep electronics and new plastic toys to a minimum
The fast-growing pet toy market has led to the rise of electronic toys for dogs and cats, including devices that are plugged in all day to run. While it might be tempting to get your pet the finest new gadgets, digital toys don’t guarantee amusement for your pet – and can come at an environmental price, from the plastic required to manufacture them to the electricity demand that is powered by fossil fuels.
Eco-friendly owners should consider sticking to ‘old fashioned’ analog toys like balls, string or chews to keep wasteful power usage to a minimum. Many companies also offer toys, beds and other supplies that are made of reclaimed or sustainable products. And rather than buying new, check thrift shops to see what pet supplies people have donated. Your pet won’t mind a gently-used toy, and the planet will benefit.
Consider spaying or neutering
The question of spaying or neutering a pet can be complex and culturally sensitive, but eco-friendly pet owners may want to consider doing so they don’t intend to breed their animals. Unplanned litters are a taxing resource burden, with unadopted pets leading to animal overpopulation and stress on shelters that need to care for stray, abandoned and unwanted pets. Similarly, eco-friendly pet owners may consider adopting rather than buying pedigree or bred dogs to reduce environmental demands from overpopulation.
Words: Claire Lancaster