Many of us actively try to reduce our footprint on the environment, and believe it or not your pet makes a footprint too. The size of that footprint depends largely on you, however, and the choices you make regarding food, toys, waste, and more.
Increasing numbers of pet owners are jumping on the "green" pet bandwagon. According to the American Pet Products Association 2013/2014 National Pet Owners Survey, 8 percent of dog owners chose eco-friendly or green pet products in 2012, up from 2 percent in 2010.1
Five percent of cat owners also chose eco-friendly product options for their pet in 2010, which amounts to more than 2 million owners. This is a good start, but buying eco-friendly products is only one way to go green with your pet. Here are 10 others worth trying as well.2
1. Prevent Unplanned Litters
Pet overpopulation is a serious problem, which I witnessed firsthand while working at a kill shelter from junior high through vet school. About 1.5 million animals are killed in shelters each year in the US, and you certainly don't want to add to that number by dropping off an unplanned litter.
Many veterinarians will recommend that you desex (spay or neuter) your pet as a solution (and many shelters require it for adoption). However, I believe de-sexing pets in this way may lead to endocrine imbalances and related diseases. An ovary-sparing spay or vasectomy will accomplish the goal of sterilization and prevent unwanted pregnancies while preserving your pet's endocrine health.
2. Buy in Bulk When Possible
Although I don't recommend stocking up on giant bags of dry pet food, I do recommend stocking up on other bulk products when possible. This helps cut down on packaging and trips to the store (thus saving gas). You may be able to find raw food available in larger packages (which store easily in the freezer). Kitty litter is another good product to buy in bulk. Buying from local food co-ops is another great way to save money.
3. Compost Your Dog's Waste
It's important to pick up after your dog, as dog waste left in the environment can pollute ground and surface water and transmit parasites and infectious disease. Unbeknownst to many, you can actually compost dog poop rather than throwing it in the trash. When composted correctly, composting destroys pathogens and produces compost that can improve the soil in your garden.
Dog waste compost should not be used on vegetables or other crops you plan to eat, but it can be used just about anywhere else. The US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service has a step-by-step guide for composting dog waste,3 if you'd like to give it a try.
4. Choose Reusable Supplies
Reusable items can keep countless pounds of waste out of landfills each year. For instance, if you use puppy pads, choose machine-washable versions instead of disposable. When choosing a collar and leash, look for those made from sustainable organic fibers, like hemp.
5. Recycle as Much as Possible
Pet food cans are usually recyclable and so are many types of plastic containers. You can also look for pet supplies sold in recyclable bags or those made from recycled materials.
6. Use Compostable Poop Bags
If you're not composting your dog waste, then choose compostable poop bags in lieu of the plastic versions. You can also repurpose small paper bags for this purpose. There are even flushable, compostable bags available, and these may present one of the best solutions of all.
Even the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states, "Flushing pet waste is the best disposal method."4 Alternatively, you could use a reusable metal "pooper scooper" to scoop poop in your backyard and then flush it down the toilet.
7. Make Your Own Pet Toys
Many items around your home can be used to make DIY pet toys. Your dog might like to chew on a plastic water bottle wrapped in a t-shirt or sock. Or try placing a few treats inside a gallon milk jug and watch your dog figure out how to get them out (supervised, of course, and not for heavy chewers that might chew through the plastic).
Cats may be entertained with cardboard toilet paper rolls, a crumpled ball of paper, a pen, a ping pong ball, gift bows, the plastic ring from a milk jug, and, of course, empty paper bags or cardboard boxes. You can even grow your own organic catnip to sprinkle on your kitty's homemade toys. If you do buy toys for your pet, look for safer options that are free of BPA and phthalates or are made from 100 percent natural rubber.
8. Choose Environmentally Friendly Cat Litter
The popular clay-based litters may be made from bentonite clay sourced from destructive strip mines.5 You can, instead, opt for litters made from corn (even GMO-free corn), renewable wheat crops, wood shavings or recycled newspaper.
You can even use sawdust for litter. Your cat may ultimately dictate which litter option you stick with. I've found that many cats prefer unscented clumping litter with no odor control additives.
9. Take Advantage of Cuddles in the Winter
When the temperatures dip, you may be able to turn down the thermostat a couple of degrees and cuddle up with your dogs for warmth instead. That's why the coldest nights used to be called "three-dog nights."
10. Adopt a Pet from a Shelter
Giving a home to a homeless dog or cat is the "greenest" way to find a new pet. You'll be saving a life and freeing up a space for another needy dog or cat to find a home.
Finally, perhaps the most environmentally conscious choice of all is to feed your pet a high-quality species-appropriate diet. Most pet foods on the market are made from animal byproducts sourced from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations).
Not only are CAFOs among the greatest sources of pollution in the US, but these industrial farms also promote the use of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, genetically engineered crops, and other environmental atrocities. They're also notorious for treating animals inhumanely.
Look for pet foods that contain organic, whole-food ingredients without added antibiotics or hormones, sourced from naturally raised meat, poultry or fish. Support responsible pet-food companies that respect the environment and also the health of your pet. Better yet, consider making a balanced, fresh food diet for your pets with homegrown ingredients from your garden, local farmer's market, or food co-op.