Over the past two years and counting, many people have taken on the company of a cat, dog, or other animal companions to ease the feelings of isolation that the pandemic has brought upon us. According to the American Pet Products Association, over 70 percent of American households own a pet. That’s about ninety and a half million families!
While we love our furry, hairy, feathery, or scaly family members, it’s important to keep in mind that fulfilling their needs also has an impact on the environment. Here are some tips to minimize the environmental footprint—or pawprint—of your beloved pet.
Chow down sustainably
Many more people are becoming more conscious of their dietary choices to lower their personal carbon footprint, so why not do the same for pets?
Around 25 percent of all meat-derived calories in the US are consumed by cats and dogs. In fact, if US cats and dogs made up their own country, they would rank the fifth in meat consumption globally. According to University of California Los Angeles geographer Gregory Okin, meat-based pet food is responsible for 64 million tons of greenhouse gases each year.
However, this number can be brought way down if pets start eating plant-based, too. Dogs have evolved to eat an omnivorous diet, so they can healthily transition to a well-balanced, well-planned veggie-focused lifestyle. Research your particular breed’s needs and ask your pet nutritionist or vet before slowly incorporating plant-based pet foods into your feeding routine so that eventually, you can fully replace meat-based meals.
If veganism or vegetarianism isn’t a healthy option for your dog, be mindful of choosing lower-impact meals like chicken over beef. Plus, you can keep an eye out for pet food brands that use by-products of animal agriculture that would otherwise be discarded, like organ meat or bone meal.
Cats, unlike dogs, are “obligate carnivores,” because they cannot produce certain proteins themselves. This means they must get it from fish, beef, chicken, and other meat. If you’re a climate-conscious cat owner, then opt for pet food brands that have higher animal welfare standards or use only MSC-certified fish.
For all pets, owners can be careful to choose food packaged in recyclable containers or to buy in bulk to reduce plastic waste.
Non-toxic grooming and pest prevention
When choosing grooming and cleaning products for your pet, stay away from unnatural dyes, sulfates, parabens, triclosan, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, and other unnatural additives that will end up in waterways, harming wildlife and ecosystems along the way.
For pest prevention, start with nontoxic measures like lots of baths in hot water and regular grooming and vacuuming. If you’re already dealing with a flea or tick problem, then look for nontoxic products that are safer for the environment, your pet, and your entire household. The NRDC’s directory of flea and tick products is a great resource.
Take care of business
If your family pets are rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, and other small herbivorous pets, then you can add this to your compost pile (as long as their bedding is compostable as well). However, cat and dog waste aren’t as simple. Check out the two articles we wrote about the most eco-friendly strategies for dealing with your cat’s litter and dog waste.
Get crafty with toys
Entertain your pet with homemade toys rather than buying them from a shop. You can make a pull toy for dogs out of worn-out clothing, or a chew toy from a water bottle packed with hole-y socks. You can even try your hand at sewing your own toys out of old blankets and discarded rags.
If you want to treat your pet to a new toy, opt for sustainable brands and items made of recycled or recyclable materials.
Pets need all sorts of things, including clothes, shoes, tanks, cages or crates, lights, and much, much more. Instead of buying new, go second-hand! Visit thrift stores and yard sales, or even hop online and scroll through Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or the like for used items.
Be wary of wildlife
When it comes to animal attacks, cats are the usual culprits because they are hunters by nature. Many studies have investigated just how many critters domesticated cats successfully hunt, however, it’s understandably difficult to pinpoint the precise number.
According to a 2013 peer-reviewed article from Nature, “free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually,” while the American Bird Conservancy has once stated that cats kill around 2.5 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals every year and are even directly responsible for the extinction of 33 bird species.
Whatever the exact numbers are, the fact is that our beloved cats were first introduced into our homes to keep pest and rodent populations under control, so even though their roles have largely changed, it’s still our responsibility to help minimize these deaths as much as possible. That said, it’s best to keep cats indoors.
If you want to give your cat access to the outdoors, then build a screened-in “catio” or take them for a stroll on a leash. If your cat is already an outdoor cat, then don’t let them out at dusk or dawn when wildlife is most active and help warn wildlife of their approach by tying a little bell around their collar to announce their presence.
Adopt, don’t shop
There are already so many animals that need a loving family, so if you’re thinking of getting a pet, adopt instead of purchasing from a breeder, which only contributes to the pet overpopulation problem. Plus, many animals from breeding facilities are subjected to unhealthy living conditions and are more prone to health problems.
Spay and neuter
Another way to help reduce pet overpopulation is to get your pets spayed and neutered. This also extends the lives of many animals. According to the Humane Society, male dogs that are fixed live between 18 to 23 percent longer, and cats between 39 and 62 percent.
This article was originally published on February 7, 2022, and edited on February 9th, 2022, to account for the controversy surrounding the exact number of birds and mammals domesticated cats kill each year.