Sustainable Pet Practices
While there are numerous upsides to living with companion animals, including stress relief and improved health and longevity, there are some downsides, too. One of the more significant concerns is sustainability. Unfortunately, companion animals are often not the most sustainability-friendly members of the family. According to ecologist and geneticist Dr. Andrew David Thaler, companion animals often require a surprisingly high amount of water and electricity, their waste is a challenge to dispose of in an eco-friendly way, and they tend to not be native species, creating problems for ecosystems. In fact, domestic cats have brought feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus into wild cat populations, and outdoor-living domestic cats are the second leading cause of wild bird extinction behind only habitat loss (Thaler). Of course, we are not at all suggesting that people abandon living with companion animals. We have already highlighted the many important benefits these wonderful creatures bring to our lives. But we do think it is important to understand how to live more sustainably with our animals to reduce their carbon impact and help make the Earth healthier for everyone.
Commercial food for companion animals is probably the biggest source of sustainability problems. The amount of resources required to create this food is significant, from the animals raised for the food to the processing of it into mass produced containers to the delivery of it to stores. Much of the food comes from beef by-products, and we know that factory farmed beef is the least environmentally-friendly meat there is. In addition, the meat processing plants require coal-based electricity and then transportation requires additional burning of fossil fuels, making the carbon footprint of your dog or cat’s breakfast quite significant. But there are things you can do to make feeding your animal more sustainable.
In consultation with your veterinarian, consider making your animal’s food yourself. It is important that you check in with your veterinarian about this to ensure that your recipes will meet your animal’s nutritional needs. And, if you are choosing a raw food diet, you will want to supplement with Dr. Bob Goldstein’s Daily Raw Nutritional Supplement to help balance and complete your dog or cat’s nutritional needs with the extra vitamins, minerals, fiber, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and omegas that will round out a raw food diet.
If you prefer to use commercially made food, be sure to use one that is more sustainable. Organic choices are great as they will use products and practices that keep the Earth in mind. And if you don’t go all the way organic, at least choose foods made from chicken or turkey which will have less of a carbon impact than beef.
Sustainable Waste Removal
In most places, picking up after your dog is the law, so you are more than likely already doing that. But how you do it is just as important as doing it at all. If you are picking up dog waste in a plastic bag and tossing it in the trash, you are leaving it to sit in a landfill virtually forever. Instead, use biodegradable, compostable, or water soluble waste bags which will allow the waste to degrade naturally. Biodegradable bags will breakdown with the waste so that it doesn’t linger for years in a landfill. Compostable bags will help the waste return to the soil. Remember, though, that you can’t just throw the compostable bags into your regular garden composter. Dog waste contains more than 65 parasitic organisms that can sicken people, so you won’t want it anywhere near a garden or water runoff area. Use a special composter for your dog waste that will allow it to degrade naturally and don’t use the compost in your garden. Water soluble bags are designed to biodegrade in water so all you have to do is just bring it inside and flush it down the toilet. The bag will biodegrade into water and carbon dioxide and the waste will be treated through the municipal sewage system, just like human waste. If you have a septic system, check to make sure these bags are septic safe before flushing.
When dealing with cat waste, use an eco-friendly litter or make your own. There are a few ways you can do this. One way is to shred some newspaper then soak it in water and dish soap. Drain it, rinse it, then add baking soda. Let it dry then line your litter box. When you discard the waste, you can feel better about the fact that you have reduced your environmental impact over using commercial litter. You could also try just filling the litter box with sand and adding a little baking soda to absorb odors. The sand will clump and make discarding the waste easy. For the solid waste, you can try the water soluble waste bags. Before flushing, however, make sure that all you get in the bag is the waste and not the other contents of the litter box. And again, check to make sure that the bags are septic safe if your home is not part of your municipal sewer system.
Many commercially produced animal toys are mass produced with plastic and require loads of resources to get to the store. You may find yourself buying quite a few of these as your animal companion chews them, destroys them, loses them, or grows bored with them over time. To reduce your environmental impact, look for toys that are eco-friendly, made from recycled or sustainable materials, and that are long-lasting. Alternatively, you can make your own toys out of many of the objects you have around the house. Recycling plastic is better than throwing it in the trash, but it is still an energy-consuming practice and discarding old clothes or other pieces of fabric is not sustainable. Try reusing a plastic water bottle instead of recycling it by wrapping it in old fabric. Braid the fabric around the bottle and knot the excess to make for a fun tug, fetch, and chew toy. Be sure the fabric is wrapped thickly enough that your animal can’t chew through it to the plastic and be sure to remove the cap first so your animal doesn’t accidentally choke on it.
These are just a few of the ways that you can make living with your animal companion more sustainable. Try considering everything you do with and for your animal from the Earth’s perspective before doing it, then think about how you can do it more sustainably. Even just becoming more aware is a big step towards helping the Earth.