Pet keeping is a luxury of the Western world. And as with other luxuries, it behoves us to minimise our impact on our planet by taking steps to make this as sustainable as possible.
Here are my top ten tips to make pet keeping more eco-friendly.
Meat production for pet food contributes significantly to greenhouse gases. There are some mitigating aspects: commercial pet food originated as a way of using waste from abattoirs, pet food contained the cuts of meat that humans didn’t want to eat. So, arguably commercial pet food is already sustainable, making good use of byproducts. Recent trends are less sustainable, with people wanting to feed higher end, premium-type meat to their pets from animals that need to be specifically reared for meat production for pet food or that would otherwise be used for human meat consumption.
More sustainable options for feeding pets include insect-based products for dogs and cats (e.g. Omuu, developed by an Irish vet), and vegetarian or vegan dog foods. While it’s safe for dogs to eat nutritionally balanced non-meat diets, cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they have an absolute need for some ingredients that can only be found in meat. It’s possible to source these essential nutrients from non-meat sources, but many vets feel that it is wrong to try to force pure carnivores like cats to survive without meat.
Modern dried pet food has a long shelf life even when the bag has been opened, as long as you are careful about how you store it. If you buy a bigger bag, you’ll use less packaging, and you’ll need fewer visits in the car to the pet shop (or fewer deliveries from the online store).
Pet food is commonly packaged in easy-to-use plastic. While there can be benefits from this (easily sealable bags allow food to be stored for longer periods), some companies take more care than others to ensure that their packaging is as eco-friendly as possible. Even plastic packaging can be recyclable. Read the label carefully and visit company websites to find out more: many have strong and progressive policies on sustainability like Purina.
It’s easy to buy cheap “tat” for pets, but the more sustainable option is to buy products that are well made, from durable materials, so that they are more likely to be long lasting. This applies to leads, collars, food and water bowls, clothing, and almost anything else you can buy for your pet. It’s also worth seeking out products designed to be sustainable, such as the Beco food bowl range, made from plant-based materials including bamboo, to help reduce use of petroleum-based plastics. See becopets.com.
Dogs and cats are not fussy: the simplest of cardboard boxes, packaging materials, and food and drink containers can often be repurposed as objects that your pets will enjoy playing with.
If you have indoor cats, you’ll find yourself using surprising quantities of cat litter for their indoor toiletting. Clumping cat litter is the most popular, as it allows you to remove the contaminated areas (which go hard when moistened by urine) while the uncontaminated areas can be left in the tray. This can be efficient, but the used clumps need to go to landfill, and some clay-based type of clumping litter is mined and processed in a way that can destroy habitats and pollute the environment. More sustainable options include biodegradable and compostable plant-based litter (e.g bamboo, corn or grass seed), wood pellet litter, or if you want a clumping version, options made from coconut and walnut. You could also consider the Litter Kwitter which teaches your cat to use the human toilet.
Poo bags are an essential part of owning a dog: rather than the cheapest plastic versions, pay a little more for compostable bags that do not go straight to landfill.
There’s a financial and a greenhouse gas price to pay for driving the car. If you drive a few kilometres every day for the sole purpose of walking your dogs, this will create a high annual cost in money and in climate-changing gas production. It makes financial and environmental sense to walk your dogs from home: get out Google maps, set the layers to “satellite”, and search your local area for new dog-walking habitats. If you live in a built up area, a five meter long training leash can be a useful purchase, allowing you to give your dogs more freedom while still keeping them under safe control in areas where there may be more human activity.
When you comb and brush your pet, you’ll gather bagloads of pet fur. Rather than putting this in the bin, you can offer it to wild birds in spring time (to line their nests) or you can learn how to use it for knitting (check this out on Youtube).
It’s important to look after your pet’s health and this includes treating for parasites that can cause illness. However, this should be done on a targeted basis, after an individual risk assessment, rather than as a blanket policy for all dogs and cats. Environmental studies suggest that declining insect populations may be linked to the overuse of certain anti-flea products in some areas. Talk to your vet about what your pet needs, and about the most environmentally friendly ways to control parasites.