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The XXL Carbon Pawprint: 8 Considerations for More Planet-Friendly Pets

This post is part of our Conscious Consumerism series to encourage our readers to live – and buy – responsibly. As marketers in the purpose economy, we see it as our job to help people make purchasing decisions that align with their values and contribute to the greater good. Want to learn more about our mission? Download our Manifesto.

Many of us count our pets among our best friends. Animal companions bring joy, but they also pack a sizable environmental impact. Even small ones have a real impact and for those who keep several pets, the environmental impact can get pretty massive.

You might think we’re an alarmists. How much harm can some puppies and the odd parrot really do? Read below to find out and learn to minimize the carbon footprint of your furry, finned or feathered friend (Click to Tweet!).

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1. Procurement

Our founder Polina’s maltese, Papi.

Adopting an animal in need rather than special-ordering your buddy is a simple and incredibly impactful way to do good.

  • You give a home – and a chance at life – to a creature in need. 2.7 million cats and dogs are euthanized each year because there are more pets up for adoption than people adopting. Getting your friend spayed / neutered will also help address the overpopulation problem.
  • You avoid paying into shady breeding operations.
  • Adopting locally means cutting emissions associated with long-distance pick up or delivery from breeders.
  • Many cats and dogs in shelters are already house trained and won’t create waste by ruining your carpet, killing your couch or leaving other fun surprises.

2. Nourishment

Sustainable living experts Robert and Brenda Vale categorized ingredients in common pet foods as meats or cereals, calculated the pre-dried weight of ingredients and added up the carbon emissions associated with the production of each material.

Annual carbon emissions associated with feeding a pet for a year:

  • German shepherds: 1.1 hectares (An SUV is 0.41)
  • Cats: 0.15ha (Slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf)
  • Hamsters: 0.014ha (Two hamsters ~ a medium-sized plasma TV)
  • Goldfish: 0.00034ha (An eco-finprint equal to two cellphones)

Surprised? Bothered? Many of the strategies you use to curb your own carbon footprint can be applied to pet-feeding as well.

Making your own pet food and treats out of local ingredients is an impactful way to minimize your buddy's eco-impact. Image Credit: Selbe Lynn

Making your own pet food and treats out of local ingredients is an impactful way to minimize your buddy’s eco-impact. Image Credit: Selbe Lynn

Buy Organic

Organic pet food, like organic people food, is better for farmers, the environment and the one eating it!

Make Your Own

Buy from local food producers to make your own pet food. By buying locally, you forego the emissions associated with producing and delivering gigantic bags of food.

Pegable reader and pet-lover Bethany Meissner notes that many vets advise against cooking your own cat food because it can lead to dangerously low levels of the essential nutrient taurine. DIY-ing your dog food is also a task that requires consultation with vets to ensure the right balance of nutrients. If you want to make your own pet food, make sure you’re doing it with expert input to keep your friends healthy and happy!

Don’t Hate On Byproducts

As Susan McGrath of the Audobon Society explains, avoiding meat byproducts in pet food is “un-green.” When meat is processed for human consumption there are leftovers not because the remnants are inedible but because we don’t happen to eat them. Using these byproducts in pet food diverts them from the waste stream. It’s also good for your pets!

According to Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, “If we didn’t feed byproducts to pets, the dogs and cats in the U.S. alone would need the amount of food it would take to feed 32 million humans, on a calorie basis.” So go ahead and toss your dog a bone on this one. Or a lung.

DIY Treats

Even if you’re buying commercial food, it’s not hard to green your pet’s treats. Cook up a batch for your dog or cat with sustainably produced ingredients or treat them from your own eco-friendly leftovers.

Other Considerations

Choose bulk packaging to avoid tossing out a tin every day. For cats and dogs, choose fish and chicken-based food since raising these meats is less taxing on the environment.

While we initially dubbed vegan cuisine a health risk for furry friends, Bethany pointed out that this isn’t quite true. Cats are, verily, obligate carnivores but dogs are omnivores and some experts support vegan doggy diets. That said, an inappropriately designed vegan pet diet can result in health risks including vitamin deficiencies, inadequate protein intake and an imbalance of crucial fatty acids. Talk to your vet if it’s something you’re considering for your dog. Determined to serve vegan cuisine without any worries? Get a rabbit.

3. Nourishment Outputs (Poop)

It’s crappy, but pet waste is a big problem. How big? Let these horrifying facts disgust you and convince you to adopt the fixes.

Horrifying Fact:
Scientists attribute roughly 16% of sea otter deaths to Toxoplasma gondii, a pathogen that lives in cat poop. The toxin has been found in dolphins, walruses, beluga whales and polar bears. In humans, it’s associated with miscarriages, fatal food poisoning and schizophrenia.

Fix:
Bag the poop in a (preferably biodegradable) plastic bag and toss it in the trash. Don’t flush it because sewage treatment doesn’t necessarily kill Toxo. If you have an outdoor cat, consider an indoor cat next time.

Horrifying Fact:
The silicate and clay materials used in clumping cat litter are acquired through strip mining. In the US, we dispose of more than two million tons of cat litter each year.

Fix:
Use greener litters made from materials like recycled newspapers, renewable wheat crops, corn (of which we have a great excess) or hardwood.

Horrifying Fact:
In the US, roughly 83 million pet dogs produce roughly 10.6 million tons of poop every year. A gram contains roughly 23 million bacteria and several harmful pathogens. In urban watersheds analyses, doggie droppings are the source of 20-30% of the contaminants found in water samples.

Fix:
Pick up the poop. Use plastic bags you’ve amassed or biodegradable doggy bags. It’s arguable whether there’s enough oxygen for the bags and their contents to biodegrade in landfills but if there is, only a really biodegradable bag will do so without creating harmful chemical byproducts. Look for the Biodegradable Products Institute logo.

You can also compost dog and cat waste though the resulting biomass should NOT be used on edibles. Learn more about the process here.

4. Entertainment

Get crafty and make pet toys by repurposing materials you already have lying around. Get some good ideas for DIY:

The Zogoflex by B Corp West Paw Design is infinitely recyclable a.k.a. C2C a.k.a. closed loop a.k.a. awesome :)

The Zogoflex by B Corp West Paw Design is infinitely recyclable a.k.a. C2C a.k.a. closed loop a.k.a. awesome 🙂

Is your companion of a less common sort? Google the animal name and “DIY toys.” You’ll find ways to entertain everything from betta fish to guinea pigs.

Buying new? Look for toys made from safe materials to minimize your buddies’ exposure to contaminants. B Corp West Paw Design makes the Zogoflex which can be ground up and recycled into more Zogoflex toys indefinitely, which means a closed loop and zero waste. They also make toys out of organic hemp and IntelliLoft – a fluff made from recycled bottles!

Also check out the newly certified B Corp P.L.A.Y. – Pet Lifestyle and You – for eco-friendly toys like this eggplant plush filled with PlanetFill, another fluff-from-recycled-bottles filler.

EarthDog makes hemp leashes, collars, rope toys, beds and blankets and donates 10% of proceeds to kody’s fund, a non-profit organization that funds spay and neuter programs.

You can also check out Earth Doggy, Only Natural Pet and Beco Pets for other eco friendly pet products.

If you’re determined to do good and appreciate a chic aesthetic, look at Found My Animal’s collars, leashes and portable bowls. This Brooklyn-based B Corp donates a portion of profits to animal rescue organizations.

5. Medical Treatment

Some ailments require traditional veterinary treatments, but holistic products can address a variety of ills.

B Corp Farm Dog Naturals makes herbal remedies to promote relaxation, sooth surface wounds and protect dry noses and paw pads. Anne will vouch that this stuff has worked wonders for her dog Molly! You can also explore natural and home remedies to help with everything from fleas to dry skin to upset tummies to hairballs!

Be careful – some substances that are safe for people are dangerous for pets and some people on the internet are wrong. Always check with your vet before trying a treatment.

6. Hygienic Enhancement

Try organic or natural shampoos for your dogs and cats. Birds can be washed with just water and some Dawn if they’re extremely dirty. Snakes, turtles and other reptiles can usually be washed with just clean water, but make sure to watch out for chlorine, zinc and other elements that may be present in your tap water and potentially harmful to your pets. We’re 99% sure you don’t have to wash fish.

7. Environmental Involvement

Domestic cats kill 60-70 million wild birds annually in Canada alone. Keep tabs on your Sylvesters to protect the Tweetys. Keeping cats inside will also increase the lifespan of your whiskered friend, so it’s a double win. An outdoor enclosure is a good compromise for more adventurous domesticated felines.

Are you a dog person? You’re not off the hook. Dogs can have a negative impact on wildlife through direct predation, indirect predation and disease transmission. While the biggest offenders are “free-roaming” dogs, do your part by keeping Fido from killing little animals and infecting lions with canine distemper.

8. Retirement

Go for an eco-friendly bed made in the USA for your dog or cat like the ones from B Corps West Paw Design. If your dog destroys a bed, don’t mess around – go for one that’s really chew-proof to minimize future purchases.

Besides offering a huge variety of traditional pet beds, B Corp P.L.A.Y. also makes a very innovative product called the build-a-bed. You buy a fill-a-bed and a cover and then fill the fill-a-bed with old clothes, towels, sheets and other textiles that have seen better days. It’s a great way to REUSE old stuff, REDUCE the amount of waste you produce and make your pet a cozy bed to boot!

You can DIY cat beds by repurposing cast offs like old computers. That’s a major #sustainabilitywin!

Crates, cages and the like are much cheaper to buy used and since they’re also much easier to clean than fabric-based furnishings, we highly recommend them.

Most people can’t devote themselves to being a line cook for their canines, but it’s important for conscious consumers to examine even the more obscure facets of sustainable living. No one has the time and money to do everything on a green living list but by examining different areas of our lives and doing what we can, we can make significant gains in minimizing our environmental impact. Now that effort deserves a round of a-paws!

How will you remember all of this? If you’re a dog person, check out this infographic from Ultimate Home Life. It has great tips and cute drawings of dogs too. Win-win 🙂 

This post was originally published on June 15th, 2015 and updated on August 6th, 2019.

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RoundPeg helps purposeful companies build transformative relationships with their customers. Our Purpose is to challenge conspicuous consumption and make buying responsibly the norm. We are a certified B Corp and Benefit Corporation.
Comments
  • Bethany
    Reply
     

    I love so much of this post! Sustainability isn’t just for the decisions we make for ourselves, but also those decisions that involve our furry friends. Plus, Wall-E is simply adorable! It’s obvious that he’s a very lucky dog.

    I did want to address a few tiny things. Most importantly, from a safety perspective, many vets strongly advise against anyone with a cat making their cat’s meals themselves. Doing so for cats can easily lead to dangerously low levels of taurine, an essential nutrient for cats that is added to almost all commercially available cat food. Even for dogs, feeding them homemade meals is a difficult task that requires a lot of consultation with one’s veterinarian to ensure the right balance of nutrients. It can sound really great on paper, but be tricky to execute in real life. It’s not impossible, but it’s not quite as easy as cooking for humans.

    Secondly, saying that vegan diets are “associated with a slew of risks” so they should never be attempted even for dogs is a slight (though very common) misconception of the vegan diets for pets issue. Almost anything we choose for our pets involves some risks. Heck, cats living indoors where they won’t kill birds or get run over by cars is associated with higher levels of diabetes and obesity. I was surprised that the topic of vegan diets wasn’t addressed along the lines of: “Vegan diets for cats are not recommended because cats are obligate carnivores. For dogs who are omnivores like humans? Now that’s a bit of a controversy. Some people feel strongly that if you want a vegan pet, you should have adopt a rabbit from your local shelter. Other experts support feeding a vegan diet so long as you’re careful and work with your veterinarian. If you want to reduce your dog’s meat intake, you could always substitute a commercially available vegan dog food for some of his meals. Whatever you do, talk to your veterinarian about the dietary choices you make for your pet.”

    Again, I love so much of this post. Sustainability is something I consider when making decisions for my cat. I even considered corporate responsibility (after nutritional quality) when deciding what food to serve him! I think that more pet parents are thinking about how to be responsible in all aspects of caring for their pets so this is something that definitely deserves the RoundPeg spotlight!

    • Alison Klein
      Reply
       

      Bethany –

      Thank you for reading and thank you for the thoughtful comment! This article covers a lot of ground and I agree that I didn’t give as much thought to the diet discussion as I should have. If it’s okay with you, I’ve love to move your suggested addition into the article (w/ attribution!) to better educate our readers. Let me know!

      ~Alison

      • Bethany
        Reply
         

        That would be lovely of you 🙂 Sorry if I came on a bit strong — pet health is a huge passion for me. Also, apologies on my delayed response. I got slammed at work and that cut severely into my blog reading time!

        • Alison Klein
          Reply
           

          Bethany — Not too strong at all – passion is a good thing 🙂 And if this blog wasn’t part of my job I probably wouldn’t read it quite so often either haha!

  • Michael
    Reply
     

    Hi Alison!

    Just finished reading this post and – you have done an EXCELLENT job on laying out the basics of going green with our pets! AWESOME job!

    I’m a “Greeny” myself and, whenever I talk to anyone about this subject (especially when it comes to the yearly euthanizing statistics and how not adopting from rescue shelters and helping them out DRAINS resources left, right and center), it’s as if they’ve never heard of such a concept. Takes them by surprise each and every time.

    Then when I tell them about how each and every product they buy for their pets has an eco-friendly variation of it, you start to hear the excuses roll out, most of which are unfounded. The most common I get is “oh yeah that’s nice and all, but they’re much more expensive!”. WRONG! Most of them are actually cheaper.

    So from a fellow “Greeny”, a HUGE THANK YOU, Alison!

    I don’t know if you’re interested in seeing this or not, but, I’m so passionate about raising awareness about everything “going-green” (and especially when it comes to our pets, since I’m a Green dog owner myself), that I’ve designed an infographic about 14 ways dog owners can “go green” with their dogs.

    Can I pass it along for you to see? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

    And, keep up all the awesome stuff you’re doing helping raise awareness about all of this! You seriously rock!

    • Alison Klein
      Reply
       

      Michael,

      Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words! I’d love to see the infographic – I’ll shoot you an email so you have my email address. It’s so important for people to spread their knowledge regarding sustainability conundrums to encourage widespread change. Kudos to you for speaking out about this very real issue. And hello to your dog!

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