We at the Sustainable Living Podcast are thrilled to welcome Darcy Matheson, author of Greening Your Pet Care, as a guest blogger. Please listen to our interview/podcast by clicking here.
Easy ways to create a greener life for your pet
by Darcy Matheson, author of Greening Your Pet Care
No matter what type of pet you choose to share your life with, all companion animals have one thing in common: they have a carbon footprint. They pollute.
For dogs, that impact is easier to quantify, because of their large bags of meaty kibble and the tonnes of poop they leave behind. For other popular pets, like reptiles and fish, that environmental damage isn’t quite as obvious. But make no mistake, it’s there. The process of replicating an ideal living habitat for a tropical fish or desert-dwelling lizard requires intensive lighting and heating setups, that in turn consume a lot of electricity.
Whether you share your life with a dog, cat, rat, horse or mini pig, we can all lower our pet’s carbon emissions. The process of becoming a more eco-friendly pet owner is, in a lot of ways, very similar to the steps we take to minimize our own impact on the environment.
While my new book, Greening Your Pet Care, elaborates much more on these topics, use these guidelines when thinking about your own pet. You’ll find there are very easy everyday ways to reduce “pet pollution” that benefit the health of our companions — and the planet.
In 2015, pet owners spent almost $60-billion on pet products. And while a percentage of these expenditures are necessary items like food and enclosures, we know that billions of dollars are spent on toys and — largely unnecessary — enrichment items. Think about what your pet actually needs to make it happy. Does your dog really need a seventh stuffed animal? Probably not. Would it love to take a hike on the weekend to your favourite river? Absolutely. Think about ways that you can enrich your pet’s life without purchasing a product. Ninety-nine-per-cent of the time it comes down to spending more quality time with them, which most owners would agree is a contributing factor in why they wanted a pet in the first place.
Do no harm
Call them free-range killers. A study by Nature Communications in 2013 found that domestic cats were responsible for the death of up to four-billion birds in the United States each year. That’s a staggering number, and one that can directly attributed to cats being allowed outside to roam and hunt. As a cat owner, you can reduce their environmental damage by taking the simple step of keeping them inside. If you insist on letting them be outside, bring them in during the prime hunting times: Dusk and dawn. Indoor cats also live much longer because they’re not subject to becoming prey themselves to larger predators, or getting into fights with other felines.
The most obvious pollution for dogs is their poop. Literally tonnes and tonnes of it. In my hometown of Vancouver, Canada, more than 97,000 tonnes of dog feces is left annually in local parks. And that’s just what actually ends up in the trash bins. Much more inevitably ends up left on the ground, which can leach into groundwater and pollute drinking water sources, local waterways and harm the wildlife that use it. It’s a very serious issue: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies dog waste in the same pollution category as faulty septic systems, chemical spills and oil.
The solution is easy: scoop that poop! And while you’re at it, use a compostable or biodegradable bag — that will break down exponentially faster in a landfill than a traditional plastic grocery store bag. These are available at most pet and big box stores, and Amazon.
Search for sustainable
Ever seen a dog rip apart a plastic toy or stuffed animal? It can happen quickly, and the items usually suffer the same fate: being chucked in the garbage. My challenge to pet owners is to put their animal on a “plastic diet”: See how many plastic items you can get rid of in your pet’s life, and replace them with durable and sustainable alternatives. The beauty of our democratic consumerism is that there are plenty of great eco-friendly options that are built to last, made from natural materials that aren’t produced using herbicides and pesticides.
An easy place to start is your dog’s chew toys. Instead of plastic, try a Kong toy, which is made from natural rubber and can be stuffed with their favourite treats, or peanut butter. For birds, look for enrichment items made from wicker that can actually be collected along with your yard trimmings. Feeding bowls for cats made from bamboo resin are dishwasher-safe, but also 100-per-cent biodegradable and don’t emit toxic fumes as they break down.
Reduce reliance on factory farms
Producing animal protein for pet food is a hugely polluting venture, consuming vast amounts of land, water and other resources. And of all proteins, livestock is the worst offender, belching huge amounts of harmful methane gas. To lower your pet’s eco-footprint, try to source pet foods made from proteins with a lower carbon footprint, such as chicken, turkey — even sustainably-harvested or wild fish.
When it comes to treats, try avoiding meat-based treats altogether. For dogs and cats, look for wheat, fruit and veggie-based treats. Dehydrated sweet potato makes an excellent treat for larger dogs.
Shopping locally doesn’t have to just mean food, toys or other enrichment items — it can actually mean where you buy the pet itself. Instead of getting a fish, reptile, bird, puppy, kitten or turtle from a big box pet store, seek out local breeders, hobbyist clubs and shelters. Pets that end up for sale in pet stores often originate at large-scale pet mills, which have horrible environmental practices, not to mention downright disgusting disregard for animal welfare. For dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles and birds, speak to your local SPCA or Humane Society or breed-specific rescue group. The U.S. Humane Society estimates that a full 25 per cent of pets in shelter are purebred pets that end up there by no fault of their own.
In terms of diet, it’s easy to shop local for all types of pet foods. Rabbits are a great example of this. These herbivores thrive on produce, and farmer’s markets are a fantastic way to source healthy and fresh veggies for your bunny. Vendors often chop off and throw away carrot tops and beet greens — both great sources of vitamins for your animal — so it’s worth making friends with sellers to see if you can get these items. Bonus: Because they’re not normally sold to consumers, you’ll likely get them at a heavy discount and, if you’re lucky, maybe even for free.
Be an advocate for change
Maybe your favourite pet or big box store doesn’t carry products made from local companies, food harvested locally, or organic/non-toxic items. That doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. In today’s consumer marketplace we vote with our dollar. If we choose not to buy cheap plastic goods from China, in time there will be less of them produced and put into the store. And by telling management that you’d like to see more sustainable items in the store, you may just see them there next time you’re shopping for pet items.
If you’re interested in learning how you can lower your pet’s carbon “paw print,” be sure to check out my new book. It’s available at major book and pet stores, an Amazon. You can even download a copy for your Kindle, and save the paper.
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