10 Sustainable Pet Care Tips
Easy ways to reduce your pet's carbon 'pawprint'!
Pet ownership and sustainability don't always go hand in hand. With more of us becoming aware of the impact our lives have on the environment, so too are we beginning to appreciate the environmental 'pawprint' of our pets. Certain factors about cats and dogs don't exactly bode well for the environment - particularly when we consider their requirment for a high meat diet. In fact, experts have claimed that a medium-sized dog has a similar environmental impact to running an SUV.
So what can we do to reduce the 'environmental pawprint' of our pets? Thankfully there are plenty of easy changes you can make at home, which will benefit you, your pet, and our planet!
1. Choose a 'sustainable' species
Of course, you might already own a cat or a dog or have your heart set on adopting one. But if you're not yet a pet parent, and are open to other species, why not consider something a little more eco-friendly?
According to sustainability author Brenda Vale, the 'most sustainable' pet is ideally small and vegetarian, while the 'least sustainable' pet is larger and carnivorous. This is primarily because it requires a lot more land, energy and resources to grow meat as opposed to grains. Read more about this below.
2. Adopt, Don't Shop
@gumtreegreys help to rehome hundreds of ex-racing greyhounds every year.
If you've decided you simply can't live without a cat or a dog, it's far more sustainable to adopt a 'second hand' pet who needs a home. Animal shelters are always full of unwanted dogs and cats, and there are many benefits to adopting an adult animal rather than a puppy or kitten.
The breeding of pets to keep up with our insatiable demand for 'breed specific puppies' contributes directly to pet overpopulation. This can create serious issues for the environment, including increased waste production, as well as the need for additional farming space to provide enough food to feed those extra carnivorous mouths. Adopting a rescue pet and having it desexed can help combat this problem.
3. Stop overfeeding your pets!
It sounds simple, and it is! By simply feeding the amount of food your pet actually needs, rather than filling their plate up every time they bat those 'puppy dog' eyes at you, your pet's carbon footprint will decrease significantly. You'll go through less food over all, buy fewer bags of kibble each year, and consequentially help to reduce the demand on the meat industry.
Plus, not only will your pet's health benefit - remember that obesity is painful, leads to to a number of health conditions and shortens your pet's life - but you could save a lot of money in the long run, too!
4. Choose an eco-friendly pet food
As we start to discuss how to feed your pet in an eco-friendly way, a number of questions may arise:
1. Vegan diets for pets?
It's long been established that a vegan or vegetarian diet is an environmentally sustainable choice - and interestingly, one study found that pet owners are more likely to be vegetarian or vegan themselves. However, a plant-based diet is simply not feasible or healthy for carnivorous cats, and certainly not ideal for high-meat-requiring dogs. (Read my article on vegan and vegetarian diets for pets here.)
2. Home cooking vs commercial pet food?
Interestingly, home-cooked diets for pets are far less environmentally-friendly than commercial pet food diets. This is because commercial pet food uses offcuts or by-products of the meat destined for humans that may otherwise go to waste, whereas home cooked diets tend to require buying fresh meat. This contributes to the demand and production of meat overall.
3. Choose a Sustainable Pet Food Brand
A sustainable pet food brand which delivers complete and balanced nutrition is our top recommendation. Rather than trying to force your pet into a plant-based diet that doesn't align with their nutritional requirements, or attempting a home cooked diet which may be deficient in vitamins or minerals, we suggest swapping to a brand of balanced pet food which focuses on sustainable practices.
5. Sustainable Protein Choices
Did you know that some types of meat have a smaller carbon footptint than others? When we examine the amount of energy used and emissions generated by the entire farm-to-fork process, some meat options come out in front as clear winners.
*It's important to note, however, that the emission of greenhouse gas isn't the only factor to consider. For example, Salmon may rank as number 1 in terms of green house gas emissions, but it can have detrimental effects on the environment in other ways. The farming of salmon involves concentrating large populations of fish in a small area, which contributes huge amounts of nitrogen-rich waste into the ocean. This leads to the prevalence of toxic algal blooms. On the other side of the coin, catching salmon in the wild can contribute to over fishing and by-catch, disrupting the ocean's ecosystem and depleting threatened species.
Kangaroo, on the other hand, is continuously recommended as a highly sustainable meat choice. Solely wild-caught instead of farmed, kangaroo meat requires no land clearing or destruction of native habitat. Depending on the season, kangaroos generally live in abundance - to the point of even being considered a pest - and can survive on indigenous scrub so do not rely on the production of grain. Plus, compared to other specieis of red meat animals, they produce less methane gas!
Is the kangaroo meat industry cruel? The welfare of hunted kangaroos has come under fire recently, with many concerned about the stress endured during a hunt. Compared to farmed animals which are required to be slaughtered in a controlled method, the risk of wounding, but not killing, a wild animal is always a concern when hunting is involved. However, many debate whether a life spent free roaming (compared to the chronically suffering life of intensely farmed feedlot animals) outweighs a relatively short period of trauma during a 'final hunt'. As it stands, there will always be differing opinions about the welfare of wild-caught kangaroo. But the sustainability advantage is generally well-established.
6. Buy local
Buying locally-made products is always one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Products made locally require fewer legs of transport, as they haven't required a ship or flight from overseas. This means that less pollution has been created to get the items to your door!
7. Buy in Bulk
Pets require a lot of supplies - from the countless kilograms of food, cat litter, bedding, and parasite prevention - it all adds up!
Buying your pet supplies in bulk significantly saves on packaging materials and transport. Plus, it's cheaper! On a price-per-kilo scale, bulk bags will saves you a lot of money in the long run.
What are the best value bulk bags?
Scrunch & Sticks Scrunch & Sticks cat litter is available in a 60L pack, making it excellent value on a per-kilogram basis.
Royal Canin Royal Canin produces some large bulk bags in 30kg for dogs, and 20kg for cats.
8. STOP buying plastic cat litter
Read our Guide to Cat Litter for more info on the different substrates used in cat litter.
Indoor cats use a staggering amount of kitty litter. Did you know that each cat who uses a non-clumping litter goes through an average of 45 kg per year? Many crystal litters are made from synthetic plastic products, which are not biodegradable or compostable, and are definitely not eco-friendly.
9. Opt for Compostable (not 'degradable') Doggy Poo Bags
Everybody knows that a good dog owner 'picks up after their dog' - in fact, in most states it is a legal requirement - and thus, poo bags have become a staple 'dog walking' accessory for most. But poo bags can contribute a lot of plastic into the environment. Most dog owners are fairly clued in to this already, and choose to buy bags marked as 'biodegradable' or 'ecofriendly.'
However, it's important to be aware that there is a big difference between doggy bags which will simply break up into small pieces of microplastics, and those which will genuinely degrade into an eco-friendly compostable substance. Many bags are marked as 'eco-friendly' despite not carrying a compostable claim. The key difference comes down to the defined term:
Which poo bags are compostable? For genuinely eco-friendly poo bags, we recommend Compost-A-Pak brand. These incredible compostable bags are made from corn deemed not fit for human consumption, which would otherwise go to waste. Unlike other degradable bags which merely breakdown into small pieces of microplastics, these bags are completely compostable and will break down to become part of the soil. This means they are suitable for dog poo-specific compost systems.
10. Eco-friendly collars, leads, and accessories
More and more eco-friendly products for pets are emerging on the market these days. Take Aussie brand Anipal, for example. This incredible company collects plastic waste and recycles it into innovative collars, leads, and harnesses. As if this wasn't sweet enough, all of their products are decorated with colourful patterns featuring Australian wildlife! See their designs below.