Green Pawprints: Ecotips for Pet Owners

  1. Purchase pet products wisely: Just as you try to avoid toxic plastics, flame retardants and noxious household chemicals for the sake of your own health, you should also consider your pet’s health when purchasing toys, bedding and grooming products. Read labels! Buy organic bedding, and choose toys, collars and leashes made from natural materials or plastics that do not contain vinyl, phthalates or BPA. (A hemp collar and leash is an especially smart choice.) Use eco-friendly shampoos and conditioners that are free from toxic chemicals and manufactured with natural ingredients. And if your pet has an accident indoors, use eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products to clean up after them.
  2. Keep it simple! The needs of dogs and cats are very simple: Food, water, exercise, medical care, a collar with tags, and lots of love. But the $60 billion dollar pet industry would have you believe you need an ever-increasing amount of consumer goods for your furry friend. Although it might be fun, purchasing lots of fancy toys, decorative collars, fancy little outfits and other accessories adds significantly to your pets’ environmental footprint. All that stuff is not only totally unnecessary for your pet to be happy and healthy, but all those products use up a tremendous amount of oil, water, trees, chemicals and energy in their manufacture, packaging and transportation. That’s a lot of resources and money for toys and clothing your pet is unlikely to appreciate at all. If you’ve ever seen a dog chase a stick or ball, or a cat with a ball of yarn or crumpled paper, you know that it doesn’t take something with a $10 price tag to entertain your pet for hours. (Though don’t play fetch with tennis balls; they contain lead.)
  3. Feed your pet thoughtfully: Believe it or not, although cats and dogs eat a LOT of meat, it doesn’t have that big of an environmental impact. That’s because most pet food is made from meat byproducts. About 50% of every food-producing animal does not get used in human foods. The bones, blood, organs, ligaments, and almost all the other parts not generally consumed by humans are used in pet food, animal feed, and other products. In other words, pets eat the protein that humans will not eat. Because our pets gladly eat things that humans won’t, the idea that the environmental impact of pet food is additional to the impact of human food is largely incorrect. That’s not to say that pet food has no environmental impact. Dog and cat food, and meat byproducts generally, provide about 15% of profits to the meat industry, and contribute to the overall planetary impact of industrial meat production. So, to keep your pet’s environmental “pawprint” small, buy pet food in bulk quantities whenever possible. Choose food made from food-grade meat byproducts, not “prime cuts.” Animals do not get any special benefit from eating the cuts of muscle meat that humans eat. In fact, the steaks and chicken breasts that humans prefer are far less nutritious than organ meats, so giving them to your pets only adds to the burden of industrial meat production—and your budget.
  4. Waste not, want not: In the U.S., American dogs produce 10 million tons of waste a year. Cat litter accounts for 2 million tons of landfill space (and clay litter, the predominant choice of kitty litter, is not biodegradable). Pets account for about 4 percent of municipal waste, roughly the same as dirty diapers. Most of our pets’ poop either winds up in a landfill, where it’s embalmed forever in plastic bags, or it sits on the ground until the next storm washes it into the sewer where it can end up in rivers and on beaches. In 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency placed canine feces in the same category of pollutant as oil, herbicides, insecticides, and other deadly contaminants because the waste from just 100 dogs could produce enough bacteria in three days to close a bay and all watersheds within 20 miles to all shellfish fishing and swimming. Dog poop is a persistent source of bacterial pollution in streams, rivers and lakes across the U.S. Please! Always scoop your poop! (But be sure to use a biodegradable pet waste bag!)

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