An October, 2009 study published in the New Scientist that raised a lot of eyebrows (to put it mildly) as well as not a small amount of indignation among dog owners, suggested that owning a dog could actually be worse for the environment than driving an SUV. Say whaaaa? Two New Zealand architects who specialize in sustainable building tried to calculate the carbon cost involved in owning dog. They focused largely on the environmental cost of feeding a dog, given that dog food is predominantly meat-based. And as we’ve all learned, meat (specifically, the processing of meat) is very bad for the environment. They even translated the results of their study into an interesting book that explores the environmental impact of every decision we make, from what we eat and what we wear to how we travel and live our lives on a daily basis, including, yes, the animal companions that we keep. However, as attention-getting as the headlines are, calculating the carbon cost of a pet is not as cut and dried as: “Owning a dog is worse than owning an SUV”, and in fact, may be rather exaggerated (thank goodness).
Yet, for all of the innumerable benefits our pets bring to our lives, as we think about ways to green-up our own lives this Earth Day, it makes sense to educate ourselves a bit more about how to make our pets “greener” too – and not a la St. Patrick’s Day dye! After all, we’re responsible, earth-loving pet parents, right?
1. Choose eco-friendly dog supplies.
There are tons of green dog accessories and supplies to choose from that are just as cute, comfy, and functional as the “non-green” versions. What to look for: biodegradable materials, material that has been or can be recycled, material that wasn’t treated with flame retardants, and products that are free of plastics. When your dog’s tired of his toys, do as earth- and budget-conscious parents do, and swap with your dog-parent friends rather than throwing them out. (Or if they are just too ratty to give to a friend, try donating your old dog toys, beds, blankets, towels, and accessories to your local animal shelter).
2. Be a biodegradable, green pooper-scooper.
The ideal situation is to flush your dog’s poop after you pick it up in flushable, biodegradable poop bags. How difficult is it to bag the doo and simply carry it back to your toilet, instead of carrying it to a trash can? By flushing your dog’s (and cat’s) waste, it gets the same sewage treatment as your own. It’s really not a good option to fill up landfills with (non-biodegradable) plastic bags full of doggy doo. If you can’t stomach carrying a bag of your doggy’s business around with you, or if you’re on a marathon walk and can’t feasibly tote poop all those miles home, the next best option is to toss that biodegradable poop bag in the trash. Composting dog poop is tricky depending on how you use it, since its bacteria could make you sick if it’s spread on your edible vegetable garden. However, it is possible to compost and many environmentalists do so with success, in different ways. Here is one place we’ve found step-by-step instructions.
Whatever you do, always clean up after your dog. Not only does leaving your dog’s poo on the ground ensure bad karma (how would you like to step in a fresh pile o’ poo in your brand new Louboutins?), fecal matter in waterways (after it gets washed down storm drains) is a surefire guarantee for illness in both people and animals.
3. Use natural flea-repellants.
There are many options for fighting fleas naturally including a number of essential oils that repel fleas and other pests naturally. There are also ways to deter fleas from your yard and home through use of cedar chips and diatomaceous earth. You can also download a guide to fighting fleas without pesticides here. If you must use pesticides, go with a topical, spot-on treatment. If you have winters where the temperatures fall below freezing, talk to your vet about using the treatments only during the warmer flea season.
4. Buy locally-made, natural and organic pet food (or cook for your pets).
Forget that saying: “I wouldn’t feed this to my dog!” to describe less than quality human food and actually use that saying about most commercial dog foods. Your pets should eat the same quality foods you do. Just as important as keeping you and your family healthy, is the health of your animal family members. As much as possible, use organic veggies and antibiotic- and hormone-free meat and dairy in both your foods as well as your pets’. There are many natural, organic and holistic pet foods that use proteins that are raised in sustainable, humane ways, use natural vitamins, and do not contain hormones. Try also to buy locally made pet foods. By cutting out the long-distance transportation and packaging of commercial food, you’re cutting out the additional carbon emissions waste necessary to process and transport the food.
5. Use organic grooming and cleaning products.
Use safe and natural cleaning products that are biodegradable for the planet and safe for your children, your pets, and you. Of course, earthbath pet products use natural plant-based cleansers and never contain parabens, harsh soaps, phosphates, artificial dyes/fragrances, or toxins, so you don’t have to worry about what might be left behind on your pet or the environment. For environmentally-friendly ways to clean your house, use natural disinfectants, antibacterials, and cleansing abrasives like baking soda, vinegar, and lemons or brands that use biodegradable and environmentally-friendly ingredients like Seventh Generation or Mrs. Meyers.
6. Think before you toss.
This rule goes for both humans and pets: don’t flush or throw out old medications, or any kind of chemical. All can wind up in the water supply, polluting and potentially toxifying it. The best option is to bring all expired or unused medications to your local pharmacist to be disposed of properly, or for other questionable items (including batteries, printer cartridges, paint, chemicals, etc.), contact your local solid waste agency (1-800-CLEAN-UP).
7. Make sure you green your kitty too.
Most commercial “clumping” cat litter is made of clay and you might be surprised to learn that it’s obtained via extremely environmentally-damaging methods much like coal mining (strip mining), and then piles up in landfills without breaking down. However, there are many eco- (and cat-) friendly litters available made from wheat, corn, and recycled newspaper that are just as good at combating odor, are flushable, and some even clump (naturally). It’s also not a good idea to let cats do their business outside, especially if there is a danger they could go in your or your neighbor’s vegetable patch: their waste can pollute the water and soil with toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that can make pregnant women and the immunocompromised sick.
Happy Earth Day! Being mindful of these issues and taking small but measurable steps to greening your life (which includes your pet’s life too) will benefit your health, your dog’s and cat’s health and, ultimately the planet’s!
Image credit: Zazzle.com (where there are tons of eco-friendly “go green” dog tees and clothing available!)