- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
We love our cats, but between the litter, toys, and food, they’re not the most eco-friendly pets on the planet. So what can an eco-conscious pet owner do to reduce their impact on the environment while still giving their kitty the best life possible?
We turned to the experts to figure out which parts of your cat-owning life make the most difference. Here are the habits worth working on to be more eco-friendly.
Most commercial cat litters are made with clay, which is sourced via destructive strip mining, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which removes the top layer of trees, topsoil, and more. Plus it can be dangerous for your cat—if your kitty eats the litter, it can cause intestinal distress, according to Scientific American.
Instead, look for products that use recycled newspapers, which can also be super-absorbent. We list several options in our cat litter shopping guide.
Cats are obligate carnivores, so you won’t be able to go eco-friendly by switching them to a vegan diet. But many pet owners have started purchasing pet foods with “human grade meat,” and that’s actually a problem.
The NRDC explains that choosing pet foods that include “human grade meat” also means that all the same energy-intensive farming practices went into creating that pet food as it does for human foods—and our meat-raising agriculture system accounts for some 8 percent of the U.S.’s emissions.
Instead, look for pet foods that contain by-products instead, which is a way of making sure we’re using every part of the food instead of wasting it. As the environmental magazine Grist points out, fish and chicken are also less intensive than beef and lamb-based foods. Even better, look for locally-produced pet food.
Cats are finicky, and it’s not rare to pick up a toy you’re sure they’ll love only to realize they are never going to play with that thing. Get creative and look for cat toys (or tchotchkes that could easily be turned into toys) at thrift stores or second-hand online.
Even better: repurpose what you already have in your house, like toilet paper rolls or gift bag ribbons, into playthings for your pet. You’ll save money on new toys and reduce the production of resource-intensive new toys in the process.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for used, Treehugger recommends looking for sustainable cat toys, like ones that use post-consumer recycled plastic or other materials. And when you’re done with the toy or you’ve managed to bring home a dud, donate it to a thrift shop for the next cat owner trying to do the eco-friendly thing.
A 2013 study in Nature found that domestic cats kill 1.3 to 4 billion birds a year. And The New York Times reports that we’ve lost nearly 30 percent of birds in the U.S. over the last 50 years. One way you can help in keeping our bird populations healthy is to keep your pet cats indoors, period.
For feral cats or other cats that can’t be brought inside, the NRDC recommends putting a bell on their collar to hopefully alert more birds and other animals to their presence.
We’ve already talked about the damage outdoor cats can do on populations of birds. Feral cats are much in the same—they’re even listed on the Global Invasive Species Database. We need to minimize the population of outdoor cats, and one of the best ways to do that is to spay or neuter your kitty ASAP.
This also can help reduce your cat’s desire to get outside, according to the Humane Society, especially in younger pets who haven’t learned bad habits yet. Want to do more? Donate to local shelters and veterinarians who use the funds to do catch and release programs to spay/neuter outdoor cats in your area.
There are tons of cats looking for homes across the country. Some 6 to 8 million dogs and cats end up in shelters every year, according to the Humane Society, and 2.7 million of them end up euthanized. One way to get more cats off the streets and into homes is to purposefully adopt from shelters, as EcoWatch recommends.
Individual responsibility aside, if you’re concerned about climate change, take note that a report in 2017 revealed that 100 businesses have caused about 70% of global emissions since 1988, as The Guardian reports. Primarily, those are fossil fuel companies.
While individual action can be meaningful, the change we need is going to require pressure from citizens on governments and corporations. Look into whether your investments, like your 401k, are supporting fossil fuel companies. Talk to your workplace about where their money is going and how they plan to create a more sustainable impact.
Your first step is to buy fewer products and refuse “junk” toys and other unnecessary products that might come into your home. That saves you money, and it also means you’re contributing less to the creation of endless new toys.
Reusing means purchasing things second-hand, making toys out of things you already own, and otherwise being creative with how you keep your cat healthy and entertained.
Last, recycle. Not all cat products will be recyclable, so when you do purchase new, look for products that you know your local recycling facility will accept, or products that are biodegradable.