With Earth Day approaching April 22, it’s time to start thinking about the environment and what we can do to help reduce our carbon footprint. As pet people, this means thinking about the impact of our dogs and cats and making eco-friendly decisions!
Data suggests pet parents are already considering the environment in their decision-making: Nearly three-quarters of pet parents polled in a Rover survey* said they are interested in learning how to live more sustainably with their pets, and 81% said that taking care of their pet in an environmentally-friendly way is important to them.
In an effort to help you learn about ways to be a more eco-friendly pet parent, we’ve collected these tips and ideas from Rover’s team of pet experts, bloggers, and The Dog People Panel veterinarian, Dr. Gary Richter.
Consider the Humble Poop Bag
On average, dogs poop 274 pounds per year. That’s a lot of poop bags—and a lot of plastic.
When it comes to reducing the impact of your dog’s doo, there are some ways you can help. An eco-friendly or biodegradable poop bag is a good way to go, but it’s important to keep in mind that many bags labeled “biodegradable” have specific disposal requirements and if they’re not met, you might as be tossing a new plastic bag. So, be sure to read the label carefully and dispose of it as directed.
However you pick up after your pet, remember to give yourself a pat on the back: you’re helping to protect your local watershed!
Here are some poop bags made with recycled or biobased materials:
Bio Bag Premium Pet Waste Bags are made out of a resin derived from plants, vegetable oils, and compostable polymers, and break down completely in the right conditions.
Wooflinen Eco-Friendly Poop Bags are both biodegradable and compostable, disappearing in as little as 90 days (if disposed of correctly). Each box comes with 240 unscented bags, ready to take on up to five pounds of poop.
Beyond Green Dog Waste Bags are made from a bioplastic compound containing cereal flour and biodegradable polymers. The company is careful to note that “claims of 100% degradation or biodegradation are difficult to prove,” and that its bags are designed to be composted in a safe backyard composter or industrial facility.
Get Picky About Kitty Litter
Since its development in the 1940s, the cat litter industry has largely used clay as its primary material. Most conventional clay-based cat litters contain sodium bentonite which makes the cat litter clumpy and easy to scoop. Sodium bentonite is strip-mined, an activity that environmentalists have condemned for destroying forests and wild habitats, among other things. This material is also not biodegradable, meaning that it piles up in landfills and doesn’t decompose.
Luckily for us cat people, the industry has innovated in waves since the ’40s and there are some better options for cat litters on the market. This is also great news for cats, as Dr. Richter recommends a litter that, “first and foremost, has low dust. Cats can have sensitive respiratory systems, and a litter that creates a big cloud of dust after each use can cause discomfort or irritation for the cat.”
Here are some cat litters made with biobased materials to try.
Feline Pine uses highly-absorbent sawdust shavings. The natural pine scent helps to soak up the ammonia smell.
Naturally Fresh Walnut-Based Cat Litter uses a formula made from natural walnut shells, and clumps for easy clean up.
Swheat Scoop Multi-Cat Unscented Clumping Wheat Cat Litter, made with wheat, soaks up odor without the help of dyes or perfumes.
Choose Nutritious Food For Your Pet and the Planet
The world of pet food is complex, controversial, and often, downright confusing, but better options abound for the careful and informed consumer.
Because organic ingredients are widely considered better for the environment, you can offer your dog a variety of organic pet food kibble and treats. You might also consider pet food labeled “natural,” though these foods are less regulated than those labeled “certified-organic,” so a thorough understanding of what’s in the bag will help you make the best choice. (See our article, Decoding Dog Food: The Truth About What You’re Feeding Your Pet, for a helpful primer on the subject.)
Across our many articles about dog food and nutrition, experts agree, and Dr. Richter concurs, that the main components in any dog’s diet should be whole, as opposed to processed, ingredients. Richter says these are specified ingredients such as “chicken” (as opposed to “meat”), along with whole fruits, veggies, animal protein, and fish (you’ll see these on the label listed in heir original form, such as “sweet potatoes,” “apples,” or “peas”). The boon for the environment is that the less processed the food, the fewer resources it takes to make.
You can also scale your dog’s carbon footprint right back to your very own kitchen and make homemade pet food using only whole ingredients. This recipe uses chicken, brown rice, and vegetables. Dog treats like these are simple to make at home if you feel like baking your own and want to cut back on manufactured food.
Another option for dogs (and only dogs) is the vegetarian diet. While cats are obligate carnivores and must have meat in their diet, dogs have been known to thrive on plant-based diets. Because meat production is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, cutting back on your dog’s meat consumption, or practicing Meatless Mondays with your pet, is another option (but one best discussed with your veterinarian).
Some popular vegetarian dog brands and recipes are:
Natural Balance Vegetarian Dog Formula, a popular option for pet parents looking for a vegetarian or vegan dog diet.
Wholesome Pride Sweet Potato Chews, treats made from one ingredient: dehydrated sweet potato.
Riley’s Organic Pumpkin and Coconut Treats, a crunchy treat option with minimal ingredients.
Invest in a Quality, Biobased Pet Bed
The pet product space often mimics trends for human consumers, and bedding is no exception. You can find pet beds in a range of shapes, sizes, and styles made with recycled, biodegradable, or biobased materials, such as:
Molly Mutt: You can stuff a Molly Mutt dog duvet with an assortment of items from around your house (think: old clothes, blankets, or sheets), or use their biobased wool insert.
Felted Wool Cat Cave: A cozy wool cat cave is a great natural bed option.
Pro Tip: Whenever shopping for a dog bed, look for beds with removable, machine-washable covers. These types of beds last longer than those without covers because they’re easier to keep clean, and keeping the bed itself out of the laundry helps preserve its shape and fullness.
Shop Local, Regional, or Made-in-The-USA
As with human products, when you buy pet products manufactured nearby, you’re reducing the distance the items had to travel, often the amount of packaging needed, and ultimately, the amount of fuel consumed to get it to you.
This could mean shopping local brands at your nearby pet store, supporting locally-owned dog bakeries, or, according to this article, shopping local brands online.
Pet-loving residents in the Rockies, for example, can support all-around amazing pet brand, Kong, while dog owners in the Pacific Northwest should know brands such as the Wonder Walker and Kreb’s Recycled Leashes. Chances are no matter where you live, there is a pet business offering local products or pet food that can help you lower your carbon “pawprint.” Usually, the best way to learn about what’s available is to ask the staff at your local, independently-owned pet store.
Buying USA-made products and exploring ways to incorporate zero-waste practices into your lifestyle are also constructive ways to start living more sustainably with your pet. Donating gently used pet items to local animal rescues or clinics in need, bartering for pet items on your local Buy Nothing Facebook group, or even searching for the perfect vintage pet item on Etsy, Ebay, or Craigslist are also ways to lower the demand for brand-new pet gear that puts a strain on environmental resources.
In our consumer-centric society, the same rules apply when purchasing goods for pets or people: buying in bulk, using reusable bags, and shopping on foot, by bike, or public transportation can all reduce your carbon footprint.
Shopping Spotlight: Dog and Cat Toys
Toys are perhaps the biggest opportunity to make an impact on your household’s carbon footprint. Here are a few tips for choosing toys made with recycled, biodegradable, or biobased materials.
- DIY: Making toys out of what you have at home is a great way to reuse old towels, dish rags, t-shirts, or jeans that may have otherwise ended up in the landfill. For cost-effective ways to keep your dog entertained, check out our guide.
- Less plastic: Rather than buying plastic toys, look for alternatives using materials like wool, felt, or rope. Or, have one or two go-to plastic toys that your pet will love forever, rather than purchasing more.
- More durable: If your dog is a super chewer, consider investing in one or two really durable toys like the Kong Extreme or Flossy Chews Rope Tug Toy. Replacing fewer toys is one way to reduce your pet’s environmental impact.
- Buy high-quality toys: To ensure you have long-lasting, safe toys for your pet, it’s important to familiarize yourself with quality brands. Talking to someone at a local pet store can help, and over time you’ll find brands that you know and trust. Check out our tips here.
Clean Up With Pet-Safe Products
From all-purpose spray to carpet cleaner, brands such as Seventh Generation, BioKleen, and Dr. Bronner’s offer a range of products that refrain from using harsh chemicals and solvents that get washed down the drain and make their way to our rivers, streams, and oceans. Natural brands like these often use recyclable packaging, too. And the best part is, these types of products are safe for use around pets.
Alternatively, both baking soda and vinegar are great natural cleaners that you might already have at home. You can create your own cleaner by mixing baking soda and vinegar to form a paste: it’s a great, non-toxic abrasive for scrubbing surfaces in your kitchen and bathroom.
For more suggestions on natural cleaning products, see our article, 16 Pet-Safe, Non-Toxic Cleaners We Love.
Talk to Your Vet About Natural, Alternative Treatments
One-third* of pet parents said they would consider using natural or alternative therapies instead of prescription medication. It’s important to consult your vet whenever your pet is experiencing health problems to properly diagnose the issue, but a handful of conditions can be treated at home with natural remedies.
According to Dr. Richter, these problems include GI issues or upset stomachs that can be treated if “you switch your pet over to a really bland diet like chicken and rice. From an alternative medicine treatment standpoint, there are several herbs that can be effective including marshmallow root, plantain root, slippery elm and ginger which are all soothing to the stomach. A probiotic is also helpful. These are all things that are effective for a temporary problem.”
Likewise, he continues, “for arthritis or pain, there are some effective herbs including ginger and boswellia. If you use herbs be sure to get a high-quality product from a reputable company. If you make the mixture yourself you need to work off a recipe from someone who is treating animals.”
Again, it’s always best to consult with your vet about your pet’s overall health and the optimal plan for care.
An Eco-Exception: Flea and Tick Treatment
In our recent survey* 27% of pet parents said that eco-friendliness influences the flea and tick treatment they apply to their dog or cat. Unfortunately, when it comes to this particular pet issue, Dr. Richter says (and many pet owners can attest) that natural methods of flea and tick control are never as effective as pharmaceutical treatments.
“Natural is never going to work as blanketed as pharmaceuticals will, so if your goal is to get down to zero fleas and ticks, then natural may not be the best,” Dr. Richter says.
However, Dr. Richter says that some essential oils can help reduce the problem. And for those of you interested in what natural options are available, see our article, The Best Natural Flea Care Options for Your Dog.
Happy Earth Day!
We hope you enjoy a lifetime of happiness with your pet that’s as rich and rewarding as it is light on the planet! For more low-impact ways to live with pets, visit Rover’s Dog People blog.
*This data is based on a survey of 1,000 U.S pet owners conducted by Rover in March 2020 via Pollfish.