How to be a conscious pet owner

It's a tough bone to chew, but our perfect pups have a pretty significant carbon pawprint.

Yep, you read that right - carbon pawprint.

Approximately 61% of households in Australia own a pet, with dogs being the most popular by a pretty large margin at 40% - sorry cat lovers, but you're still pretty high up there at 27%!

Pet ownership rates in the US and UK are similar - the estimated dog population in the US is almost 90 million! While living in a country with that many pooches will sound like heaven to most, it does have it's ecological drawbacks.

But it doesn't have to be this way! There are loads of things we as pet owners can do to reduce our pet's carbon pawprint!

Look at your pets diet

Cats and dogs generally have very meat-heavy diets - in fact, pets eat about a fifth of the world's meat and fish!

Unfortunately, while this may be meeting the nutritional needs of your pet, it isn't great for the environment. The mainstream meat industry, in particular the beef industry, is a major contributor to global warming and deforestation, and this doesn't change whether the steak is on your plate, or in your pet's bowl. According to one study by UCLA, the diets of America's cats and dogs are responsible for releasing as many as 64 million tonnes of greenhouse gases every year!

However, unlike humans, dogs and cats can't opt for a more plant-based diet. So as owners, it's up to us to make sure that we're sourcing their food as ethically as possible.

The most sustainable way to source meat for our pets is to ask local butchers for free scrap meat and trimmings - meat that would otherwise go to waste. However, this isn't practical or possible for every pet owner, so here are some other tips:

  • If you get your pet food from your local supermarket, buy products marked as pet food, rather than buying regular meat. Most commercial pet food is made from what is leftover from the meat industry - the parts of the animal humans don't want to eat, like organs and rendered bones, so it's less wasteful than buying human-grade meat.
  • Where possible, opt for lower impact meats like chicken over beef, which has a much larger carbon footprint.
  • Look up whether there are any sustainable butchers in your area that sources their meat from farmers practising regenerative agriculture.
  • Make your own treats to avoid excessive plastic packaging! Here is a recipe my dog likes to enjoy.

Keep an eye on your pets outdoor shenanigans

Exercise and outdoor time is important for most cats and dogs, but if you're not careful, this can come at a cost for the native wildlife. While it might be hard to believe when we look into their big goofy puppy-dog eyes, cats and dogs are natural predators, and if given the opportunity most won't hesitate to chase down a bird or two.

When walking your dog, it's best to keep them on a lead, unless in an enclosed dog-friendly park. And when they are off-lead, make sure to keep a watchful eye on them - don't let them wander so far away that you can't control them if necessary.

Choose environmentally friendly pet products

From toys to kitty litter, beds to flea treatments, you'd be surprised by the amount of unnecessary plastics and nasty chemicals our pets come into contact with on a daily basis. Let's spoil our pets and not the environment, by opting for more sustainable pet products!

  • Take care of your pet's waste, without causing waste! If there are 90 million dogs in the US, just imagine the amount of poo bags! It's important that we clean up after our cats and dogs, as pet faeces can carry disease, pollute waterways, and negatively impact native wildlife - but to reduce the amount of plastic in landfill, opt for biodegradable bags that take 3-6 months to decompose.
    The same principle applies for kitty litter - most commercial brands include silica clay, derived from environmentally destructive strip mining. But there are many brands out there offering a more sustainable alternative - some are even compostable!
  • Choose more simple, plastic-free toys! Unfortunately plastic toys are in abundance at the pet store, but there are many companies that also offer toys, beds, and other supplies made from reclaimed materials. If you do have any unused toys lying around, rather than throwing them out, consider donating them to a local shelter - not only are you reducing the amount of waste in landfill, but you're also giving another animal a fun surprise!
  • A cleaner pet, and a cleaner planet! A lot of pet grooming products, including shampoos, conditioners and pest repellents contain nasty chemicals that pollute our rivers and oceans. There are organic, eco-friendly alternatives available at many pet stores, but for those who like a bit of DIY, you can also try and make your own pet shampoo with natural ingredients like castile soap, vinegar and olive oil!

Our pets bring so much joy to our lives, and that doesn't need to change. By making small lifestyle changes, and seeking out more environmentally friendly alternatives, we can make sure that the planet is getting just as much joy out of our pets as we are!

Header image: Unsplash

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