4 Steps Towards Reducing Your Pet’s Carbon Paw-print!
Alright y’all – I’ve slowly been waiting for the perfect opportunity to talk about my dogs, because like most crazy pet people – I can talk about my dogs for hours, and I think I finally found my moment! Cat people – stick around because I have tips for you too!
I have two adopted, and very much spoiled, girls – Indi, who is a black cocker spaniel, and Elaina, a black and white polka-dotted pit mix! They are my pride and joy, with unique personalities and compassionate hearts that make me love each of them like they were my own children. I know if you’re listening to this episode, you probably have a pet too. Actually, sixty-seven percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, with the large majority of those being cats and dogs. Worldwide, that number skyrockets – with 470 million dogs kept as pets, and about 370 million pet cats – that’s crazy right? Well recently, I started thinking about how I can start to make sure they are healthy and stay with me for as long as possible, without just saying I took them for a walk every day and patting myself on the back. Don’t you want the same long, healthy life for your companion? Ok good, glad we are on the same page!
Their health also relates to planetary health, in the way their products are produced, and what’s in them – it’s all a cycle. So I started digging into how I can be a more sustainable pet owner, and I wanted to share with you what I found in this episode!
Our domesticated pets have a carbon footprint, or paw print, just like us! In fact, it is estimated that a medium-sized dog can have a carbon footprint twice the size of an average-sized SUV, and cats land about the carbon footprint of a Volkswagon Golf. From the food that they eat, to how they play and lounge, and yes, how they poop, our companions carry a serious toll on the planet, and we talk about it all in this episode!
Healthy, Sustainable Food
So let’s talk about step one – what we are feeding our pets. For most of us, our pets are like family, but while we work to improve our own health through food, we forget to do the same for our dogs and buy what looks the best at whatever store we favor (I’m pointing a finger at myself here too!) What we feed our pets is one of the most important ways to be sustainable, because what goes in matters, as well as what comes out, but we will get to that later.
For decades, low-grade pet food made from the excess parts of factory-farmed animals was the norm. Most of the common brands are filled with preservatives, hormones, and chemicals with filler ingredients that don’t actually benefit your dog’s health, but now more sustainable, healthy options are coming on the market for you to consider.
In simplest terms, looking for higher quality food with the least amount of artificial preservatives and chemicals is key. Avoid foods with propylene glycol, BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin and low-quality fillers like corn and soy products, and search for simple meat and vegetable ingredients with a healthy source of fat, buying organic if possible.
The FDA technically has regulations on pet food, but it isn’t really meaningful regulations that allow for assurance for actual quality food to make it to your pet’s bowl because since there is no requirement that pet food products have premarket approval by the FDA, and there is no means of enforcing the regulations that are in place – so it’s good to do your own research on the food you’re buying and where it is sourced from.
There are sites out there like Dogfoodadvisor.com which ranks the best dog foods by stars based on which have the least by-products, preservatives, or anonymous meat ingredients as well as looking at if the company actually tests for nutrient content and impurities as well as availability, reviews, and recalls. And CatfoodDB.com is about the equivalent of Dog Food advisor, rating by ingredients and nutritional value. Or if you’re in the store you can use the app Safe Pet Treats, to get a rundown of the food you’re buying by scanning the barcode.
If you’re a dog owner you’re likely picking up twice a day, which is about 700 plastic bags and about 365 pounds of poo – per year, per dog, and if you’re a cat owner you’re ranging between 30-40 pounds of litter and waste per month.
We know that picking up after your dog is important because that waste ultimately breaks down and goes into our local water systems, which is bad for a few different reasons. It causes excessive algae growth in streams or lakes which reduces oxygen and it also releases compounds that are harmful to the other animals who are depending on those water sources. It also contains bacteria – we’re talking e.coli and salmonella – and parasites – which are big risks for humans.
You have the option to compost your dog’s waste (regulated by your municipality) you can do so by following these steps, or to use a pet waste digester, like the Dog Dooley, which is a good choice if you have a yard because it acts as a septic tank for your dog’s waste. Buying plant-based biodegradable bags are the next best option – like these.
For my cat people, the same thing applies to contamination and parasites. So it makes sense to use kitty litter. However, the most common kind of litter is bentonite clay – which is collected through strip mining that destroys landscapes, forests, and wildlife habitats at the site of the mine because they have to bulldoze all of the vegetation, topsoil, and dirt to drill pits so they can get to the minerals below.
There was a study done by the Environmental Working Group revealing that our pets can be subjected to much higher levels of plasticizers, grease-proof chemicals, and fire retardants than humans – with the main sources being coated plastic food bags, plastic toys, pet beds, veterinary medicines, shampoos, and carpets causing a slew of potential health issues like cancer, reproductive damage, and more.
Try to find an existing animal-safe item at home that may work first, but if you’re still wanting to buy toys, leave the traditional tennis balls behind and look for renewable materials like wood, hemp, organic cotton, or sustainably-sourced rubber since there are no regulations on dog toy safety unless they affect humans. Make sure that any of these pet supplies that your precious pet doesn’t use or want gets donated or reused so it doesn’t go to a landfill.
Adoption & Prevention
Whether you’re looking now or considering another down the road – there are enough animals in shelters that we shouldn’t be intentionally breeding any dogs and contributing to the mass amounts of overpopulation, we should be adopting. The ASPCA says that 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year, with approximately 1.5 million of those being euthanized every year.
You also want to make sure that whatever animal you have, you have them spayed and neutered – reducing the number of unwanted pets, and doing this preventative act actually increases their lifespan and health because it makes them less susceptible to infection and disease.
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