Our Furfamily’s Environmental Pawprints

Two Dalmatian dogs running on the beach at sunrise

In today’s post, we’re examining the environmental impacts of pets. It struck me as I was prepping recycling and rubbish for collection how much we’ve reduced our household waste. But it also struck me how much of the remainder is poo. This got me thinking about pets, their environmental impact, and our family’s environmental pawprints. In our family there are more paws than feet. And although perhaps our pets’ environmental pawprints are a big part of our family’s consumption and waste, we couldn’t imagine life without their love and their positive influences on our lifestyle and well-being.

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Poop, Poop, and More Poop!

I might as well start at the end. Poop is one of the biggest concerns in our environmental pawprint. Even with good diets, pets produce a lot of poop and it needs to be collected and be safely disposed. 

Cat Litter and Waste

Tiger’s pawprint in the poo department is lower than his dog brothers. We switched to recycled paper pellet kitty litter long ago. He loves it and will actually refuse to use the other types. Yes…we learned this the hard way. Although that might be a little more friendly, his waste still gets included with our household rubbish. Whether cat poop can be scooped and flushed depends greatly on you area and how the sewage is handled after it leaves the house. Cats are commonly carriers for illnesses and parasites that can adversely affect wildlife, so treated waste can still pose issues. And don’t get me started on untreated waste from cats pooping in neighbourhood gardens (an ongoing issue here). 

Dog Poo Bags

Scooping has always been a must as a matter of hygiene and courtesy to the public when we’re on walkies and to our neighbours at home. We currently use biodegradable poo bags. I’d like to make the switch to compostable bags, but they’re expensive and have failed catastrophically when I’ve tried them in the past. Catastrophic poo bag failure (poopocalypse) during a walk or run is not a pleasant experience! Perhaps I’ll try again in the future when newer better products hit the market. 

Alternative Pet Poo Disposal

Special composting or septic treatment could be alternatives for some owners. Unfortunately, our boys generate a lot of poop and we have an urban yard. Space is limited, and we wouldn’t want to create issues with our neighbours. Flushable dog poo bags aren’t viable either, and not just because of compatibility with the local sewage treatment plant. With the size of our boys and their poo, it would likely cause serious issues with our home plumbing before ever making it into the system!

Pet Poo Environmental Impacts and Disposal Information

Get the scoop on poop! Depending on you pet and location, there may be a variety of disposal options. For interest and ideas, check out these  articles:

Considering Your Own Furfamily Potty Pawprints

  • Do you know where your pet is pooping and peeing? 
  • Do you always scoop when your pet is out in public? 
  • What method(s) are you currently using for collecting poop? 
  • Is the method that you’re using for disposing of poop (and any associated waste like litter, bags, etc.) appropriate for your area’s waste rules and regulations?  
  • Are there any changes that you could reasonably make to reduce the impact of your pet’s waste, waste-related products, and they’re disposal?
Dalmatian dog looking at homemade dog treats

Pet Food, Treats, and Packaging

Pet Foods and the Environmental

I’ll be honest. Even though we try to be conscious about most of our choices, I give little thought to the pawprint of our pets’ diet, focusing instead on the quality, content, and health implications of their food. But it’s still worth being aware that food can be one of the most significant factors in the environmental impact of pets, especially pets with high meat diets, like cats and dogs. 

Overfeeding

Overfeeding and pet obesity is a major veterinary health concern. The environmental impacts of pets are amplified if pets are being feed more than they need. More food, more poo, lower health, more medical issues. It’s bad for your pet, your bank balance, and the environment. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight is a win win all around.

Food Sources, Content, and Quality

There are arguments for all sorts of pet diets, including proponents for using non-human grade proteins and organ meats that would otherwise be waste. Personally, we prioritise healthy eating over other factors. We love our pets and want the best for them A healthy diet is the foundation for giving them the best chance for a healthy and (hopefully) long happy life. Our pets are fed a fairly traditional diet, primarily commercial foods, based upon their age and needs. Supplemental foods tend to be meats, fish, fruits, veggies, and a combination of storebought and homemade treats. 

Pet Food and Treat Packaging

Packaging is a consideration for commercial food and treats. Some areas offer recycling programs, but there are none for now where we live. And although I make a lot of our treats, the packaging of ingredients and storage of prepared snacks are also factors for any homemade foods and/or treats.

One of our suppliers recently changed their shipping packaging to cardboard. I made sure to give them great feedback. It’s so important to let businesses know that you value their efforts. Humphrey appreciated the boxes, too. He loves helping with our household recycling. Their boxes have since gotten even better, with plain brown cardboard and more consolidated packing.  Yay! I look forward to more companies going greener.

Considering Your Own Furfamily Feeding Pawprints

  • Are you comfortable your pet’s diet, the sources, and the content? It’s a balance between many factors, and the pawprint is just one. Health is the most important.
  • Is your pet at a healthy weight for their body type and age? If not, you may need to talk with your vet about changes to their diet to reach and maintain a health weight.
  • Does your pet have consistenty good poops? If not, you might need to consider changes to their feeding plan or have a chat with your vet to make sure that they’re getting good nutritional value out of their food(s) and make changes to their plan. 
  • Does your pet have special health factors that need to be considered in the plan?
  • How do you store you pet’s food and treats? Are they maintaining nutritional quality after opening? Being used within their shelf life? Would any changes help?
  • Where do you source your pet’s foods and treats? Are you comfortable with their business practices and the packaging used for the products or shipping? Are there any swaps you might consider or suggestions to submit as customer feedback? 
  • What do you do with the empty packaging materials? Are there any available alternatives in your area for lower impact disposal that you could consider trying?
Dalmatian dog ripping environmentally friendly cardboard boxes from pet store

Grooming and Care

Grooming

Washing and grooming isn’t a significant factor in our household. The cat enjoys being brushed, sometimes on his own terms haha, but is otherwise low maintenance. Our dogs are short-haired and generally don’t need more than a light brushing (more for enjoyment and general care than shed factor) and occasional nail clipping for Humphrey, the younger of the boys. When they do get into something smelly/messy or otherwise need a scrub, we use carefully selected products due to their skin sensitivities.

Clothing and Accessories

Other than bandanas (I do love cute bandanas) and speciality items like winter warmers or raingear, we don’t usually dress our pets. The items we do use last a long time, and I make a lot of our own, which let’s me have some creative fun with a useful purpose. Or somewhat useful. Haha! And small crafts are great for upcycling or using offcuts.

We try to buy long-lasting quality products for essentials, like their collars and leads. They might cost a little more, but durability and strength will last longer (and help our pets stay safer on adventures). They’re generally very well used. Sometimes we wear them out, but many we’ve had for years and they’re still going strong. Anything outgrown or unsuited to our types of use or preferences is given to friends or to charity. 

Bedding and Blankets

Bedding is something I’m actually really indulgent about. Comfort is key to happy healthy life. We have lots of bedding and blankets for our boys to nest and rest. Durable materials that wash and wear well, protectors for inner cushions and stuffing, and repurposed or recycled materials still all help reduce the overall impact. I’ve started making some of our own dog care supplies, including bed covers and blankets. Again, this lets me have creative fun, but it also lets me customise the materials, sizes, styles, and durability. And upcycle/recycle materials, too. Blankets are also great for easy cleaning and can help protect furniture, floors, and vehicles from mess or damage.

Considering Your Own Furfamily Care Pawprints

  • What do you and your pet need to balance care, comfort, and other considerations?
  • Where do you buy your pet products? Are you comfortable with their business practices and the packaging used for the products or shipping? Are there any swaps you might consider or suggestions to submit as customer feedback? 
  • Are you taking the time to clean and maintain your pet products like collars, leads, bedding, etc. to give it a longer useful life? Are there changes that might help?
  • What cleaning products are you using on your pet, their stuff, and around home in general? Are they safe for your pet? Compatible with your wastewater treatments?
  • Do you have pet products sitting around that you don’t use or need that might be greatly appreciated by someone else if gifted or donated?
Fluffy white cat in a wicker basket bed

Toys

We also love having fun, and toys are no exception – even if they don’t always last as long as we might like. Toys were an area where we wanted to do better, both in materials and their durability. I now have a dog toy hospital basket where torn or damaged items are placed to await re-stitching or recycling, but many pet toys tend to be pretty disposable. Even some supposedly robust toys don’t survive very long with two big dogs, one of whom is still a boisterous puppy. There are a few VERY well-loved hard-wearing chew/squeeze toys, but nothing soft survives for long. I plan on making (and repairing) more toys, and using more scrap, leftover, or recycled materials where feasible. 

Although they’re not toys, simple enrichment activities like sniffing out treats or ripping up recyclables like cardboard boxes or egg cartons are also high on our dogs fun list!

Considering Your Own Furfamily Play Pawprints

  • Are the toys you’re choosing suitable for your pet and their style of play? What are they made of? How long do they last? Do they bring your pet joy? Are there other potentially better options that you might try, or have you found fun and durable favourites that you’d like to buy (or make) again? 
  • Where do you buy your toys? Are you comfortable with their business practices and the packaging used for the products or shipping? Are there any swaps you might consider or suggestions to submit as customer feedback? 
  • Are you taking the time to clean toys? Do you have the skills to make small repairs? 
  • Are there other changes that might help balance the fun factor with the impacts?
Two smiling Dalmatian dogs on a green forest trail

Hazards to Wildlife

Pets and wildlife rarely mix well. Pets can harm or kill wildlife, wildlife can harm or kill pets, and diseases and parasites may transfer between them. Where we live in New Zealand, there are few wild animals that would pose a threat to a large pet; however, there are many vulnerable small native creatures. Long term lost pets naturalising in the wild is also a risk to the local ecosystem.

Our pet-friendly home garden is fully fenced to help keep our dogs safe and secure. But even with the fencing, our cat isn’t allowed to wander freely outside. Yes, a cat on a harness! Tiger’s had one since he was a wee little rescue kitten, and he gets to zipline in our yard. The areas in which our dogs are walked are pretty quiet, other than occasional (much quicker) bunnies and birds, and we respect leash-only and prohibited areas. It’s important for nature, but also important for protecting our boys.

Considering Your Own Furfamily Wildlife Pawprints

  • Are your pets safe and secure when on your property?
  • Are you pets safe and secure when out in public? This includes respecting rules and having control (recall/obedience) even when off-leash.
  • Are there any local risks to your pets that need extra consideration?
  • Are there any locally sensitive areas or wildlife that need special consideration?
Fluffy white cat on a wooden deck in the sun with potted citrus plants

End of Life Care

Unwanted Pets and Animal Shelters

In addition to being kept securely at home and under control when out and about, our pets are all desexed, registered, and micro-chipped. How absolutely heartbreaking is it that shelter euthanasia is one of the pet-related environmental impact issues? 

The Rainbow Bridge

Unfortunately, no matter how much we love our pets, they can’t live forever. Even death, including human death, has it’s own footprint considerations. One of the biggest decisions is burial vs. cremation, both of which have their environmental considerations. But, when the time comes for our pets, it will be my heavy heart and not the footprint that guides our decisions. For families like ours who move homes often, cremation is often the more suitable personal choice. 

Considering Your Own Furfamily Life and Afterlife Pawprints

  • Is your property safe and secure?
  • Is your pet desexed?
  • Is your pet registered and microchipped, if applicable? Are those details and contacts up to date? When was the chip last checked to ensure function?
  • Do you have a plan for what happens to your pet if something unexpected requires alternative care, or if you needed to rehome them up for an extended period?
  • Does your will account for care and responsibility for your pet if you pass?
Dalmatian dogs on a beach with owner

Positive Environmental Influences of Life with Pets

Mental and Physical Health

Not having pets simply isn’t a consideration for our family, irrespective of their impact. It is said that “the best therapists have four paws” and I have no doubt that this is true. They help us feel happier, live healthier, socially connect, and other health benefits.

Environmental Benefits of Life with Pets

On the environmental front, personally, we find that their influence on our family footprint probably outweighs their individual environmental pawprints.

We tend to travel less (especially long haul travel) as dog owners. When Tiger and I were on our own, I still travelled extensively for work and personal matters. House-sitting a cat was a fairly easy favour for friends. Dogs require a significantly higher degree of commitment. We tend to stay fairly local and often just hang out at home, including eating at home. There’s also less food waste. Tidbits are occasionally shared, surpluses made into treats, bones into broth, etc. 

We walk and explore outdoor areas (pet-friendly) significantly more than we would without the dogs. Trips to the beach are a fur family favourite, and we often pick up litter as we go.  Walkies are a daily must do – no matter what the weather. And on the subject of weather, pets make excellent hot-water bottles on chilly nights. Very energy efficient. Haha!

Dalmatian dog snuggled in a pile of blankets

Dogs (and Dog Owners) Doing Good

We’re currently lucky enough to currently live within walking distance of the ocean. Better still, it’s a beautiful stretch of dog-friendly beach. They love it, and so do I. Unfortunately, our dogs also love beachcombing along the high tide line for yucky things to roll in or nibble. I often spend time with them for safety, walking through and surveying everything that has washed up instead of strolling along the waters edge.   Silver lining?  If I’m going to stare at the tide line, I might as well bring along an extra bag or two and collect trash. 

I’m not the only local dog-owner who does a little good on walks, and often cross paths with others doing the same. Perhaps because of this, perhaps just by chance, but our stretch is relatively clean compared to many. Even so, there’s usually some rubbish washed up along the high tide line. 

I’ve found some really strange things on our walks, but mostly just random debris washed ashore or left by inconsiderate visitors.  There are a lot of repeat offenders, too. Beverage rubbish in particular: juice-box straws, big straws, bottle caps, coffee cup lids, and fragments of plastic drink cups, etc. 

It’s a very feel good feeling to leave the beach a little cleaner than we found it. Picking up trash when walking the dogs also helps us pay it forward and offset our environmental pawprints. Truly, it’s such as small effort to make, and every little bit helps! 

Considering Your Own Furfamily Pawprints Offsets

  • What do you do differently as a pet owner that changes your family or household impact? Are there more changes you’d like to make?
  • Are there ways you can “pay it forward” with little bits of good to help offset the potential extra impacts that your pet or pets might have? 
Sandy rubbish collected during a beach walk

Additional Ideas and Inspiration

Check out our other pet-friendly living articles on greener living with pets.  We also have a growing collection of greener living pet pins on Pinterest with eco-conscious and green(er) pet ideas and inspiration.  Let us know if you have suggestions for us to explore!
Greener Pets: Reducing our Environmental Pawprint

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