In today’s post, we’re examining the environmental impacts of pets, both positive and negative. It struck me as I was prepping recycling and rubbish for collection how much we’ve reduced our non-recyclable trash (yay!). It also struck me how much of the remainder is doggy doo. This got me thinking about pets, their environmental impact, and our family’s environmental “pawprint”.
Poop, Poop, and More Poop!
I might as well start this at the end! Poop is one of my biggest concerns in environmental “pawprint”. Even with a high-quality diet, pets still produce a lot of poop and it needs to be collected and be safely disposed.
Tiger’s footprint 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. 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.
Dog Poo Bags
Scooping has always been a must as a matter of hygiene and courtesy to the public and our neighbours. We currently use biodegradable poo bags. I’d love to make the switch to fully compostable bags, but they’ve 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! Right now, these are still fairly new products. Perhaps in the future when newer better products hit the market.
Alternative Pet Poo Disposal
Special poo composting or septic treatment could be alternatives. 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. I’m not sure that I could make flushable bags work either. Not just because of the uncertainty 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 to the system!
Pet Poo Environmental Impacts and Disposal Information
Get the scoop on poop! Depending on you pet and location, there are a variety of disposal options. For interest and ideas, check out these articles:
Pet Food, Treats, and Packaging
Pet Foods and the Environmental
In the past, I’d given little thought to the “pawprint” of our pets’ diet, focusing instead on the quality, content, and health implications of their food. In reality, food is one of the most significant factors in the environmental impact of pets, especially pets with high meat diets, like cats and dogs.
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, I prioritise healthy eating and high quality. 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. Healthy diets also typically have less fillers, which means less poop and fewer greenhouse gas laden dog farts. Great for everyone!
For personal reasons, I converted to a vegetarian diet some time ago and hubby also limits his consumption. Our pets are fed a fairly traditional diet, with a combination of high quality kibble and fresh foods. Supplemental foods tend to be meats, fish, fruits, veggies, and a combination of bought and handmade treats. Going forward, I will invest more consideration in what we give them, particularly as treats, including increasing our healthier homemade options.
Update: We now mix feed, with a combination of homemade and commercial foods. The dogs love it, and it has made a real difference to their skin and coat. I also make a lot of our own treats, which is both delicious and a lot of fun. The dogs and I are all very happy!
Pet Food and Treat Packaging
Packaging is a consideration for commercial food and treats. Some areas offer recycling programs, but there are none where we live. I buy in large/bulk packages where feasible and try to make considered choices about suppliers. Although I now make a lot of our treats, packaging of purchased ingredients and storage of prepared snack are also factors if you are preparing homemade food and treats.
One of our go-to suppliers for dog food, poop bags, and other pet supplies recently changed their packaging to cardboard. I made sure to give them great feedback. It’s so important to let businesses know that you value their efforts to become greener. 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!
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. Maintaining a healthy diet and healthy weight is a win win all around.
Grooming and Care
Washing and grooming isn’t a significant factor in our household. The cat enjoys being brushed and is otherwise low maintenance. Our dogs are short-haired and generally don’t need more than brushing and nail clipping. When they do get into something smelly/messy or otherwise need a scrub, we already use carefully selected products due to skin sensitivities.
Clothing and Accessories
Other than bandanas (I do love cute bandanas, especially on special occasions) and speciality items like winter warmers or raingear, we don’t dress our pets. The items that we do use last a long time.
The same is true for essentials like their collars and leads. We buy for durability and strength, and these items are very well-used. Anything that outgrown or unsuited is given to charity.
Bedding and Blankets
Bedding is something I’m indulgent about. Comfort is key to happy healthy life. Durable materials that wash and wear well, protectors for inner cushions and stuffing, and repurposed or recycled materials all help reduce the overall impact. I’ve started making a lot of our own dog care supplies, including may of their bed covers and blankets.
Toys were an area in which we wanted to do better, both in the materials from which they are made and their durability. I now have a DIY dog “toy hospital” basket where torn stuffed items are placed to await re-stitching, but many pet toys tend to be pretty disposable. Even supposedly robust toys don’t survive very long with two big dogs, one of whom is still a boisterous puppy. Ideas welcome! 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 scrap, leftover, or recycled materials where feasible.
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.
We’re conscious of the risks that our pets could pose to wildlife. Our cat isn’t allowed to wander freely outside (yes…cat on a harness!). 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.
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 that shelter euthanasia is one of the pet-related environmental impact issues. So very sad. Pets are for life, not just another disposable item in a disposable society.
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. When the time comes for our pets, it will be my heavy heart and not the footprint that guides our decisions. For families like our who move often, cremation is often the more suitable personal choice.
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), especially 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 hang out at home (or locally), including eating at home. There is also less waste from what we eat. 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!