Like other family members, our cats and dogs contribute to our household consumption, waste and energy usage – AKA their ecological ‘pawprint’.
With 61% of Australian households owning a pet, and if reducing our footprint and making more sustainable and conscious choices in our everyday lives is important to us, ensuring minima impact pet ownership is an integral part of the process.
There are many ways we can reduce our pet owning footprints, and for good reasons – Common household pets such as cats and dogs (mainly meat-eaters) have a not surprisingly high ecological footprint. It is estimated that it takes 0.84 hectares of land to keep a medium sized dog fed, comparing this to 0.76 hectares for the average citizen of Vietnam. And it doesn’t stop there – another study estimated that dogs and cats, through their diet, constitute about 25–30% of the environmental impacts from animal production in the use of land, water, fossil fuels, phosphates and biocides. There is also the impact of products and items we buy, such as commonly seen single-use plastics with a very short lifespan. To mitigate this, we should consider where products are sourced from and preference local over imported where possible.
Luckily, there are now many behaviours, products and pathways that are more environmentally friendly, with lots of tricks and hacks to reuse items you may already have at home to keep your furry friends happy and healthy, while maintaining a lighter footprint on the planet.
Disclaimer: this is not professional health advice and we recommend you seek guidance from your vet before making any drastic changes.
Sustainable and ethical food options
We know that meat-based diets are a huge source of land, energy and water consumption for humans, and the same goes for pets. While dogs are omnivorous, cats are not, and it is said they require the minerals and nutrients found in meat and fish, such as taurine. So while a fully vegetarian diet may not be possible, there are certainly other more sustainable options available (remember to check with your vet before making any dietary changes).
First up, consider the type of meat you serve up. For example, chicken farming creates less greenhouse gas emissions than beef farming (based on their size, land mass, feedstock and more), but a great alternative meat source are offal and offcuts from the butcher (preferably an ethical butcher)
A crucial part of this is researching to understand the original source of the food, such as those made from sustainable, traceable and/or organic ingredients. We recommend Australian made to further reduce transport emissions. As a starting point, you can check out this list of sustainable and ethical pet food brands.
The same way we do for our own foods and produce, we can’t forget to consider the packaging food comes in. Buying in bulk in recyclable paper bagged or cardboard boxed packaged food is an easy option to reduce your furry friends footprint! There are also food subscriptions, such as Scratch Pet Food, and if you check your search engine to see if you have a local food supplier operating in your area, sometimes you can pick up directly from someone’s property.
Keep an eye out for new, innovative pet foods that are both nutritious and sustainable – insect or seaweed based dog biscuits, anyone?!
Pet poop composting
Along with food, poop and excretion waste is another big contributor to a pet’s ecological footprint, with one medium-sized dog producing about 180 kilograms of poo a year! It is, of course, important to always pick up and dispose of your pet’s waste responsibly. For dogs, there are compostable or biodegradable poop bags for when you are out and about (or a good old sheet of newspaper!), and for cats, there are environmentally friendly brands of kitty litter that use wheat, corn, ground-up corn-cobs, alfalfa pellets, and recycled newspaper pellets. Ultimately though, these still end up in landfill, so think about the volumes you use at the time.
Better than bagging and binning your pets poo, if you have a garden or access to a patch of soil, try installing a pet poo composter! Pet poo cannot be added to regular compost that will be used on vegetable plants for human consumption. But, you can use dog waste to create compost to use for planting ornamental flowers and trees. You can buy pet poo composters such as the EnsoPet or a Tumbleweed. Perhaps you are up for some DIY? If so, The Green Hub is your go-to. It is super simple, and all you need is a spare plastic drum with a tight-fitting lid to repurpose.
Pet toys, leads and collars and avoid buying plastic
Lots of pet toys, collars and leads are made from cheap, disposable single use plastic. If you have a particularly energetic dog, some toys don’t last 10 minutes before they are destined for landfill. Certain brands are well known for being much more durable and long lasting, such as Kong, ChuckIt, Aussie Dog and Spunky Pup. Some brands focus on using recyclable and recycled materials (rather than virgin plastics for example) or natural fibres such as hemp in their toys, leads and collars.
A key feature to look for is information on what the brand is doing to reduce its footprint, the materials involved in production and if they offer recycling programs where you can send the toys back at the end of the item’s life.
If you are feeling creative you can also make your own toys. Pets can have as much fun with a cardboard box as a fancy new toy, so take a look in your recycling bin first. Some examples are:
- Putting a few treats inside an old egg carton or toilet roll and folding it shut
- Wrapping an existing toy inside a towel for your dog to unwrap
- Making a ball or tug-rope out of an old sock or t-shirt
- Cats can love playing hide and seek in paper bags and empty cardboard boxes
- A teasing wand – all you need is a stick, a piece of string and some feathers or strips of fabric
Re-using bedding and towels
Most pets are perfectly happy with old towels and blankets, rather than the newest, fluffiest dog bed. What’s more, puppies can be prolific chewers, so buying brand new when they are young is not always necessary. Check your linen cupboard before buying new, or ask your friends and family for any old towels, pillows or blankets if you are going down the DIY path (and if you do end up with too many old towels, your local vet will almost certainly be happy to take them off your hands).
A sustainable new bed option is the Snooza, with the filling being made from recycled PET. Same as above for toys and leads, check if brands have a recycling option on their website, or ask them if it is not clear.
Just like us, dogs and cats love a delicious treat. You can make your own treats, which will avoid environmentally harmful products and preservatives, as well as reducing excess packaging and transport costs. A quick search online will provide lots of different recipes, such as vegan pumpkin dog treats and grain-free pumpkin coconut dog treats.
On hot days, dogs love licking on frozen ice blocks made from peanut butter and mashed banana, or some ethically sourced chicken broth. You can make homemade dog biscuits out of flour, beef broth and sweet potato, or oats, carrot and zucchini (just ensure to do your research first).
Other environmental alternatives
- Make your own pet stain/odour cleaners (or source all natural and less chemical products). We list a few DIY cleaning products on the Our Simple Gestures kitchen page
- Make chew sprays with natural ingredients from the pantry – Apple cider vinegar, vinegar and essential oils (some more examples here)
- Avoid single use pee pads when toilet training your dog. Commit to taking them out more frequently to avoid the single use shortcut.
Written by Jennifer Broadbent