Your pets have a big impact on the planet. There are some steps you can take to reduce that impact though.
People with furry family members often form a strong bond with them. This is great from an emotional standpoint, but everything we do has an environmental impact, and that includes pets. Many common habits of pet owners aren’t exactly eco-friendly, but a little bit of forethought can make a big difference.
What’s Goes In …
If you have a pet, you’re familiar with cleaning up after them. Most pet owners are pretty good about picking it up, but some people aren’t. People who have dogs that poop in their yards usually pick it up weekly or monthly, but not daily.
There are a few reasons people don’t pick up poop, including the misconception that it’s a good fertilizer. Really, it’s not that good for the soil. While it does give some nutrients, mostly nitrogen, it’s also a carrier for lots of diseases. Dogs can carry up to 65 diseases that are transmittable to humans, so keeping their feces around as fertilizer may not be the best idea.
Cat feces can also pose a problem. Cats require something dogs don’t – a litter box. Cat litter is often difficult to dispose of properly. It shouldn’t be flushed unless you get a kind designed for that, and clay-based litters won’t degrade at all, ever. With all the cats around, about 2 million tons of cat litter gets sent to landfills in America every year.
When you do pick up poop or clean out the litter box, what do you put it in? Most people use a plastic bag, and everyone already knows how bad plastic bags are. Of course this is a better use than just throwing them away, but it’s also very effective at not allowing the poop to break down for the next 150 years.
Gotta Feed ‘Em!
If you have a pet, it’s generally considered good practice to keep it alive. That often involves food, unless it’s a cat that can get its own food – in which case you don’t have a pet as much as a feral cat that’s not afraid of you. If you use canned food, that’s two or more cans of food a day. Hopefully those cans go in the recycling, but not everyone recycles.
Then you have to look at the food its self. Almost all commercial pet foods include meat. While human food has gotten a lot of attention for being locally sourced and humanely raised, pet food hasn’t quite gotten there. So most pet food is probably coming from conditions you’re trying to avoid for yourself. If you think dog and cat poop is bad, you don’t want to get started on waste products from large-scale farming operations
Pets need to be taken care of. Some animals will actually suffer if they aren’t properly groomed, like poodles, who don’t shed. If you have a pet, keeping them properly groomed is part and parcel of ownership. This includes everything from washing and brushing to preventive medicine like flea guard and tooth-brushing.
Depending on the animal and the level of grooming involved, it can be simpler to pay someone else to do it. While this can save you time and effort, it’s one more errand to run. Unless you can walk, you’re probably driving your pet since most public transportation doesn’t allow them. To cut down on burning extra fossil fuels, find the closest pet groomer possible. Maybe you’ll get lucky and one will be in walking distance.
Even if you do it yourself, that’s still a significant amount of chemicals to add to the environment. Buying green or biodegradable products will help cut down on the environmental impact. If you have an animal, it’s important to take care of it properly – but you can make choices that benefit the environment as well as your pet.
Cats are pretty decent hunters, even if they’re well fed and kept inside. This is fine if they’re being good mousers in your barn, but when they’re hunting other wildlife, it can sometimes be a bit of a problem. One cat won’t do much, but when you take into account all the outdoor cats that are hunting for fun, you end up with a pretty significant impact.
Cats kill all kinds of things, like birds, rabbits, squirrels, bats, voles, mice, snakes and probably a lot more. Scientists can’t measure how many of each species cats kill each year because it’s simply too broad a spectrum. However, they have taken a look at birds, and cats kill about 10 percent of the land bird population of the United States every year. That’s an insane amount! Some people are upset about birds flying into wind farms, but they should really be looking at their furry friends.
Having a pet may not be the best thing you can do for the environment, but it’s certainly not the worst. Try to be conscious about the products you buy for your animal, just like you are for yourself. Biodegradable poop bags, locally sourced meats and a pet with minimal reasons to hunt are all great steps to take.