Our Pets and the Environment: A Guide To Sustainable Pet Ownership

Owning a pet can be one of the most rewarding things a human can experience. There is nothing quite like the unconditional love and human-pet bond that this relationship can bring to our lives. What many of us fail to realize however is that this wonderful experience sadly comes with a substantial negative impact on the environment.

From the food our dogs eat, the toys they play with right through to the waste they produce, each stage of a dog’s life has an impact on the environment. The good news is that we only need to make small changes to massively reduce this impact.

Trashy Toys

dog playing with sustainable toys in the park

There is no doubt about it, most dogs adore their toys! But do you ever find yourself throwing broken toys in the trash and thinking how they did not last long at all? Many pet toys are made from plastic or contain components that are difficult or impossible to recycle, meaning these toys end up in landfill sites. Creating these toys in the first place also harms the environment, with carbon emissions from the factory and the use of petrochemicals.

Solution: There are now many sustainable toys available for dogs, including ones made from recycled materials and toys which are completely biodegradable such as hemp or wool. Avoid buying cheap dollar-store pet toys and try to purchase well-made and durable toys that will last your dog for longer, even with rough play.

Another great option is to make your dog toys out of upcycled and reused materials. If your dog loves a tug toy, these are easy to make from old clothing that would otherwise go in the trash – simply cut the fabric into strips and braid together.

The Poo Issue

It is no secret that dogs produce a lot of poo! We will find ourselves reaching for the poo bags at least twice a day – after all, cleaning up after our dogs is part of being a responsible pet owner. Pet waste collected in plastic bags normally ends up in landfill sites, contributing to the ever-increasing trash problem on our planet. In the US, pets produce the same amount of feces each year as about 90 million humans – a shocking 5.1 million tons altogether! Processing this waste creates a huge carbon dioxide (CO2) output.

Another environmental problem is dog feces which are not picked up and left to rot where they land. When washed into storm drains and our lakes and rivers, dog feces cause an imbalance in the ecosystem, creating problems such as algal blooms and declining coastal habitats. Bacteria from dog feces will contaminate waterways, making them unsafe for swimming. Dog feces also produce a high amount of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

sign asking dog owners to clean up their dog waste

Solution: When you are out and about and need to use a poo-bag, opt for a biodegradable bag instead. These will rot down, so this simple switch could save over 700 plastic bags from going in the trash per dog per year. You could cut down on waste-collection transport emissions and try composting your dog’s waste at home, but make sure this is carefully researched beforehand to ensure that any potentially dangerous microorganisms are eradicated during the composting process.

Researchers are also looking at ways that dog feces can be used as a positive resource, rather than an environmental problem. In the future, you may be able to use a neighborhood biodigester to dispose of your dog’s waste, which could provide gas for cooking or lighting.

The Meat Problem

It is no secret that dogs love to eat meat, and meat is a major component in most commercial dog foods. In the US dogs are estimated to consume more than 32 billion pounds of protein each year. A UCLA study estimated that the meat consumed by dogs is responsible for up to 30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in America. Alarmingly, pet food consumption is responsible for the release of up to 64 million tons of CO2 each year – a figure described by scientists as an environmental disaster.

dog laying down with baby chickens playing

So, what is the big problem with meat? Dogs need a healthy source of protein to build and maintain muscle, and traditionally this source of protein comes from beef cattle and poultry such as chickens. The production of meat such as beef or chicken has an exceptionally large ecological footprint; it takes a lot of food, water, and land to raise these types of animals as a protein source.

The production of beef in particular is a worrying environmental problem, as beef cattle emit huge amounts of methane. Cows are now the highest methane-producing animal on the planet. Although CO2 is talked about most often when we discuss climate change, methane is also a big problem, making up over 90% of the greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Huge areas of wildlife are also destroyed to make way for cattle farms, leading to widespread habitat loss and endangering the survival of many species of mammals, birds, and insects. It is terrifying to comprehend that by feeding our dogs we may be contributing to the extinction of some of the rarest species on our planet.

Current pet food marketing trends are encouraging us to feed our pets much the same foods that humans eat. The market is being increasingly flooded with deluxe meat-based foods, containing to have chunks of real beef rather than the beef byproducts which were traditionally used for animal feed. To a pet owner, these foods appear very appealing; however, they are not environmentally friendly, and our dogs can thrive on alternative sustainable protein sources.

Solution: The simplest step to take is to reduce the volume of traditional meat sources such as beef and chicken in your dog’s diet. Dogs are omnivores, meaning they can eat a diet consisting of both animal and plant sources. Those chunks of beef in gravy may look like a delicious meal for your dog, but, this is the equivalent to us eating a huge steak and ignoring the sides – a nice treat, but not a balanced diet!

Luckily, some pet food manufacturers have begun to take steps to reduce the environmental impact of pet food by looking for sustainable alternative protein sources. A novel new ingredient is the inclusion of insects in pet foods. Jiminy’s has developed a kibble that combines insect proteins with plant-based ingredients, creating complete balanced dog food with a hugely reduced impact on the environment compared to beef products.

The source of high-quality protein in Jiminy’s dog kibble is crickets, which have impressive environmental credentials. For example, one acre of land can be used to produce over three thousand times the amount of protein through cricket production compared to beef! The greenhouse gases produced in cricket farming are a fraction of those produced in traditional beef and poultry farming. Water usage is also drastically reduced, from 2900 gallons required to produce 1 pound of beef protein to just 1 gallon for the same amount of cricket protein. Insect farming may well become the future of sustainable dog foods and manufacturers such as Jiminy’s are leading the way with research and product development in this field.

Too Many Dogs?

Sadly, one of the biggest environmental impacts of dogs is the sheer number of them – it is estimated that there are over 77 million dogs in the US alone. The meat consumed by dogs and cats in the US is responsible for over 30% of the environmental impact of the meat industry, and they create a volume of faces equivalent to 90 million Americans.

Solution: If you are reading this then it is highly likely that you already own a dog, and we are not suggesting that you get rid of your dog! But as a dog owner, you can take responsible steps to reduce the dog population problem. It is estimated that 3.3 million dogs in the US end up in rescue shelters each year, so if you are looking for a new canine member of your family then your local shelter is a great place to start. Encourage friends and family looking for a new dog to adopt from a shelter.

Spaying and neutering are also crucial to reduce the dog population problem. Breeding should only take place if a genuine need and interest in the offspring exists. Unwanted or irresponsibly bred dogs often end up in shelters as they are purchased without proper consideration, then given away, or even dumped on the street.

To be a responsible and sustainable pet owner can appear to be a bit of a minefield at first, but we hope you can take away some simple tips which will help to reduce your beloved dog’s environmental impact. Dogs bring huge amounts of joy and love into our lives, and it is reassuring to know that just a few little changes can help us to keep both our pets and the planet happy.

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