Our canine companions have a heavy carbon footprint. In our efforts to be more eco-friendly, we need to include our dogs in the changes we make.
It’s an uncomfortable truth for those of us who love both dogs and the planet. Our canine companions are terrible environmentalists. They can’t help it. As much as dogs make our world a better place, they go against Mother Nature in many ways. But there are things you can do to help your dog be more eco-friendly. Check out the top ten steps you can take to reduce his carbon pawprint, and help him tread a little more lightly on the planet.
1. Harness your consumption
Dogs have a pretty simple wish list: healthy food, a warm place to sleep, and plenty of love and attention. But you wouldn’t know it based on the $70 billion-a-year pet industry.
Our dogs have become accomplices in our consumer culture, and the planet is paying the price. Everything in pet stores, from kibble to seasonal leashes to rubber sticks, requires energy and other resources to produce.
Of course, you want to ensure your dog has everything he needs to be healthy, happy and comfortable, but before you buy that fluffy new toy or sparkly spare collar, pause to consider whether your dog really needs it (are you really just buying it for yourself?). Maybe you’d both get more out of a long walk or learning a new trick.
2. Opt for earth-friendlier toys
Raising an eco-friendly dog doesn’t mean depriving him of toys. Dogs need to play and chew. If you don’t provide your pup with appropriate toys, any carbon savings you might chalk up at the pet store will be lost by replacing other things destroyed by a bored dog.
When you buy dog toys, look for those he’ll want, not what appeals to you. An adorable stuffed cow that he’ll ignore or destroy in five seconds isn’t much fun for him or the planet. Choose durable products made from natural non-toxic materials that are likely to last longer. If available, purchase toys made from recycled materials and minimal packaging.
You can also repair favorite stuffed toys with your sewing kit or make your own upcycled tug toys by braiding together old t-shirts.
3. Aim for minimal waste
Dogs are fascinated by garbage cans, but their relationship with trash is largely food-motivated. On the other hand, we’re constantly sending aluminum cans, plastic poop bags, paper towels, and other odds and ends to the landfill on our dogs’ behalf.
The best way to prevent waste is to not create it in the first place, or at least take steps to reduce it. Instead of throwing away old toys, leashes and collars, for example, donate them to an animal shelter or rescue group (as long as they’re still in good condition, that is!). Use washable rags instead of paper towels for small messes, and always recycle cans and boxes. A growing number of companies are incorporating recycled or biodegradable packaging into their products, so keep an eye out for those too.
4. Green your grooming routine
Ten minutes of rinsing your dog in the shower can send as much as 50 gallons of water down the drain. Conserve water by turning off the faucet when shampooing, and consider installing a low-flow shower head. When brushing your dog, do it outdoors – it’s less clean-up for you and provides warm nesting material for birds and wild animals.
Ditch toxic shampoos and cleaning products, and opt for eco-friendly alternatives. Water, vinegar and gentle dish soap go a long way to cleaning household surfaces, and you can buy many natural dog shampoos free of chemicals. You’ll help keep toxins out of the environment and reduce your dog’s exposure to potentially hazardous ingredients.
5. Feed a healthy diet and watch his weight
Choosing a natural high quality diet is good for your dog’s health, and for the earth’s. Look for companies that source their ingredients as close to home as possible, and that use some sustainable practices when it comes to manufacturing or packaging. Avoid foods that contain synthetic colors, preservatives and other chemicals. While vegetarian or vegan dog foods are available, be sure to consult with your veterinarian if you’re thinking of going this route.
Another thing we can do is avoid over-feeding our dogs. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Feeding the right amount is a simple step toward trimming your dog’s waistline – and his carbon pawprint.
6. Add in some plant-based treats
Treats provide an excellent opportunity to experiment with some less carbon-intensive options. From dehydrated sweet potatoes to pumpkin cookies, a bounty of nutritious plant-based snacks are now available, and most dogs love them. Toys filled with organic peanut butter, then frozen, keep chewers busy and happy, while a lot of dogs love the crunch of carrots or broccoli.
From dehydrated sweet potatoes to pumpkin cookies, a bounty of nutritious plant-based snacks are now available, and most dogs love them.
7. Be a super scooper
It may not be the most pleasant part of canine companionship, but cleaning up after our dogs is part of our responsibility to them. It’s also part of our responsibility to our neighbors – both humans and wildlife.
Our dogs carry different pathogens than wild animals do. Picking up after your dog, whether you’re in your backyard or out on the trail, helps protect wildlife from disease and keeps excess nutrients from polluting waterways.
8. Leash to save lives
Even if your dog isn’t fast enough to catch a rabbit, the chase can cause injury or stress to his prey. Romping dogs can also trample sensitive habitats that other animals rely on. While it’s fine to let your dog run free in the local dog park, keeping him on a leash when you’re hiking in a natural area helps protect wild creatures and their homes.
9. Explore your neighborhood more
If you’re driving half an hour each way to get to the nearest dog park several times a week, your canine is racking up a hefty commute for social hour. While the exercise and socialization are great for you and your dog, there are likely options closer to home.
Before you hop in the car for your next big adventure, try exploring your own neighborhood more thoroughly. You never know what you might find, and getting to know the local marking spots can also be exciting for your dog. Seek out nearby parks, or use your neighborhood social network to set up doggy play dates within walking distance.
10. Defuse the puppy population bomb
Dogs have the ability to reproduce quickly. Each litter creates many more dogs that will, over their lives, contribute to climate change, waste and resource consumption.
We can’t teach our canines about the birds and the bees. But by exploring sterilization methods that stop reproduction while maintaining canine health, we can control populations of stray and homeless dogs, and help ensure that the dogs who share our planet have healthy, loving homes.
Stephanie Feldstein is the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity and the author of The Animal Lover’s Guide to Changing the World (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018).