carbon footprint
August 24, 2011 - Satellite view of the Full Earth with Hurricane Irene visible over the Bahamas.

Domestic dogs and cats have a significant impact on the environment. Let’s look at what we can do to make our furry friends more earth-friendly.

Have you ever thought about your dog or cat’s carbon footprint? How much of an impact does he have on the planet and its resources? More than you think, probably. But thanks to a growing number of more sustainable products covering all areas of your pet’s life, you can do a lot to make that footprint smaller.

There are basically three parts to a dog or cat’s carbon footprint: food, waste and accessories. We’ll look at each category separately, and at the changes you can make in each one.

Food – what he eats affects his carbon footprint

The biggest factor affecting a pet’s environmental impact is food. Most pet food isn’t made in an eco-friendly way. It’s also shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to retail stores. The packaging may or may not be recyclable, depending on what it’s made of and where you live. So there are several things to take into account when choosing a food for your dog or cat, including the quality of the ingredients, how it’s made, where it’s made and the packaging. You want something that’s healthy as well as eco-friendly, and happily, these two attributes often go hand-in-hand.

  • To identify a high quality food that is both eco-friendly and nutritionally-balanced, Paul Davis of Dog for Dog (com) recommends four guidelines: protein as the first ingredient; no fillers or animal by-products; carefully sourced high quality ingredients; and environmentally-conscious manufacturing processes.
  • Look for pet food companies that try to be eco-friendly, perhaps by using alternative power sources in their plants, minimizing waste, and/or encouraging workers to carpool, bike or walk to work.
  • Also look for foods made from premium quality ingredients sourced as close to home as possible; and packaging that’s not only recyclable but perhaps even compostable or made from recycled products (see page xx for more on sustainable pet food packaging).
  • It’s also vital to know what’s in the food your dog or cat eats, for his own health as well as the planet’s. “A high quality protein as the first ingredient is one of the most important nutritional qualities in a pet food,” says Paul. “It’s also an indicator that the food provides more nutrition per serving than food that uses fillers, which don’t provide much nutritional value.”
  • One challenging issue is that animal protein production has a heavy environmental impact on land, water and other resources — yet dogs and cats are carnivores and need animal protein in their diets. The best solution is to look for protein sources with a lighter carbon footprint, such as chicken, turkey, rabbit or sustainably-harvested fish, as opposed to beef, which has the biggest impact on the environment.

Weighing in on pet waste

“The type and quality of pet food is directly tied to the frequency and quantity of waste created by pets,” says Paul. “For instance, if you choose a lower quality food for your pet, he will require more of it to receive proper nutrition, and this increased intake results in greater ‘output’. Choosing a high quality food and using the proper serving size will help reduce the number and frequency of your pet’s bathroom breaks.”

In addition, low quality foods contain additives and other toxins that are passed in the pet’s waste, which if not properly disposed of, will leak into soil and waterways. In the early 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified dog waste as a dangerous pollutant, putting it in the same category as non-point source pollution such as faulty septic systems, toxic chemicals and oil spills!

  • No matter what you feed your dog, always pick up his waste, even from your own yard. Plastic grocery bags, commonly used for picking up poop, don’t break down in landfills so choose from earth-friendly poop bag products made from biodegradable ingredients such as corn, vegetable oils and plant starches. Some bags are flushable and others compostable. If composting dog waste, be sure to keep it separate from any compost to be used on edible plants.
  • If you’re a cat owner, you may know that millions of tons of used cat litter end up in landfills each year. So it’s important to pick something that’s eco-friendly and will break down over time. Clay litter is not only unhealthy for your cat, but the raw ingredients are strip-mined; the litter often contains silica dust and is not biodegradable or compostable. There are lots of environmentally responsible cat litters to choose from, made from natural materials such as corn, wheat, nut shells and even green tea leaves (turn to page xx to read more about these litters). Some litters are compostable.
  • Another approach to pet waste is to neutralize it. “Products like NokOut help offset a pet’s carbon footprint,” says Michelle Woolf, CEO of EMebKo Enterprises, Inc. (com). “NokOut is specially formulated to neutralize many of the by-products that cause some of the problem. You spray it on the pet’s waste to reduce both odors and methane and stop it from releasing carbon dioxide-causing chemicals. We also take care to reduce the energy required to make our product, have consciously kept packaging as simple as possible, and offer larger bottles at a discount to encourage consumers to reuse their smaller bottles instead of adding to the mounds of waste in landfills.”
  • Any dog lover who has a lawn covered with brown spots knows that urine kills grass. This can be prevented by reducing the nitrates in the dog’s drinking water, and consequently his urine, says Carina Evans, CEO of Dog Rocks ( Placed in your dog’s drinking water, this natural product (which is sold in recycled packaging) helps keep your dog’s urine from killing grass wherever he pees.

From bowls to bedding – switching to more earth-friendly pet accessories

Dogs and cats need basic accessories such bowls, beds, toys, collars and leashes, and many of these products are made of plastic. Take a look at your own pet’s possessions. How much plastic do you see? For each one, there’s an eco-friendly alternative. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Dishes and bowls: Ditch the plastic and choose ceramic or stainless steel bowls. You can even find bowls made from bamboo, which is renewable, biodegradable, and dishwasher safe.

Bedding: Consider alternatives to petrochemical foams. Several manufacturers use recycled plastic bottles for fluffy fiberfill bedding.

Toys: Choose toys made from renewable or recycled resources such as bamboo, rubber, wool and hemp.

Collars and leashes: Look for eco-friendly products made from hemp, bamboo or recycled plastic bottles.

If you find your dog or cat has an excess of accoutrements, consider recycling some by donating them to shelters or rescue organizations.

Thanks to the ever-increasing selection of pet products that support the environment, it’s easier than ever to be an eco-friendly dog or cat guardian and reduce his carbon footprint!