6 Ways to Lighten Your Pet's Environmental Paw Print

These small changes can make your furry friend a little more eco-friendly.

border collie puppy eating dog food from a bowl
Photo: Vstock LLC / Getty

Pet owners like to treat their fur babies like real babies, but the parallels don't just end with how adorable they are and how much we love them. Considering food, toys, clothing and waste disposal, both tend to suck up a lot of natural resources. "When it comes to pets, the industry as a whole does tend to generate quite a bit of waste that has the potential to be environmentally harmful," says Mark Freeman, D.V.M., a clinical assistant professor in the department of small animal clinical sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

With concerns about climate change and sustainability rising, more and more parents—of both species—have begun looking into ways to reduce this environmental impact. In a survey of 1,000 pet parents conducted by Rover.com, nearly three-quarters said they are interested in learning how to live more sustainably with their pets. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do that, without sacrificing your furry pal's comfort or health.

How to Lighten Your Pet's Environmental Paw Print

1. Feed your pet the right amount.

Without a doubt, the aspect of pet ownership that has the greatest impact on the environment is their food. That's because traditional pet feed is meat-based. Researchers from UCLA found that in the U.S. the environmental impact of the amount of dog and cat food consumed annually is equivalent to driving 13.6 million cars for a year. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59% of cats and 56% of dogs in the U.S. are classified as overweight or obese. Making sure you're feeding your four-legged friend the proper amount helps safeguard both their health and the health of our planet.

2. Buy in bulk.

The majority of pet food is sold in plastic or plastic-lined bags to ensure freshness. Buying the largest possible size and transferring it to airtight containers minimizes the "product to waste ratio," says Freeman. More manufacturers are heeding the call for sustainable options and offering packaging that can be recycled, sometimes at in-store kiosks or through TerraCycle.

3. Switch up your treats.

Like pet food, many treats tend to be meat-based and packaged in plastic, but you can increasingly find plant-based options. Dental chews, for instance, can help with your dog's dental health, the No. 1 health problem in aging canines. There are also a growing number of companies that make pet products with sustainability in mind.

4. Bake some treats.

Of course, if you have the time and inclination, making your own dog treats is always an option that eliminates packaging and unhealthy additives entirely. The American Kennel Club offers a recipe for making your own treats that pups will love.

5. Get creative with playtime.

Most people tend to overbuy toys for their pets, which isn't the most sustainable option. Opt for toys made of natural or sustainable materials. Seaflex, a new collection from West Paw, is nontoxic and made from zero-waste materials, including plastic scavenged so it doesn't end up in our oceans. Some toys can also be recycled or passed on to other pups through neighborhood sites or at dog parks or shelters when your pets gets bored of them. And you can always make your own toys from upcycled materials like old T-shirts, according to the AKC.

6. Waste not.

Cleaning up after your pet traditionally isn't so great for the environment when you're using plastic bags. Biodegradable bags are a better option, although experts say the best way to dispose of pet waste is the same way we dispose of our own: flushed down the toilet (without a bag) so sewage treatment plants can handle it, according to the AKC.

If you're really ambitious, you can follow a process like this to compost pet waste, keeping in mind that it does take longer than other kinds of composting and should not be used to grow anything you plan to eat.

In general, Bernal says, one of the best things you can do to reduce the impact of your pet's waste on the environment is to use high-quality pet food, which leads to more efficient waste (i.e., smaller poops). After all, even these small changes can add up for the health of our pets and our planet.

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