By Jody McCutcheon
We here at Eluxe adore animals, both wild and domestic. There’s a strong connection between humans and animals, and as every pet owner knows, living closely with the wee beasties can enrich your life like nothing else on Earth—but just like us, they have a carbon footprint that damages the Earth too. You may keep the thermostat down, drive a hybrid and buy organic, but how green is your pet?
In this special report, Jody McCutcheon tells us why keeping pets can be far from green, and how you can be an eco-friendly pet owner.
As any good vegan knows, beef and pork production is extremely resource-heavy, polluting waterways with animal waste and taking much space for rearing. So try to feed your pet chicken or fish based food instead. Better yet, make your pet’s food yourself, using raw meats, vegetables and whole grains for dog food, and only meat and fish for cat food, as felines are generally only carnivorous. Even just an occasional meal made from table scraps is a nice, eco-gentle treat for your pet. Another benefit of homemade pet food is the many food tins you’ll forego—often one a day.
Also beware of packaging waste. May pet owners buy one tin of food per day to feed their pet–that’s 365 tins per pet per day, and considering there are an estimated 69, 926, 000 dog and 74, 059, 000 cat owners in the USA alone, that’s around 150 million tins being thrown out or recycled per year–in America only!
Be sure to buy pet feed in bulk to avoid filling landfill and recycling centres with packaging, and mix your dog’s food with rice or table scraps whenever possible to avoid buying more packaged, commercial food.
If you walk your dog in the streets, biodegradable bags from a company like www.theflushablebag.com or www.poopbags.com are essential—otherwise, the bags won’t decompose, and their trapped, smelly contents will never get a chance to return to the ground. Composting pet poop is best, in a pet-waste composter. Make sure to separate it from your vegetable garden, though, as composters don’t heat up enough to kill E. coli, which could contaminate your greens.
While cats may take care of their own ‘business’, kitty litter is a huge source of waste– Americans alone discard an estimated two to four million tonnes of it per year. And what’s more, buying clumping litter for your kitty to poop into presents several serious eco-hazards: most of it is clay-based, and clay strip-mining consumes mountains, creating infertile waste rock and adversely impacting vegetation and water resources. It also necessitates deforestation, which destroys biodiversity and promotes global warming. Clay sediment contains carcinogenic silica dust, which, when inhaled, can cause upper respiratory tract problems in cats and people. And clay won’t break down any further than the mineral that it is, so it just accumulates in landfills as people throw out more and more kitty litter. If that’s not bad enough, the clay-based clumping agent, sodium bentonite, is potentially fatal to Fluffy if ingested. It can swell up to fifteen times its original volume and clog the cat’s gastrointestinal tract.
The greenest kitty litter—safest for your cat and for the environment—contains reclaimed products or post-consumer waste, like wood shavings, sawdust or old newspapers. Baking soda is odour-absorbent, as is wheat-based litter. Corn and other vegetable derivatives also make effective, biodegradable litters, and you can look at sites like this for more information.
Toys and Stuff
We all love our pets so much, we tend to coddle them like little humans and buy them gifts for holidays and other special occasions, but is this extra shopping really necessary? While it’s nice to give your pet a treat, they really don’t care whether you get them a handcrafted leather ball from Louis Vuitton or throw them a dead tennis ball you found in the bin—they just want to play! Tinfoil balls, string, and organic catnip are great ‘gifts’ for Fluffy, and a strong stick, chew toys (byproducts from the meat industry) and old rope are always welcome for Fido.
Keep in mind too that if you buy your pet plastic based toys, not only is this harmful for the environment, but they could hurt your pet, too. A recent study from the Environmental Working Group found that pets carry around 48 different industrial chemicals in their bodies, many of which are at higher levels than those found in humans. These contaminants include carcinogens found in plastic toys, food packaging, pet shampoos and even some medicines; flame retardants found in pet beds, carpeting (which they are closer to daily) and some pet ‘clothing’, and hormones and preservatives in commercial food. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can cause hormonal problems, cancer, and other serious conditions.
So maybe your dog is a Chihuahua named Charro and she wouldn’t hurt a fly. Even so, when she excitedly barks at and chases squirrels, rabbits and birds in their natural habitats, it could do more harm than you’d imagine—in fact, the Siberian tiger, already endangered, has recently become even more threatened by contracting Canine Distemper Virus, spread by dogs. The virus has already devastated several other species, ranging from lions to seals, after having been spread in the wild by dogs.
And don’t even get us started on cats. Some say domestic cats are the most important cause of the demise of certain songbirds. Consider your own playful housecat, whom you frequently let out to roam overnight. Rested and well fed, it’s in fine fighting form; and if so inclined, it might kill or harm ten to twelve birds on average a night. Not from hunger, but from the thrill of the chase—like a serial killer. In Canada alone, domestic cats kill 60–70 million wild birds a year. That’s not to mention all the mice and other small mammals that may fall victim to your cuddly little Fluffy. Moral of the story: keep her inside. It’s safer for her and the wildlife population, too. But if you insist on letting her out, ensure she wears a cat bib—bells are not effective.
Fleas and Pests
Yet another good reason to keep cats indoors is to avoid their getting fleas and other parasites. There is no easy to rid an animal of these naturally, and chemical solutions pollute not only your home and pet with toxic chemicals, but waterways and soil, too, when the products are discarded.
There are some greener products you can use, such as Flea Repellant Collars and Herbal Flea Repellent Sachets, which are safe enough to use in your pet’s bedding, carpeting, and furniture, but prevention is really better than cure. Keep dogs away from wild wooded spaces, and keep cats inside. For more suggestions, there are several ‘green’ pet websites you can check, such as this one.
The bottom line is this: healthy pets make happy pet owners, and happy pet owners make happy pets. Throw environmental health into the mix and everyone wins. That would be the real cat’s meow.