The care we lavish on our pets may actually be harming the environment. Thankfully, we can reduce our pets' carbon paw print.
Canadians love their pets! More than half of Canadian households have at least one, but the attention and care that we lavish on our pets may be having an unintended negative effect on the environment.
Our ecological footprint—or “pawprint” when it comes to our four-legged friends—refers to the impact our activities have on the environment in regard to consumption and waste generated. And while approximately six out of 10 Canadians say they take conscious steps to ensure their home or lifestyle is greener, the same environmental concern may not always translate to pet ownership.
With this in mind, it may be time for pet owners to make small lifestyle changes and take “eco-stock” of their pet’s impact on the world.
Dispose of waste properly
About 40 percent of Canadian waste is estimated to be organic or biodegradable. However, most of it still ends up in a landfill, including most pet feces. According to Environment Canada, “the environmental benefits of diverting organic materials from landfill include reduced methane emissions (a potent greenhouse gas) and decreased leachate quantities from landfills.”
It is recommended that pet owners use biodegradable bags to hold their pet’s waste, and use plant-based litter and natural bedding (such as shredded newspaper) for smaller animals. In addition, pet waste can be flushed in some municipalities or a green bin/compost program can be used to ensure waste is not left outside to wash into the sewer systems.
The pet industry is huge, with the American Pet Products Association estimating that more than US$58 billion will be spent on pets by the end of 2014. With so many product choices, eco-friendly pet owners should take time to read labels. Check to make sure that ingredients are certified organic or fair trade, or that they carry a similar certification to ensure they are manufactured ethically and produced in an environmentally responsible manner.
Numerous pet products, such as flea and tick medications, have been known to include environmentally damaging and potentially toxic chemicals. Instead of purchasing mass-produced products, owners can consider making their own flea and tick medications and shampoos. They can also choose products made with only natural ingredients and buy products packaged with recycled and/or minimal materials.
Food production has one of the biggest impacts on the environment. But some ingredients found in pet food, such as palm kernel meal, are often produced in unsustainable ways. As a result, they may be damaging to the rainforests and harmful to the natural ecosystem.
To minimize a pet’s carbon footprint, veterinarian Dr. Troye McPherson suggests pet owners purchase pet food or care items that are made and manufactured as locally as possible; it reduces the environmental impact that comes along with shipping, packaging, and mass production.
“Even walking to your neighbourhood pet store to purchase food helps reduce your pet’s ecological impact,” she says. If you do not have access to locally made pet food and products, the SPCA suggests purchasing pet supplies and food in bulk to limit waste.
Alternatively, pet owners can significantly reduce their animal’s ecological pawprint by making their own pet food, especially for smaller, housebound pets, using locally sourced meats and vegetables. However, McPherson cautions that this should only be done under the guidance of a veterinarian to ensure your pet is receiving all the nutrients it requires.
Spay or neuter
The overpopulation of pets poses a significant threat to the natural life cycle of wildlife and negatively affects the ecosystem. Domestic cats, for instance, are well known as predators that cause the death of billions of birds and small mammals each year. For these reasons, most animal professionals agree that it is prudent to spay and neuter cats, as well as dogs and rabbits.
Spaying or neutering your pet also ensures that unwanted animals will not end up in shelters. The added bonus is pets that have been spayed or neutered have been found to live better lives and have fewer incidences of cancer and other diseases.
Introduce green space
Craig Naherniak, general manager of Humane Education for the BC SPCA, suggests planting trees, nontoxic plants and flowers, or cat grass. These will not only spruce up your backyard, but also help reduce your pet’s ecological impact.
“By planting animal-friendly gardens, we reduce our own eco-footprint and that of our pets,” says Naherniak. If your family includes smaller or indoor-only pets, planting a garden with lettuce, carrots, and even cauliflower is the perfect way to reduce their ecological pawprint while ensuring they have plenty of fresh food to enjoy.
Having a pet is a wonderful experience, but there are many hidden dangers lurking inside and outside of your home. Here are a few things to look out for.
Lawn and plant chemicals
While they may keep the weeds at bay, chemicals used on your lawns and gardens can be potentially lethal for pets. Purchase a natural, certified pet-safe, nontoxic weed killer or make your own at home.
Many houseplants pose a danger to our four-legged companions. These can include seasonal favourites such as azaleas, mistletoe, lilies, and poinsettias. Before placing a plant in your home, check to ensure it is not toxic to your pet.
It’s natural for your pet to want to lick your plate clean after a meal, but human food is not always safe for animal consumption. Chocolate, for instance, is poisonous to cats, dogs, and ferrets; avocado is toxic to birds, rabbits, and mice. And be aware of the bones you are feeding your animals, as they may easily shatter and pose a potential choking risk.
Everything from your kitchen stove to your handheld curling iron is potentially dangerous to your pet. Never preheat or leave cookware unattended on the stove, and unplug all irons and other devices once you have finished using them.
Remember, if your pet is exhibiting any abnormal signs or symptoms, it is best to seek medical assistance from a veterinarian as soon as possible.