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To finish up Earth Week 2021, let’s talk about being an eco-friendly and sustainable pet owner. Like going zero-waste, being an eco-friendly pet owner can mean a whole lot of things. There are all sorts of ways to change the habits you and your pet have to be more sustainable. In fact, there’s really not much your pet has to do! But it’s also important to slowly introduce new habits and food to your pets and keep an eye on how they react to the changes. If a change involves your pet’s health, it’s also important to talk with your vet before making the change.
Without further ado, here are some eco-friendly and sustainable habits for pet owners.
Use natural pet shampoos and grooming products
This change, if applicable, has two great outcomes. One, organic and natural pet grooming products can be really great for your pet’s coat and skin. Second, you also won’t be flushing chemicals and toxins down the drain every time you give your pet a bath. However, if your pet has skin issues or allergies, it’s always good to check in with your vet about new grooming products to make sure they won’t cause further problems.
Use Non-toxic Cleaning Supplies Around the House
Accidents, unfortunately, do happen and cleaning up stains or odors is just something every pet owner will have to do sometimes. The good news is that there are plenty of eco-friendly cleaning supplies that also work fairly well on pet stains and odors! Baking soda mixed with either hydrogen peroxide or vinegar can do wonders for all sorts of messes.
Eco-Friendly Solutions To Pet Waste
Pet waste, particularly waste from dogs and cats, can have numerous negative effects on the environment and can be one of the least eco-friendly parts of having a pet. Pet feces are able to spread different parasites that largely have little to no effect on your pet but can be damaging or fatal to other mammals. Additionally, what you use in litter boxes or to pick up your dog’s poop can have a profound impact on the environment.
Some cats are carriers for the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can infect and cause issues in other warm-blooded animals. While cats aren’t affected by it, the parasite can be spread via their feces and sea otters have died because contained stool found its way through a sewage treatment plant (because owners flushed cat waste) or storm runoff. Other marine mammals have been infected with different strains of the parasite, which can cause the disease toxoplasmosis. Humans can be infected with t. gondii but the parasite usually remains dormant after causing mild flu symptoms. Pregnant folks, babies under 6 months, and immunocompromised people (like those with weakened immune systems from things like cancer treatment, transplant therapy, or other infections) should avoid cleaning the litter box, as they’re most at risk for issues associates with the parasite.
To avoid the spread of this parasite, keep your cats indoors so they don’t kill or eat potentially infected birds or rats and properly dispose of cat waste. Do not flush any pet feces or waste down the toilet, as sewage treatment plants are rarely capable of screening for parasites found in pet waste. For a majority of folks, the landfill is the best option for pet waste.
Dogs also spread parasites through their feces, like giardia, hookworms, roundworms, parvo, and other intestinal worms/parasites. In addition to potentially infecting other dogs, dog poop that isn’t scooped can also cause issues for humans, nearby water sources, and wildlife like coyotes. And leaving the poop in the plastic bag along the trail isn’t good either, as the plastic doesn’t degrade and can be ingested by birds and other animals. In addition to carriers for the empty bags, you can often find carriers for full poop bags at pet stores or online.
Eco-Friendly Pet Waste Products
One of the best ways to make your cat’s litter box eco-friendly is the kind of litter you use.. Get rid of any clay-based cat litter, as the process to get bentonite clay is incredibly damaging to the environment. There are plenty of other options you can use to fill that litter box. In fact, you can even use pine wood pellets, something you can sometimes find at hardware/country stores! There are some brands that offer wood pellets specific for cat litter while other products, like equine bedding pine pellets, can be repurposed for your cat. Make sure to not overfill the litter box with pellets, as they tend to expand and turn into sawdust when your cat uses the box. And there are plenty of other eco-friendly options if you (or your cat) don’t like wood pellets.
Composting Pet Waste
Another option to making pet waste more eco-friendly is composting your pet’s waste. To be clear, you cannot compost pet waste as is. Do not put pet waste into your normal compost bin, as dogs and cats produce waste with harmful bacteria. Also, if you want to start composting your pet’s poop, consider using natural flea. Some cities, like San Francisco, have municipal pet waste programs but these programs are pretty rare. Composting pet waste at home is possible but will take plenty of time and resources.
Hot composting is a great option for pet waste, as it can kill off as many harmful microorganisms as possible, but needs a good carbon to nitrogen mix and needs to be in full sun (at least during the summer). Carbon-rich materials to compost include anything dry and brown, like sawdust, straw, shredded newspaper, leaves, and dry corn stalks. Nitrogen-rich materials are usually wet/moist like grass clipping, fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, dog poop, and farm animal manure (i.e. chickens, llamas, sheep, etc).
- Composting Dog Waste [PDF] from the USDA
Apparently, worm farms can also compost dog poop (given that there are no added chemicals like those from flea and tick meds or worming tablets) but some recommend having a separate worm farm primarily for dog poop. As far as changing your dog’s meds, talk with your vet about good alternatives for flea, tick, and worm prevention before making any changes. Your dog’s health should come first, which may make composting their poop difficult or impossible.
Vermicomposting, the term for composting with worms, can produce incredibly rich soil from food scraps and leaves but require a rather moist container. Lindsay Miles over at Treading My Own Path has a whole ‘How To’ post on setting up a dog poop worm farm with tips and information. And if you have cats, a great resource on this topic is “How to Dispose of Cat Litter: The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Pet Waste Management (Part 1)” on Maggie Marton’s blog, The Zero Waste Pet. Marton does recommend not doing an in-ground cat waste compost system if you live near or on the coast (like parts of the Pacific Northwest) to avoid possible water contamination.
Again, do not compost pet waste and then use it without doing a good amount of research and having the right supplies to compost pet waste. Otherwise, you could end up with material that can make you and others sick. It’s recommended that the final compost product be used on non-edible plants like flowers, trees, ornamental bushes, and lawns.
Create or Buy Sustainable Toys
When I got my two cats, Loki and Etta, they were the tiniest little kittens and one thing that’s been reiterated to me while watching them grow is that cats generally don’t care where you get a cat toy. If its fun to bat around or leap up after, they’ll love it! I’ve made them a few catnip toys out of felt and upcycled filling from old pillows or fabric scraps and they love to chase and knock around these toys! Loki is also a fan of the wand toy I made from a wooden dowel, twine, tape, and cut up fabric. If you have old t-shirts, you can turn them into reusable rags or cut them into thin, long lines and turn them into a wand toy like the one to the right.
And those aren’t the only sustainable pet toy ideas! There are so many others that you can make or buy. You can, for example, turn an old Tupperware container into a puzzle toy for a cat (the Tupperware may be too fragile/breakable for a dog) or use leftover yarn to make pom-poms. DIY cat toys can be fun to make, give your cats something fun to do, and help prolong the life of items that may have otherwise ended up in the landfill.
You can also make and buy sustainable toys for dogs too! Pure Earth Pets is an online store with eco-friendly monthly subscriptions of toys, treats, and supplies for dogs. If you don’t want or need monthly boxes, you can also buy individual items! They even have a Himalaya Loom Dino toy that’s eco-friendly and ethically made in Nepal. Pure Earth Pets actually partners with the NGO, Women’s Skills Development Organization to create this toy.
Walk Places With Your Dog and Help Take Care of Parks
One of the downsides of urban and suburban cities in the United States is that walkability isn’t really a thing here. Some larger cities, like New York, and San Francisco make it easier to walk to important places but many folks don’t live in areas you can easily walk to those same types of places. But if you can, consider walking to some places with your dog!
Taking care of parks can also be great for you, your dog, and the environment. Some city park departments will have work parties during the spring and summer to help clear out invasive plants, spread out mulch, and more. Your dog may be welcome at some of these events, depending on factors like what work is being done and your dog’s temperament.
Ultimately, this list is by no means the end-all-be-all list of being an eco-friendly pet owner. Instead, it’s a list of possible ways to be more sustainable! Additionally, this is also a lot of information in just one post and it may be overwhelming at first.
But the important thing about being an eco-friendly pet owner (or just an eco-friendly/sustainable human) is that you make little changes and try to be better while also prioritizing your pet’s health and wellbeing. Remember, not everyone’s journey will be the same because circumstances are different for everyone. The key, at least in my opinion, is to do the best you can with what you have and where you are in life.
If you want some more information on sustainable living and being an eco-friendly pet owner, here are some great resources:
- The Zero Waste Pet
- Treading My Own Path
- How to Be an Eco-Friendly Pet Owner by Liz Krieger, NRDC
- Pure Earth Pets, Inc
- Paws and Pines:
- Muttropolis has plenty of eco-friendly items for sale, including:
- Etsy also has plenty of eco-friendly pet supplies like