For some of us, pets are a part of if not an extension of our families. They have their own personalities, bring joy to homes across the world and can even become social media stars. But, just as we can change our behaviour to reduce our carbon footprint in various aspects of our lives, so too can we reduce the impact of our pets.
In particular, domesticated animals have an environmental impact through food provided by owners and the sanitary disposal of their waste while they also use water, energy and heating resources.
Strict environmentalists might feel there is an argument to suggest that having a pet is simply bad for the environment but there is no denying that many of us love animals. Pets are so much more than something fluffy to look at or an environmental burden, and they provide mental health benefits to many, from companionship to reducing anxiety and increasing owners’ physical activity.
So, how can we have the best of both worlds – loving homes shared with our adored pets and lower carbon footprints?
How Much Impact Do Pets Have on the Environment?
According to a study by The Eco Experts, pets in the UK now emit 1.3 million tonnes more CO2e than before COVID-19 (source). That is not an insignificant amount on its own, but this figure is on top of the pre-existing level of pet ownership before people started adopting more pets during the pandemic. The number of pets in the UK is estimated to have risen to three million following the Covid outbreak.
1. Consider Their Food Carefully
Just like our own diets, the food we provide our pets makes up a significant portion of their environmental impact. Given that they don’t drive cars or use electronics for entertainment, it’s fair to say that most of our pets’ impact boils down to food.
Meat production for pet food has all of the associated environmental drawbacks that it has for our diets, such as increased greenhouse gases and increased pressure on water systems. But unlike us, a no-meat diet isn’t an option for pets.
We can help lower the carbon footprint of their food, however, by introducing more vegetables and alternative sources of protein to their diets, particularly in dogs as they are omnivores.
Either bulking out their meals with vegetables or swapping out one or two meals per week for a meat-free alternative can start to bring your pet’s carbon footprint down.
Cats can eat some meat-free foods but are a little bit fussier and need their vegetables to be cooked or steamed to help them break down the plant cell walls.
2. Using Food That Works for Your Cats and Dogs
Cats and dogs can have special dietary requirements and therefore you might not be as environmentally responsible as you would like. Whether it’s an allergy to grains or a downright refusal to eat certain types of food, pet parents can sometimes be at the mercy of their animals.
But for the most part, pets aren’t too fussy and you can transition them from one type of food to another over the course of a week or two by gradually introducing the new type while reducing the old variety. If your pet isn’t taking to a reduced meat diet, never fear, there are alternate ways you can lower their environmental impact.
3. Reduce Overfeeding
One common mistake pet owners make when feeding their cats, dogs, and even rabbits or small mammals is overfeeding. Finding the balance between enough and too much is a fine line and we can be guilty of portioning our pet food based on our perception of what is enough. However, it’s important to figure out exactly how much food is enough for your pet.
Guidelines vary depending on the size, weight, activity level and type of food you feed your pet so for the best results it’s worth speaking with your vet to calculate an adequate food allowance.
Not only is overfeeding your pet harmful to the environment as additional resources are required to keep filling their food bowls or dishes, but it can put your beloved four-legged friend’s health at risk.
In the UK, it’s estimated that 40% of dogs and 53% of cats are overweight or obese (source). While this isn’t wholly due to overfeeding, good portion control, weight monitoring and fewer treats are a great place to start.
4. Biodegradable Waste Collection
Any pet owner will know that while they thought they were welcoming something cute, fluffy and cuddly into their family the reality is they brought home a poop-making factory. For dog owners, that means following them around to pick up their mess in a bag and for cat owners, it’s a case of putting the litter tray as far away as possible from your nose.
Environmentally-friendly pet waste solutions are available to help reduce their impact, from kitty litter made from organic materials that don’t require mining (such as clay) to biodegradable poop bags for dogs. Avoid flushing animal waste down the toilet as a solution, as our sewage networks are not treated for the potentially harmful organisms found in their waste, such as roundworms.
5. Reducing General Waste
We want the best for our pets and when we find ourselves in a pet shop, or even just in the supermarket doing the weekly shop, it can be tempting to treat your four-legged family member to something new. That could be a stuffed toy for them to destroy, a plastic chew for their teeth or fashionable accessories.
But it’s important to question whether these things are something your pet needs or if it is really a treat for you. Asking if something will add value to your pet’s life, or the care of your pet, is a useful step in reducing waste from buying superfluous products.
Being mindful of what you buy is an eco-friendlier habit to adopt as a pet owner and a more responsible consumer too. Sure they might need a winter coat if they are a smaller breed or the temperatures are especially low but they aren’t likely to need multiple outfits like it’s London Fashion Week.
6. Adopting Animals
An estimated 2.7 million animals enter shelters each year in the UK (source). Animal shelters and rehoming projects are typically full to the brim and are seeking pet parents to help them lighten the load.
This also helps reduce the overpopulation problem with domestic animals that are bred for their pedigree or because people would rather have a kitten or puppy. Rather than encouraging breeders to continue swelling the pet population, demand can die down a little which means the supply will follow suit.
About the Author
Dakota Murphey is a freelance writer based in the UK. She has more than 10 years’ experience creating articles and winning content for a number of authoritative sites. Dakota covers a range of interesting topics covering everything from travel, photography and sustainability to company growth, business trends and branding.