GREEN DOGS AND CATS – How to reduce your pet’s carbon pawprint
SUSTAINABILITY has to be this decade’s buzz word. And with good reason. After many years of dire warnings regarding our impact on the planet, organisations and individuals worldwide are finally stepping up and taking responsibility for reducing their personal load on our limited resources. But published research into how having pets affects sustainability has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons and left many pet parents with ruffled feathers. So how, exactly, do our pets fit into the sustainability debate?What are our basic responsibilities as pet parents, to ensure that our pets, and our habits as their caregivers, don’t place undue pressure on the environment?
WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?
Sustainability is a vast subject, but a very useful definition is “meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the needs of the future”.
Why are our furballs in the firing line?
• There are currently in excess of a billion pet dogs and cats on the planet – eating billions of tonnes of animal protein per year. And animal based products are the most energy-sapping agricultural ingredients to produce. With more pet parents demanding higher-quality, ‘human grade’ meat products to feed to their furkids, in order to improve their health and well-being, our animals are now in direct competition with humans for food.
• The billion pets also excrete an estimated quarter of a billion kilos of poop each day! Where does it all land up?
• Besides food, the pet industry is massive (and growing), producing toys, accessories, treats, clothing, gadgets, etc. on a grand scale. The manufacturing processes and packaging required for these items have far-reaching effects.
• Pets need medications and other products like shampoos and parasite control to ensure they enjoy the peak health and wellness they deserve. Hence, the pharmaceutical industry is also heavily represented by companies producing all manner of lotions and potions for animals – involving more chemical waste and high-energy manufacturing processes.
• And what about the impact of domestic animals on the finely balanced wildlife populations around us? A UK study showed that British cats with access to the outdoors were responsible for hunting more than 200 million small animals in a year! If your felonious feline has a penchant for a specific species and is an avid hunter, that local population doesn’t stand a chance. Certain pet dogs, particularly hunting breeds, are also players in the carnage. And, of course, untold numbers of starving strays and feral animals have to kill to survive.
SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER? NO PETS?
One respondent to a ‘no holds barred’ article on pets and sustainability printed in the US Guardian stated: “You’ll prise my pet out of my cold, dead hands!” Pets are our family and there is no more sense in telling pet parents to stop keeping pets, than there is in saying that parents of human children should give these up too, due to their impact on the environment. We would, in any case, make the greatest environmental impact if we all gave up our vehicles. But, there are a few areas, that can dramatically affect the pressure that the pet population worldwide places on our planet, that each of us can consider and adapt to suit our lifestyles.
- Check out the manufacturers
Before choosing the brand or type of food you wish to feed your pet, research the manufacturing processes employed by the supplier, their commitment to responsible environmental practices and the type of packaging they utilise. This applies, too, to Raw and Meat- Based Diets (RMBDs), which tend to use a lot of packaging for safety reasons. Twisted Whiskers supports only those suppliers we know have strict environmental policies in place. These manufacturers continually strive to reduce their burden on precious resources, for example, by using grey water wherever possible, building plants that require less energy to sustain, using fish products from sustainable marine sources, and packaging the finished products using recyclable or bio-degradable materials.
The ingredients are worth a great deal of thought too. Some feel that pets should be fed lower quality diets that make use of all the off-cuts rejected in the manufacture of human foods. While there is much sense in this argument in terms of sustainability, we know that dogs and cats thrive and enjoy increased longevity when fed premium-quality diets.
There is also the counter-argument that pets who eat good food absorb more and excrete less. We feel there’s a good balance here. A top-quality, animal-based product doesn’t have to exclude grains or other carbohydrates, although the ‘Grain Free’ trend is currently growing in the pet-care industry. Much research has, in fact, proven that dogs and cats very seldom have problems digesting grains (as many humans do). Grains can form a very useful part of a balanced diet for them, and can contribute valuable proteins, too, when combined with other meat-based proteins. Grain production, in turn, is gentler on the environment. Also look at the sustainability of the particular meat protein sources in your chosen pet food brand. Beef production, for example, has the heaviest impact on our planet, while chicken is relatively light. Also beware of products made from ‘exotic’ game products like bison, wild boar, etc. How are those wild populations being sustained, given the mass production of foods now containing these ingredients? A final interesting thought on the pet food debate: TW management recently visited the world’s largest pet-industry trade expo, Interzoo, in Munich and attended a talk on sustainability in the pet industry. The speaker, a highly-recognised expert in the field, believes that the only truly sensible and sustainable protein for the pet industry to utilise is insect protein. And there are currently companies working on insect-protein pet diets. They are packed with all the amino acids our pets require for health and well-being and bugs are certainly a very sustainable commodity. Watch this space!
- Waste Disposal
You may think that disposing of your dog’s poop in a bio-degradable poop-bag is a responsible environmental decision but even bio-degradable bags can take over 10 years to break down! While scooping up after your pooch on a walk is an hygienic and often mandatory practice, most bags used aren’t degradable and all that doggy-doo ends up immortalised in plastic, in a landfill. It’s not a great idea to flush pet poop either, as it’s too nitrogen-rich for our wet ecosystems. Pet poop is best composted – but take care not to use it on your veggie garden, as it contains E Coli and other harmful bacteria.
Environmentally conscious cat parents should avoid clumping kitty litter at all costs. Clay is strip-mined, which is an incredibly harmful practice for the environment and the clumping material, sodium bentonite, acts like expanding cement – it’s also used in grouting, sealing and plugging products in the construction sector – and may clog up your fur-child’s insides as he grooms. The silica dust contained in other absorbable litter can also coat cats’ lungs. Choose environmentally-friendly litters that are safe for kitty and safe for the planet. There are a number of these available at Twisted Whiskers – they can be flushed safely, or composted.
- Reuse and Recycle
Our pets don’t need expensive, mass-produced, heavily-packaged toys to have fun. We know how much joy they get out of hiding in cardboard boxes or chasing old tennis balls. There are thousands of ideas online for making your own pet toys out of recycled items around the home. And if you don’t have time to get crafty and are looking for a special toy for Max and Luna, invest in well-made, durable ones that won’t be shredded in 2 seconds and need to be replaced weekly. TW sells a range of top-quality toys that can withstand the most determined chewers for years and can even be popped into the washing machine or dishwasher to ensure hygiene. We are committed to stocking our stores with more items from suppliers who use natural or environmentally-safe materials and minimal packaging.
Remember to recycle your pet food packaging. But before you do so, bear in mind that the bulk food bags can be used as very useful interim holders for garden refuse destined for the compost heap – the 20kg and 40kg bags make gathering trimmings a breeze.
- Adopt, Don’t Shop
It goes without saying that sterilising our pets is the only way to prevent millions more unwanted pets overpopulating the earth. If you’re looking for a new furry member of the family, think about adopting rescue animals, rather than fuelling the demand for the breeding of more pets. If you’re after a specific breed, there are rescue organisations looking for loving homes for practically every breed known to mankind.
- Watch Unnecessary Energy Output
Do you leave heaters on for your pets in cold weather? Rather purchase a self-heating mat for their igloo or kennel. Does the water fountain run all day, unused, when your animals prefer to lap from the bird bath? Do you leave the TV or radio on to keep your pets company while you’re away? Why not sign your pooch up at a doggy day-care facility where he can enjoy endless fun and socialise with other pets? Or create a special area of the garden (a sandpit is perfect), where all your pup’s favourite treats and toys are buried and where he can dig and play for hours without getting into mischief in other ‘off-limits’ parts of the home.
- Indoor vs. Outdoor
Many pets overseas are kept indoors due to various factors, from extreme weather to owners’ fears about dangers from predators or vehicles. In SA, our pets are still able to enjoy an outdoor environment for much of the time. But we need to be aware of their habits and take responsibility for their impact on our surroundings. Cats should wear safety collars with bells attached to alert unsuspecting prey. Or investigate the possibility of keeping your cat indoors with access to an enclosed outdoor exercise area like a ‘catio’, which is safe for both your cat and the critters in your garden and beyond.
- Type, size and number of pets
When you consider getting a pet, be it the very first furry bundle you welcome into your home, or a new addition, think about the potential carbon pawprint of the animal you have in mind. Smaller animals eat less, poop less and use smaller dosages of medications and other products than larger pets do. Cats eat diets higher in meat protein (which is more draining on resources), but also produce less waste than dogs, who eat a more omnivorous diet. If you and your family are especially invested in the idea of reducing or eliminating the consumption of animal products in your home, think about adopting a pet that thrives on a vegetarian diet, like birds, rabbits or hamsters, rather than trying to adapt the diet of carnivorous animals to suit your lifestyle. While many companies are now formulating ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’ dog and cat foods, these are NOT recommended and do not provide the nutrient profile necessary to promote health in dogs and cats. Also, pay careful attention to the amount of food your pets consume – pet obesity is an enormous problem and overfeeding is not only seriously damaging to your furkid’s health, but also wastes resources.
Despite the sobering wake-up call that pet parents have received from the scientific community, if we each take personal responsibility for our own carbon footprint, and our furry family’s carbon pawprint, Mother Earth will breathe a sigh of relief and scientists and engineers will be free to focus on solving a far more menacing problem: our collective ‘carbon tyre-track’.
Written By Twisted Whiskers