Owning a pet is a wonderful privilege, which enriches our lives in so many ways. In this article, we have a look at the ecological impact of choosing to own a pet.
In the US, the pet food industry is responsible for about 25% of the environmental impact from animal production.
Dogs are omnivores and are most commonly fed a meat or fish based diet. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must have meat to remain healthy.
However, there has been a trend in recent years to feed our pets human grade food. This might be a premium manufactured pet food or home prepared.
We can reduce the environmental impact of our pets by choosing food that is not formulated using premium cuts. Instead, look for the by-products and offal which do not make the human market.
This has not been shown to be detrimental to our animals. Indeed, people used to eat “nose-to-tail” to make sure nothing was wasted, but our tastes have changed with increasing affluence.
If you are feeding a home prepared diet, we would advise that you discuss it with your veterinarian to ensure you are meeting all the nutritional requirements.
Food goes in one end, and waste material out the other! Animal waste can carry diseases, but can also build up and affect the ecosystem. We keep pets in a much greater density than would be supported in a natural ecosystem. It is important to clean up after them, even if it is not directly where people would walk.
Single use plastics
On the subject of waste, the majority of people use small bags to pick up and dispose of waste. We are becoming far more aware of the negative impact of single use plastics. Switching our bags to biodegradable versions is an important step.
Most kitty litter is based around silica clay because of its clumping characteristics. Clay is obtained through strip-mining, a destructive technique that can obliterate ecosystems, displace wildlife and contaminate water systems. The minerals in the clay itself can also cause issues with the respiratory systems of some cats.
You can buy eco-friendly brands that are produced from wood waste or recycled newspaper. There are even some made from fibre from annual food crops such as maize and wheat.
Our pets share our homes and often our beds. We want them to be clean and free from parasites for their benefit as well as ours. However, the market for grooming and parasiticide products has boomed. Many of these products are laden with chemicals like neonicotinoids which enter the water system, adversely affecting micro-organisms and insects.
Choosing organic products and using flea combs and natural repellents will reduce the amount of chemicals we release. However, in some cases it is important to have good parasite control in place to protect vulnerable members of the family. Consult your veterinarian first.
New plastic toys
There is a huge range of entertainment available for our pets these days. More and more of them are plastic based because they are cheap to make and brightly coloured. Some are even electronic so that they can be plugged in to amuse your pets while you are out.
The environmental cost of all this plastic and energy use can be avoided by looking for toys made from natural or recycled materials. You can also check thrift stores for second hand toys. Learning how to make your own can be a good way to add variety to play time.
Owning a pet is a huge responsibility, both to the animal and also to the environment. Overpopulation of pets can only add to the burden on the environment and on rescue charities and shelters.
Unplanned or unwanted litters contribute significantly to this overpopulation. Whether or not to neuter your pet is a major decision with lots of factors to consider.
However, pet ownership does carry the duty of ensuring that your pet is not reproducing unless planned.
Finally, adopting from a shelter instead of buying a puppy reduces the economic pressure which drives breeding and overpopulation.