You do your part to care for the planet: you recycle religiously, eat locally, don’t use plastic bags, fluorescent light bulbs or drink bottled water. Excellent! But what about your pet? As much as we wish it weren’t true, owning a pet isn’t exactly eco-friendly. Our cats and dogs require huge amounts of food, water and other resources, which, in our climate-constrained world, can be a real problem. The good news is, there is a way to sustainable pet ownership, and in this article, we share some of the most important tips on how to go green with your pet.
1. Buy Sustainable Cat Food
All animals have to eat, and our carnivore kitties are no exception. The only problem is, a meat-based diet has a negative impact on our environment, mainly due to high carbon dioxide emissions. However, you can greatly reduce your cat’s carbon footprint (pawprint?) by shopping wisely and responsibly.
Sure, felines need meat to thrive, but does your cat really need to eat a beef-based diet? Hint: they don’t! As some of you may already know, it takes significantly more precious resources such as land and water to produce a pound of beef as compared to producing a pound of chicken. According to Smithsonian, it’s 10 times more resources! So next time you find yourself stuck between deciding which flavor of cat food to buy, pick those based on animal meat that is lower on the food chain, such as chicken, turkey or rabbit. When shopping for fish-based recipes, look for seafood that is sustainably harvested, like sardines, herring and mackerel, and you’ll be an ocean friendly pet owner as well.
If you can afford it, buy organic cat food. Organic farming is better for the environment as it helps preserve the integrity of the land and water. As a bonus, it’s healthier for our pets because organic recipes use ingredients free from synthetic pesticides. Healthier and more sustainable pet food? Check and check!
2. Say NO to Human-Grade Pet Food
I can already hear some of the pet parents saying: “What do you mean say no to human-grade pet food, isn’t that supposed to guarantee better quality of food!?” NO. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s necessary both for our planet’s and your wallet’s sake.
The term “human-grade” has no legal definition or meaning; in other words, it doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about the quality of food or its nutritional value. For a product to be edible for humans (not human-grade, as that term has no definition), it needs to be manufactured, packed and held with certain federal regulations; meaning, the product must never leave the human food production chain. Now, it’s actually possible for pet food manufacturers to meet these standards, and if they do, they can label their products human-grade. However, these foods can be extraordinarily (and might we say, unnecessarily) expensive. Not to mention, formulating such pet foods means using high-quality ingredients that humans could eat – hardly sustainable.
Of course, your cat does deserve best, but so do other people and there is literally no reason for your pet to compete for the same food that you may be buying for yourself. Sure, reward yourself with a nice steak once a month if you like it, but don’t feed it to your cat! Cats can live healthily and happily on organ meats and less perfect trimmings, also known as meat byproducts. Indeed, named meat by-products are both healthy and sustainable for pets to consume, so don’t be afraid if you cannot afford super-expensive organic cat foods – stick to reputable brands that use sustainable ingredients and you’ll be all set!
3. Choose Eco-Friendly Cat Litter
Out of all sustainable pet products, finding a good eco-friendly cat litter may be the hardest for most cat owners. Why is that? For one, many kitties are very particular with their litter and once they learn to use and like one type, they’d rather not switch to another. Two, most eco-friendly cat litters are quite expensive. And three, there seems to be general confusion over what exactly makes a cat litter eco-friendly.
Before we jump into potential solutions to these problems, let’s quickly talk about why regular cat litter is so bad for the environment. Most of the clay (silica) litter is made of bentonite clay, which is obtained through strip mining (also known as surface mining), an extremely harmful process that destroys the local environment, ecosystems and water sources. And that dust you see when scooping your cat’s waste? It’s harmful to both you and your pet as it can cause upper respiratory problems and even asthma! Clearly, traditional clay litter is a big no-no, so let’s get back to those green litter solutions.
So, problem No.1 – feline preference. If you’ve been using clumping clay litter for years and now you want to switch to, let’s say plant litter, it’s possible your cat won’t take to it no matter how much you beg them. Luckily, I know of a trick that may help you graduate your kitty from clay litter to something more green. First, don’t switch suddenly and abruptly – let your cat get used to the new litter slowly, step by step. In practical terms, this means mixing your cat’s favorite litter with the new, eco-friendly litter 70:30 (in favor of old litter) for the first 3-4 days. Then, as you start scooping out the waste, start adding more and more sustainable litter and less and less clay litter. Soon, there will be a 50:50 ratio of new to old litter, then 70:30, and before you or your cat know it, there will be 100% new, eco-friendly litter in the litter box. The trick is not to disturb your cat’s bathroom habits overnight – by switching from one type of litter to another slowly, you’ll let them get used to it naturally.
Onto the price point problem. Yes, most green cat litters are more expensive than regular supermarket clay litters. However, many plant fiber litters (my favorite is wood fiber!) absorb urine and moisture better than clay, making them more long-lasting and therefore about the same price (depending on the price of your usual clay litter of course). Secondly, with plant litter, there is ZERO dust! This is great news for both your and your kitty’s health; and you know what they say, you can’t put a price on health.
Finally, let’s talk about what makes a litter eco-friendly. First, it needs to be 100% biodegradable. Second, it needs to be obtained via sustainable measures, meaning not from precious and ever-dwindling resources. Also, green litter should be perfectly natural and healthy for both cats and humans. Ideally, it should also be compostable. So, what does that leave us with?
- Pine wood pellets and other wood fiber
- Corn, wheat and other grains
- Beet pulp
- Old newspapers
- Clumping sawdust
Basically, any material that is all-natural, biodegradable, sustainable, renewable and safe. But what about other types of litter, like silica? And is crystal cat litter environmentally friendly? The simple and short answer to both of those questions is NO. Despite being dust-free, silica is not biodegradable and will end up sitting in a landfill, harming the environment. Likewise, like clay, crystal litter is obtained through strip mining, so again, it’s detrimental to the environment. All in all, we highly encourage you to try a couple of different eco-friendly cat litters as they’re immeasurably better for the environment, as well as your own and your cat’s health. Also, don’t forget to dispose of your kitty’s litter the right way!
4. Switch to Green(er) Toys
Playing and hunting is in our feline companions’ blood, so depriving them of their toys would be crazy, if not cruel. The good news is, you don’t have to! You can be a sustainable cat owner and keep buying toys; however, you do need to make sure you’re buying eco-friendly cat toys and not products made of plastic, polyester fiberfill (poly-fill), or stuff with a ton of unnecessary packaging. Eco pet products, specifically cat toys, should be made of sustainable materials, or alternatively, recycled materials like cardboard and fabric – even recyclable plastic is better than brand new one!
Look for toys made from:
- Bamboo and other wood
- Recycled cardboard
- Recycled fabric and rags
- Recycled plastic
If your kitty is a fan of stuffed animals, choose toys filled with organic catnip instead of polyfill. When it comes to scratching posts, it’s best to stick to scratchers made from recycled corrugated fiberboard – they’re satisfying to scratch and can be recycled once they’re completely worn out.
5. Use Eco-Friendly Grooming Products
While most cats don’t like or indeed need frequent baths, some kitties – such as hairless breeds or cats with very sensitive skin – do well with regular or at least occasional baths. If you’re bathing your cat, make sure you’re buying pet-specific shampoos that are also completely natural. Choose products that come in eco-friendly packaging and use biodegradable ingredients instead of harsh chemicals. Likewise, opt for brushes made of wood like bamboo instead of plastic. Unfortunately, many sustainable pet brushes made of wood also include non-compostable bristles; you can avoid this problem by choosing products with boar’s hair bristles or bamboo bristles.
But even if you can’t find or afford 100% biodegradable brushes, don’t beat yourself up; 90% biodegradable is still better than 100% non-biodegradable!
Extra Tips on Sustainable Cat
When you first learn about the environmental impact of pet ownership, things can seem very disconcerting, however, if you follow these simple tips, there’s really nothing to worry about. Pets bring joy to our lives and we to theirs, so please don’t feel guilty about owning a cat (or multiple cats for that matter)! But if you really want to reduce your kitty’s carbon footprint, here are two more tips on how you can do that:
- Spay and neuter: to stop contributing to the pet overpopulation problem, consider spaying and neutering your cats. Female cats sexually mature early and can have up to 3 litters of kittens a year. However, don’t just neuter your female cats – toms are equally a part of the animal overpopulation problem and should be neutered too!
- Adopt, don’t shop: because many pet parents choose not to neuter their cats, there are many unplanned litters. This leads to stress on shelters that need to stay on top of feeding and caring for many stray, abandoned, and unwanted pets. To help with this problem, you can adopt rather than buy cats.
A big pawprint: The environmental impact of pet food – VetNutrition.Tufts.Edu