There are almost 77 million pet dogs in the United States. That’s a whole lot of bags of poop being sent to landfills! Cumulatively, our beloved companions have a major environmental impact—in fact, one study has found that a medium-sized dog has the same carbon footprint as a large SUV.
So how can we care for our dogs in the most eco-friendly way possible and protect the planet’s living systems for all creatures?
1. Pick a Sustainable Dog Food
Dogs’ number-one contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions comes from the food they eat. As omnivores, dogs evolved to rely on meat in their diet — but animal agriculture is a huge source of methane and other greenhouse gases, uses a lot of water, and raises animal-welfare concerns.
So how can dog owners nourish their pets while minimizing their carbon footprint? These days, some vegetarian and even vegan dog food brands are available—but veterinary nutritionists caution that not all veggie and vegan dog food is created equal, and that there’s a risk that dogs fed these diets will miss out on crucial nutrients. If you’re considering switching your pup to a plant-based diet, make sure to consult a nutritionist to make sure they’ll be getting all the nourishment they need.
Alternatively, plenty of dog foods use meat and other animal proteins in a sustainable way. As a rule of thumb, minimize foods containing red meats, which are much more environmentally intensive to produce. And choosing organic products protects both your dog and the land from the harmful chemicals in many fertilizers and pesticides.
But remember: dogs aren’t humans. It’s tempting to reach for the top-shelf, human-grade dog foods as a sign of love for our pooches, but dogs are just as happy to eat organs and other offcuts that humans typically discard, creating food waste. In fact, organ meat in particular can be dense in the kind of nutrients that make dogs thrive. So think twice before reaching for the dog food made only of “prime cuts.”
One growing innovation is to use crickets (yes, the insects) as the protein base for dog foods. Cricket-based dog food uses a tiny fraction of the resources used to rear farm animals, and produces a tiny fraction as many greenhouse gases. As an added bonus, many dog owners have found that crickets are a great protein source for dogs with food sensitivities, particularly those who struggle to digest chicken, beef, pork, and other meats.
Finally, don’t feed your dog more than they need. Up to 19 percent of dogs in the United States are obese—a lose-lose situation that’s bad for the dog and creates unnecessary consumption.
2. Find an Eco-friendly Way To Dispose of Your Dog’s Waste
Let’s talk about poop. American dogs produce more than 10 million tons of it every year. That’s 30 times the weight of the Empire State Building in dog poop! And when you consider that the EPA has declared dog poop a pollutant and even a hazard to human health—that’s a problem.
So how should you dispose of dog poop? First and foremost, don’t just leave it. Dog poop contains bacteria and viruses that can harm humans and other animals, especially if they seep into the ground and groundwater. For the same reason, dog poop can’t be composted in a normal backyard compost heap.
But bagging the poop and throwing it in the trash raises its own problems—remember, plastic bags can take hundreds of years to decompose. Recent years have brought the “green” alternative of compostable dog-poop bags, and while it’s always a good idea to avoid using unnecessary plastic, compostable bags bring their own problems. When they’re sent to landfill, they degrade quickly, allowing poop (and its pathogens) to seep into the ground and water supply, and releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
So what should you do? Some suggestions:
Check waste-disposal regulations in your area. Some municipalities allow dog poop to be collected in green bins, for commercial composting.
Scoop the poop and flush it down the toilet. Note: do not flush poop bags, since they’ll clog the sewage system.
Check for private dog-waste disposal services in your area. Some regions now have access to composting services designed specifically for dog poop, such as Green Pet in Portland, Oregon, and EnviroWagg in Aurora, CO.
Compost the waste yourself. Though dog poop should not go in a typical backyard compost bin, custom-made composters can make it safe to dispose of outside, with the addition of septic tablets to promote decomposition. You can build a DIY composter or buy one—Doggie Dooley makes some of the most popular.
3. Choose Non-toxic Grooming Products and Medications
Flea and tick treatments can be trickier, since these medications often contain some of the most harmful chemicals, and yet it’s important that whatever alternative you choose still be effective, especially if you live in an area with lots of tick-borne illness.
When it comes to tick medications, consult your veterinarian—they’ll be a good source of advice on which treatments are really needed in your region, how often treatment is required, and whether any effective green alternatives exist.
4. Try Making Dog Treats at Home
Homemade dog treats tick many boxes: they eliminate the unnecessary packaging that comes with store-bought treats, they allow you to select the ingredients that work best for your pup, you can use ingredients you already have instead of buying new products, and they can be fun to make as a family activity. Choosing plant-based ingredients will keep the treats eco-friendly—look out for recipes including nut butters and healthy produce, such as apples and pumpkins. Here’s one batch of lip-smacking recipes. There are also some eco-friendly pet treats available for purchase.
5. Dog Toys: Buy Sparingly and Avoid Plastic
Who doesn’t love to see Fido joyfully chewing on a toy? But beware: not only do plastic dog toys contribute to plastic pollution, taking up to a thousand years to decompose and wreaking havoc on ecosystems, they might also be poisoning your pet.
Since dog toys aren’t regulated in the same way as toys for children, you never really know what you’re getting, and plastic dog toys—especially those worn down by vigorous chewing—have been found to contain high levels of toxic BPA and phthalates.
If you’re concerned about plastic pollution and toxicity, try sticking to toys made of natural materials, like hemp, natural rubber, bamboo, and canvas or recycled dog toys. You could even try making your own toys, using things you have around the house—saving money and resources, and keeping the toxic plastics to a minimum.
6. Dog Wear: Durable and biodegradable
Same as humans, our dogs deserve to be well-dressed. While choosing the best wear for them, it is our responsibility to make sure the pieces are eco-friendly to the earth. Always look for long lasting fashion pieces that are made of sustainable materials e.g. recycled cotton, silk. Instead of fast fashion or seasonal clothes that only can be worn occasionally, choose something that is simple and evergreen.