A number of years ago, a New Zealand study conducted by Robert and Brenda Vale compared the carbon footprint of the average, medium-sized dog against a Toyota Land Cruiser with shocking findings: It turns out that your beloved four-legged companion leaves a carbon footprint that’s 50 percent larger than the popular SUV. As we all know, SUVs aren’t exactly known for being an eco-conscious investment, making these findings all the more surprising.
But how can that be? The study looked at resource consumption, comparing the resources required to feed your average dog over its lifespan – including the land necessary for the animals that go into a dog’s food – against the resources required to build and fuel a Toyota Land Cruiser. The study also examined the carbon footprint of the average cat, which they found to be comparable to that of a Volkswagen Golf, a hamster, found to be similar to that of a flat-screen TV, and a goldfish, found to be similar to the carbon footprint of a cell phone.
While some skeptics expressed doubt over the accuracy of these findings, particularly in relation to the dogs vs. Toyota Land Cruisers comparison, the study does raise an important point: what can we do as pet owners to reduce the environmental impact of raising and caring for our pets and keeping them happy, healthy, and entertained? Fortunately, there are many ways you can reduce your pet’s carbon footprint by making more eco-conscious choices about the products you purchase and use for your pet.
1. Make your own dog treats.
You could easily visit the nearest grocery store and find a variety of dog treats that your dog will thoroughly enjoy, but it’s just as easy to make your own. Not only do you have complete control over the ingredients your dog is ingesting when you do so, it can be safer for your dog, as well. Why? Take a look at the number of dog foods and treats that have been recalled in the past few years. While most companies attempt to follow sound manufacturing practices, a single mishap can result in the contamination of mass quantities of products that are already on retail shelves.
Sure, there are plenty of all-natural and organic dog treats that you can purchase online or in stores, but these products often cost more than traditional dog treats, meaning that making your own treats can be a cost-saving initiative, too.
If your dog suffers from allergies or is on a special diet, having more control over the ingredients in your dog’s treats provides peace of mind for dedicated pet parents. That said, you should do your research – it’s not a bad idea to talk to your dog’s veterinarian, either – to be sure that you’re not using ordinary household ingredients that may seem harmless but are actually toxic to dogs. Nutmeg, for instance, is a no-no, as well as grapes, raisins, and currants, xylitol and other artificial sweeteners, fruit seeds and pits, and other ingredients.
2. Choose organic foods.
Commercial dog foods, like dog treats, may be subject to safety recalls, so it’s important to stay on top of the latest safety information. The FDA’s section on Animal and Veterinary products is a reliable and current source of information, but there are many other trustworthy resources that aim to keep pet owners informed as well.
The food you feed your dog is one of the biggest contributors to your pup’s overall carbon footprint, and meat-based diets are a bigger culprit in this regard. Your canine, of course, requires protein, but you can get good nutritional value out of by-products – which are perfectly suitable for your pet when sourced and prepared properly.
Organ meats, for instance, and other trimmings that humans don’t tend to consume are often good choices if you’re feeding your dog a raw diet and want to minimize your carbon footprint. Eggs and dairy products may be good options, too, depending on the diet you choose for your pet and your personal preferences. If you purchase your dog’s food, choose natural and organic products with the shortest ingredients lists.
3. Create an upcycled dog bed.
You can spend several hundred dollars on a dog bed that promises to provide support for achy joints or hip dysplasia, only to discover that the bed is constructed of recycled fabrics and blankets. While it’s certainly worth investing in a good dog bed if your dog has specific medical needs, make sure you know what you’re purchasing.
If it’s something you can easily make yourself, do so. You can make a custom-made (and trendy) dog bed out of just about anything, from old fleece blankets to suitcases, wooden shipping pallets, and more. Old sheets, pillows, and curtains make for excellent dog bed materials, too.
4. DIY dog toys are just as entertaining for your favorite canine.
Buying dog toys can be frustrating if your dog is a chewer. You know the type – the dogs that can manage to rip even the most robust, durable toys to shreds in minutes. Not only is it not cost-effective to continue purchasing toys from a retailer that your dog will destroy in mere minutes, but you can get more use out of ordinary things that you’re no longer using and cut down on your carbon footprint by reducing consumption and getting more mileage out of stuff lying around the house that you no longer use.
You probably have dozens of objects lying around that can be transformed into a fun and engaging toy for your pup if you know where to look. If you have old blue jeans lying around, for instance, cut them up into shorter pieces and tie each piece into a big, thick knot. The result looks uncannily like the tug toys you’d find at your local retailer. Or, cut your old jeans into strips and tie several together with a knot in the middle or braid them. You can do the same thing with old shirts.
If your dog is the type that likes to snatch empty water bottles and gets hours of fun from listening to the crinkly sound it makes while she chews it, grab an old shirt, wrap it around the bottle, and cut and braid the remaining fabric at one end. You can turn just about any kind of rope into an intriguing toy with braids or knots. If your dog is inquisitive, a discarded piece of PVC pipe can be easily transformed into a treat puzzle. The possibilities are endless; the key is knowing your dog, understanding her habits, and choosing safe materials that won’t pose a danger to your pet.
5. Natural dog shampoos are both eco- and pet-friendly.
Every dog needs a bath at least occasionally. Eco-conscious dog shampoos can help you further minimize your carbon footprint, and many eco-friendly products are safer for your dog. Choose products made of natural, non-toxic, organic, and bio-degradable ingredients whenever possible. Dogs tend to lick their fur following a bath, so any remaining residue from shampoo products may be ingested by your dog. No matter how miniscule the amount, exposing your dog to toxic ingredients is dangerous.
As with all such products, you may pay more for all-natural and organic dog shampoo. If you want to save a few bucks while you’re saving the environment, you can make your own flea shampoo, dry shampoo, and even dog shampoo for dogs with dry skin using simple ingredients like baking soda, corn starch, vinegar, and ordinary dish soap.
6. Prevention is key for fleas and ticks.
Commercial flea and tick prevention and treatment products can be frightening for the eco-minded consumer. Many of these products are made with chemical pesticides, which aren’t ideal for your dog’s health or the environment. Prevention is the name of the game when it comes to pests, but there are natural and eco-friendly options that can help your pet remain pest-free by repelling fleas, ticks, and other annoying pests like mosquitoes using ingredients such as vinegar and essential oils.
Always thoroughly examine your dog for ticks after he spends time outdoors and promptly remove ticks using the proper tick removal method. The more promptly you find and remove ticks from your dog, the lower your dog’s risk of infection of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. Checking your dog for ticks regularly is especially important if you live in a region with a large tick population.
Don’t feel guilty about your dog’s carbon footprint. Instead, make some simple changes and smart buying choices that are better for your dog’s health and also eco-conscious. There are many ways you can reduce your dog’s environmental impact – and doing so will minimize your family’s overall impact on the environment, as well. You might even be inspired to start making more eco-conscious choices in other areas of your life, too.
About the Author
Caitlin McCormack is a freelance lifestyle writer and a frequent contributor at Pet Life Today. Caitlin is based in the great white north in friendly Toronto, Canada. She lives with her husband, two sons, rescue dog, and cat. Caitlin is passionate about helping pet parents learn about the newest, trendiest, and most helpful products to help their four-legged friends live a long and happy life. She’s always had a pet in her life — from ferrets and cockatiels to mice, fish, dogs, and cats, and has been writing about pet-focused topics, advice and trends since 2012, and was previously the editor and contributor for Yahoo Canada Pets’ popular website.