How to be a Sustainable Pet Parent

Marley Flueger
May 26, 2022

Depending on their size and lifestyle, a dog or cat can emit 500-2,500 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year. For context, that’s similar to the annual emissions of an average person in dozens of countries, including India, Ghana, Cambodia and Ecuador. 

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a pet, or that pet ownership is inherently bad for the planet. After all, the goal of tackling the climate crisis is to create a just, sustainable future for all life on Earth. That includes people, plants and wildlife – and our furry sidekicks. 

Some even argue pets can have mitigating climate effects if they encourage us to live more sustainably. Instead of booking a high-carbon flight for a weekend getaway, for instance, we might walk to a pup-friendly brewery or go camping nearby instead.

Just like in our own lives, we can make smart choices about how we raise our pets to reduce their environmental impact. Simple swaps can make a big difference, we just need to build an intuition for what matters most.  

Sustainable pet parenting is a lot like sustainable human living

Many of the same principles that apply to sustainable human living apply to sustainable pet parenting. At a high level, the concepts to keep in mind are: 

  • Pick plant-forward diets and lower-carbon meat choices
  • Look for natural ingredients, materials, and packaging
  • Buy less and adopt a minimalistic mentality
  • Buy high-quality, durable products
  • Reuse, repair, and shop secondhand
  • Minimize waste and dispose of it carefully

Sustainable pet ownership starts on day one – and applies to decisions you make throughout your pet’s whole life. If you’re ready to share your life with a new pet, keep these tips in mind. 

1. Choosing Your Pet 

Adopt instead of buying

According to the ASPCA, around 6.5 million pets enter US animal shelters each year. Adoption provides a home to animals who are already on Earth and need caring for. Breeders, on the other hand, are in the business of creating as many new beings as possible – which creates additional demand for Earth’s finite resources. 

Choose a low ”pawprint” pet

In general, the larger the animal, the larger its environmental impact. Cats and smaller dogs eat less, drink less, and produce less waste than large breeds. Pint-sized, herbivore companions like rabbits, gerbils, and hamsters have even smaller carbon “pawprints.”

Spay and neuter your pets

Spaying and neutering lessen the burden and resource draw of overpopulation. They also extend your pet’s life-expectancy. According to the Humane Society, fixed cats live 39-62% longer, and fixed dogs live 18-26% longer. That’s a lot of dog years! 

Though prices vary, spaying and neutering isn’t always cost-prohibitive. According to GoodRX, you’ll pay around $50 - $80 at a non-profit animal clinic and may even be able to access these services for free at the Human Society. It’s also included in certain pet wellness plans, so be sure to ask your vet! 

2. Your Pet’s Diet

Our pets’ diets demand more from our food system than you think. According to research, pets are responsible for 25-30% of the environmental impacts of US meat production, which makes food bowls a powerful place for climate action. 

In general, the same principles that apply to human food apply to pet food. Plant proteins are significantly less-carbon intensive than meat, white meat is better than red meat, and fish and seafood can be climate-friendly options – but should always be source

Lead With Plants

If you have a dog, consider feeding them a mostly- or fully-vegetarian diet. Plant proteins produce up to 50 times fewer emissions than meat. Since canines are omnivores, they can sustain a balanced, plant-forward diet with relative ease. 

While it’s less widespread in Europe and North America, vegetarian puppers are common in many countries. However, it’s important to be intentional about creating a balanced, healthy diet for your dog. Wild Earth, Halo Holistic, and V-Dog Kind Kibble are a few reputable vegetarian choices – just be sure to consult your vet before making any changes. 

White Meat Over Red

For carnivore cats and omnivore dogs, choose animal proteins with the lowest carbon footprints. This includes poultry, which produces around ten times fewer emissions than beef, and responsibly-sourced seafoods like mackerel or sardines. 

Some pet foods cut meat content by adding plants like sweet potatoes, carrots, and rice. This is perfectly fine and can reduce your pet’s carbon footprint even further. Again, just check with your vet to make sure your pet is getting a balanced diet. 

Other Sustainable Swaps

  • Make your own. Consider making homemade pet food and treats to avoid packaging waste and environmentally-harmful ingredients like palm oil. 
  • Don’t overfeed. We all love spoiling our pets – almost as much as they love getting spoiled. Unfortunately, overfeeding is bad for their health and their dietary emissions.  
  • Buy brands that use leftovers. Find brands that utilize animal “leftovers” that humans won’t eat, like cuts and organs that would otherwise be wasted. Stella & Chewy and Primal both use parts like the gizzard, liver, neck in their chicken formulas. 
  • Choose pro-planet packaging. Aluminum and cardboard food containers are easiest to recycle. For dry-food, consider buying in bulk to reduce packaging.
  • Avoid food waste. Opt for dry or canned goods over perishable pet food. Follow storage directions closely to keep food from spoiling.

3. Pet Supplies and Toys

It’s important to have the right supplies to raise your pet – and toys are just plain fun. Just like for humans, a few simple principles can help make shopping for your pet more sustainable (and affordable!). 

  • Buy less, buy quality. It’s tempting to treat your pet to cutesy collars, costumes, and toys every chance you get - but it’s not very sustainable. Focus on buying fewer, higher-quality items that your pet can enjoy for years to come. 
  • Use what you have. Your pet won’t mind if it’s eating out of your old cereal bowl as long as there’s yummy food in it. Knotted up ratty t-shirts make great pull-toys. Old quilts and blankets make cozy beds that smell like their favorite person. 
  • Shop secondhand. Buy pre-loved pet supplies and toys as often as you can. Look for things like crates, litter boxes, and feeding bowls at thrift stores, on Facebook marketplace and in local freecycle groups
  • Buy sturdy & sustainable. When you do buy new, choose durable products made from sustainable, recycled, or natural materials. If you’re in the US, Earthhero is a great place to start, and there are many emerging independent sustainable brands.

4. Pet Care & Wellness

How we care for and spend time with our pets - and even what we do with their poop - can have a real effect on their environmental impact. Here are a few helpful rules of thumb. 

  • Keep it in the neighborhood. If you need someone to check on or walk your pet regularly, find someone who can walk to your home. This negates the environmental impact of several commutes per week - a significant amount of annual emissions.
  • Planet friendly activities. Our furry friends can help us adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Our pets, our bodies, and the planet all benefit from carbon-free activities like walks, hiking, and fetch (and lots of it!). 
  • Practice proactive care. Pet wellness plans help maintain pet health rather than addressing only sickness. This can help us avoid bleeding money and emissions for treatments that prolong our pet’s lives over their quality. Wagmo offers flexible plans you can customize for your pets unique needs. 
  • Skip plastic poop bags. A dog who makes four poops a day will create 1,460 poops a year. That’s a lot of plastic bags! This list highlights biodegradable poop bags that actually return to nature (even in landfills) instead of polluting our environment. 
  • Use natural products. Many pet cleaning and hygiene products contain chemicals that can be harmful to animals, humans, and the planet. DC’s research has helpful recommendations on which chemicals specifically to avoid.

Build your carbon intuition with Joro

When it comes to pet ownership, the most sustainable action is one you’ll follow through on. That’s why our biggest tip is to identify which manageable changes you can make to have the biggest impact. When it comes to human carbon footprints, we take the same approach. 

Download Joro today to discover your biggest carbon drivers and build a climate action plan that works for you. 

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

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