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How to Be a Sustainable Pet Owner: 10 Tips for Eco-Friendly Dog Ownership

Here are ten tips to empower you to bring sustainability into your relationship with your pup and reduce your carbon footprint... or should we say carbon pawprint.

How to Be a Sustainable Pet Owner: 10 Tips for Eco-Friendly Dog Ownership

Here are ten tips to empower you to bring sustainability into your relationship with your pup and reduce your carbon footprint... or should we say carbon pawprint.

by: Briahna Hendey, @boba.the.sustainable.mutt

Being a responsible pet parent can mean many things, but do you ever think about what it means to be environmentally responsible? There are an estimated 86.9 million dogs in the United States, which translates to some severe environmental impacts.

This article is for folks who can't imagine a world that doesn't revolve around their four-legged family members and are looking for ways to be a more sustainable pet owner. So, here are ten tips to empower you to bring sustainability into your relationship with your pup and reduce your carbon footprint... or should we say carbon pawprint.

Terrier dog run towards the camera with ball

Understand Your Dog's Needs

Buying less and buying better is one of the easiest and most effective ways to live sustainably. One of the keys to buying less is making sure that when you purchase anything (new or used), you do so intentionally. With this in mind, taking the time to understand what your pet needs is a great way to minimize unnecessary purchases. Needs can vary significantly between dogs, taking into account factors such as age, size, climate, personal preferences (such as enrichment preferences), and physical/medical conditions. 

Most of your dog's needs can be met without buying anything new, such as when it comes to enrichment. So before purchasing a new product for your pup, consider how it meets your specific dog's needs and whether or not you can meet that requirement without purchasing anything. If you do buy new, try to prioritize investing in well-made and responsibly sourced items.

Get Creative With Enrichment

Enrichment has become a buzzword of sorts and is often equated with feeding your dog food in an oddly shaped frozen toy. But enrichment is so much more than that. By definition, enrichment empowers dogs to engage in species-typical behaviors in appropriate ways that promote both physical and mental well-being, with the caveat that each dog has individual preferences. Figuring out what your dog finds enriching can take some trial and error, but that doesn't mean you need to buy every enrichment toy out there.

Consider the behavior that an enrichment toy encourages (licking, sniffing, problem-solving, etc.), and try to mimic that with items you might already have. For example, before buying a puzzle feeder, try going for a DIY solution by placing their food in an empty egg carton or a muffin pan. You can always increase the difficulty by adding tennis balls or other toys on top of the muffin pan's holes – make sure to go at a fun, not frustrating, pace for your pup.

Consider Pre-Loved Options

Before buying new, check out your local buy/sell/trade groups. You might have to check these pages regularly, but you'd be amazed at some of the high-end pet accessories that you can find for a fraction of their retail cost. Buying used is also an excellent option for trialing something before investing in a more long-term option. Similarly, used options are ideal if you have a growing puppy who will outgrow their gear quickly.

Repair Your Pet Toys and Gear

Extending the life of your dog's toys and gear is a critical way to reduce the amount you buy. Cheap-made products are often impossible to repair, so instead, buy from manufacturers who either directly offer replacement components or a repair warranty. With daily usage, even the best products will break with time, so repairability is critical.

Conversely, items like plush dog toys often fall into the category of planned obsolescence. Still, their lifespan can be significantly extended with the help of a needle and thread (your dog won't judge your sewing abilities). And while no toy is indestructible, those made from more durable fabric, such as hemp or cotton canvas, tend to be easier to sew and repair.

Dog plays tug with rope toy

Opt for Natural and Recycled Fibers

For plush toys and other fabric accessories (including dog beds), natural fibers like cotton, hemp, and wool are generally better for the environment. However, synthetic materials can be a more practical choice for items such as harnesses, leashes, or even raincoats for our dogs, owing to their durability and performance properties. Luckily, many manufacturers offer premium pet products made from recycled content. Recycling will never be the winning solution to our plastic problem. However, creating demand for recycled materials is still a vital piece of the puzzle. So, when you must buy new, and natural fibers aren't practical for your needs, consider gear made from recycled materials.

Woman throws away dog poop bag

Do Your Doody

Aside from being very unneighborly, not picking up your pet’s waste is terrible for the environment! Dog poop contains pathogens and excess nutrients, which can harm waterways and human health. Indeed, dog poop doesn't simply decompose in the environment – it spreads pathogens like roundworms and E. coli. It causes algal blooms and excessive weed growth once it's made its way into waterways. In short, picking up your dog's waste is necessary to be an environmentally responsible pet guardian.

Repurposing old plastic bags is probably the most environmentally-sound way to scoop the poop, but the next best option is recycled poop bags. Certified compostable bags can be a great option if your municipality composts dog waste and compostable bags, but this is uncommon. Otherwise, compostable or biodegradable bags require more resources to make, and emit methane in landfill conditions, so traditional plastic poop bags are usually (and surprisingly) a more ecological option.

Native Pet Pumpkin Powder

Be Mindful of Treat and Food Packaging

Plastic might be nearly impossible to avoid in general. Still, with some intentionality, you can reduce the amount of plastic packaging you consume related to pet treats and food. Buying in bulk reduces the amount of packaging required per unit and is cheaper over the long term. Also, consider whether they come in recyclable packaging. For instance, aluminum is effortless to recycle, making products like Native Pet's Beef Bone Broth Powder or Pumpkin Powder a more environmentally sound choice. Dehydrated/powdered products also weigh less, use less packaging, and require fewer resources to transport, leading to fewer emissions and climate change-causing greenhouse gases being pumped into our atmosphere.

Dalmatian dog sniffs homemade dog treat

Make Your Own Treats

Making your own treats is a fun and cost-effective way to reduce the plastic packaging you buy. You can customize many recipes to fit your dog's needs and preferences, so the options are endless. If you're motivated to cook, fresh-cooked dog food with human-grade ingredients can also be a great way to reduce packaging and help you keep an eye on what your dog is eating. Just be sure to consult a veterinary nutritionist first, because most online dog food recipes are far from nutritionally balanced.

Look for More Sustainable Proteins

The environmental impacts of our pets' foods are far from negligible – one study estimated that the American dogs' and cats' diets are responsible for nearly one-third of the environmental impacts attributed to animal production. However, feeding your dog a more sustainable pet food doesn’t require them to give up their carnivore card (vegetarianism isn't recommended for dogs based on current evidence). Instead, opt for diets utilizing ethically sourced meats with lower environmental impacts, such as animal proteins with lower carbon footprints (like poultry instead of beef), the nutritious cuts of meat that most Americans don't prefer to eat (like organ meats), or even an invasive fish species. Of course, no dietary decisions should be made without first consulting your vet.

Sustainable Pet Ownership is Possible

Last but certainly not least, don't be afraid to stop and smell the roses with your pup. The human world might be racing through the planet's limited resources, but dogs are a wonderful reminder to slow down and be present in our environment. Taking care of the Earth doesn’t have to mean sacrificing having fun with your furry friend. You can be an eco-friendly pet owner by slowing down and taking stock of everything from pet toys to food products and everything in between.

illustration of dog's tail & the dog is digging

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illustration of dog's tail & the dog is digging
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