How to Go Green: Pets

Ah, the pitter patter of four-legged feet as they whip through your living room at overclocked speeds or uproot your prize gladiolas with manic fervor. But Snookiepuss and Mrs. Fluffypants are practically family, right? So why should they settle for anything less than top drawer when their health and wellbeing are at stake? Throw the planet a bone while you're at it; we've got the goods on how to reduce your pets' carbon paw prints--without making your wallet roll over and play dead.















Top Green Pet TipsFurther Reading on Green Pets
Green Pets: By The NumbersGreen Pet Reading: From the Archives
Where to Get Green Pet ProductsHow to Go Green: Index


Back To Top Λ

Top Green Pet Tips



  1. Adopt from a shelter
    Some pet breeders have only one goal--to raise large quantities of purebred animals for profit. They've also been pilloried for misdeeds such as overbreeding, inbreeding, poor veterinary oversight, lousy food and living conditions, overcrowding, and culling of unwanted animals. Why buy when you can adopt one of the 70,000 puppies and kittens born every day in the United States? Love knows no pedigree. Check out Petfinder.com to find your perfect match.

  2. Spay or neuter your pet
    Did we mention 70,000 puppies and kittens are born every day in the United States? That's 15 puppies and 45 kittens for every hairless biped that slides out of a birth canal. And "multiplying like bunnies" isn't just any old trope. We don't need any more homeless animals than we already have. As a bonus, spaying and neutering helps dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives by eliminating the possibility of uterine, ovarian, and testicular cancer, and decreasing the incidence of prostate disease.

  3. Rein in your pets; protect native wildlife
    Always keep your dog on a leash when outside, and confine your mangy feline indoors. Topped only perhaps by habitat destruction, cats are the biggest, baddest bird killers of all time. Even wind turbines have got nothing on them. While you may poo-poo high cat-related bird-mortality rates as collateral damage in the great Circle of Life, domestic cats do have an unfair advantage. Unlike wild predators, house cats are always well fed, well rested, and in tip-top fighting shape. They're also present in more concentrated (and rapidly increasing) numbers than say, the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike.

    That aside, two out of every three vets, according to the Humane Society of America, recommend keeping cats indoors, because of the dangers of cars, predators, disease, and other hazards. The estimated average life span of a free-roaming cat is less than three years; an indoors-only cat gets to live an average of 15 to 18 years. If kitty needs to heed the call of the wild, an outdoor cat enclosure is a good compromise.


  4. Swap out the junk food
    Most conventional pet-food brands you find at the supermarket consist of reconstituted animal by-products, otherwise known as low-grade wastes from the beef and poultry industries--you know, inedibles you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot fork. In fact, the animals used to make many pet foods are classified as "4-D," which is really a polite way of saying "Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Down (Disabled)" when they line up at the slaughterhouse. Unless that can of Chicken 'N Liver Delite explicitly states that it contains FDA-certified, food-grade meat, you should know that its contents are considered unfit for human consumption--but apparently good enough for your cat or pooch.

    Now, since nutrition is one of the key determinants of health and resistance to disease, ideally you'll want your pet's chow to be comparable in quality with what we would eat.

    Natural and organic pet foods use meats that are raised in sustainable, humane ways without added drugs or hormones, minimally processed, and preserved with natural substances, such as vitamins C and E. Certified-organic pet foods must meet strict USDA standards that spell out how ingredients are produced and processed, which means no pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, artificial preservatives, artificial ingredients or genetically engineered ingredients.


  5. Clean up their poop
    Scoop up your doggie doo in biodegradable poop bags so your buddy's No. 2 isn't immortalized in a plastic bag, while deep-sixed in a landfill somewhere for hundreds of years. Cat owners should avoid clumping clay litter at all costs. Not only is clay strip-mined (bad for the planet), but the clay sediment is also permeated with carcinogenic silica dust that can coat little kitty lungs (bad for the cat). Plus, the sodium bentonite that acts as the clumping agent can poison your cat through chronic ingestion through their fastidious need to groom. Because sodium bentonite acts like expanding cement--it's also used as a grouting, sealing, and plugging material--it can swell up to15 to18 times their dry size and clog up your cat's insides. Eco-friendly cat litters avoid these problems; a happy cat is a cat that doesn't claw your face off.

  6. Give them sustainable goods
    Your furry friends can get in on some saving-the-planet goodness, too--and have plenty of fun--with toys made from recycled materials or sustainable fibers (sans herbicides or pesticides) such as hemp. A hemp collar (with matching leash) is a rocking accessory for a tree-hugging mutt. These days, you can even get pet beds made with organic cotton or even recycled PET bottles.

  7. Use natural pet-care and cleaning products
    You don't use toxic-chemical-laced shampoos and beauty products, so lather up your cats and dogs (or ferrets, rabbits, or hamsters--we don't judge) with natural pet-care products, as well. And if your cat horks up a hairball, or Fifi doesn't make it all the way to the bathroom, clean up the mess with cleaning products that are as gentle on the planet as they are on your critters' delicate senses.

  8. Pets, not fads
    Sure, everyone's ovaries ping when they see a five-year-old moppet cradle a tiny chick or a bunny during Easter, but nature dictates that baby bunnies grow up into rabbits, and little chicks into full-size chickens. Unless everyone involved understands that a pet is a long-term commitment that involves demands on both their time and money, you're better off giving the kid a stuffed animal. Impulse buying (say, rushing out an grabbing the next available Dalmatian puppy after watching 101 Dalmatians) isn't a good idea, either, as the large numbers of fad dogs that pass through shelters (often to their death) can attest. Repeat after us--especially you, Paris Hilton: Pets are not fads or fashion accessories.

  9. Melt the ice, nicely
    Use a child- and pet-safe deicer such as Safe Paw's environmentally friendly Ice Melter. Rock salt and salt-based ice-melting products, which kids and animals might accidentally ingest, can cause health problems, while contaminating wells and drinking supplies.

  10. Tag your pet
    It might be a stretch to call inserting an electronic ID chip into your pet an eco-friendly move, but losing your buddy causes extreme emotional distress that turns you into nobody's friend. Then there's the paper waste from printing out Missing posters, the fuel cost of driving around your neighborhood trying to find them, the phone bill as you bawl your eyes out to everyone you know ... well, you get the idea. Ask your vet for more info. For hanging tags, check out these recyclable (and recycled) aluminum ID tags and these WaggTaggs made from recycled silver.

  11. Compost their poop
    American dogs and cats create 10 million tons of waste a year, and no one knows where it's going, according to Will Brinton, a scientist in Mount Vernon, Maine, and one of the world's leading authorities on waste reduction and composting.

    Most of our pets' poop either winds up in a landfill purgatory, where it's embalmed practically forever in plastic bags, or sits on the ground until the next rainstorm washes it into the sewer where it can drift on down to rivers and beaches. You can compost the poop--just don't use it with your vegetable garden, because the compost doesn't heat up enough to kill pathogens such as E. coli., which could contaminate your homegrown produce and land up in your (very unhappy) belly.
    If you have room in your backyard, you can bury an old garbage bin (note: far away from your vegetable garden) to use as a pet-waste composter. Or check out the Doggie Dooley. The makers of the Doggy Dooley also sell an enzymatic "Super Digester Concentrate" for your backyard pet septic system.


  12. Be a pet chef
    If you want to know exactly what is going into your furball's food dish, or your pet suffers from allergies, you can always make your own puppy (or kitty) chow. If the idea of becoming a fulltime pet chef is just crazy talk, making the occasional meal or treat is completely doable. Those broccoli stalks left over from your last stirfry also make some tasty morsels for your pup.

  13. Get crafty
    Your cat will love you forever if you grow your own organic catnip or cat grass. Scrap yarn and fabric you might otherwise toss can also easily be transformed into pet toys with some basic crafty know-how. And they wouldn't have had to be trucked thousands of miles just to get drooled on.

  14. Get ticks off
    While you don't want to douse your pet in toxins, it is also important to keep the bugs in check. Pets can carry ticks, and ticks can carry Lyme Disease, a serious and poorly understood disease that attacks the nervous system. If you live in an area where Lyme Disease is a risk, be very cautious and seek sound advice on keeping ticks off you and your furry friends.

  15. Offset your pet
    Maybe Scruffy will only drink water from an electric-powered water fountain, or perhaps you have a self-cleaning litter box from before you went green--we all have corpses buried in our backyards. Why not purchase green tags, otherwise known as renewable energy credits, to offset your pets' carbon emissions. Heck, buy 'em for the whole family so no one feels left out. Or better yet, check if your state sells green power so you and your furry compatriots can go carbon neutral.


Back To Top Λ

Green Pets: By The Numbers



Back To Top Λ

Where to Get Green Pet Products



Back To Top Λ

Green Pet Reading: From the Archives


Dig deeper into these articles on Pets from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.

Back To Top Λ

Further Reading on Green Pets

With such a plethora of resources for greening your pet's life, we can't begin to scratch the surface of the what's out there, but here are some starting points for insight and advice.