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Small Changes, Big Impact: How Adjusting Your Daily Dog Routine Can Help Save the Environment

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A woman holding her dog in a park, making small changes to their routine to save the environment.

As much as we love our dogs, our pups, too, contribute to global warming.

So, when you’re making changes to living a more sustainable, environmentally friendly life, your pups should be part of the plan. Two of the biggest areas they play a role is in what we feed them and how we clean up their poop.

Below is a deep dive on how dog food and waste play a role in global warming and what we can do to make a difference.

Do a Deep Dive on What Your Dog Is Eating

With research stating that animal farming is a leading cause of global warming, one of the most powerful tools to fight climate change is to simply stop eating so much meat.

However, the issue is not so simple for dogs. While humans can decide to stop eating meat (or to cut down), dogs are more dependent on animal protein. Technically considered “omnivores,” dogs can consume and digest both animal-based and plant-based foods. However, their natural diet primarily consists of meat and animal protein.

“Cats and dogs consume roughly 25% of all animal-derived calories produced in the United States, creating a highly concentrated impact on the health of our planet, and the people and animals we share it with,” says Kristen Smith, director of marketing at Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), an organization dedicated to creating a more sustainable pet industry.

And it’s not just the large consumption of protein our pets’ consumer that impact the environment — it’s also the processes used in manufacturing and the packaging.

According to research pet food manufacturing releases up to 64 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. Additionally, factory farms release compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane, which have a significant effect on air and water pollution. Not to mention, animal cruelty is a common occurrence on mass farms.

Related: 4 Sustainable Dehydrated Dog Food Brands You Need to Know About

You can help alleviate the effect your dog has on the environment by understanding the issue and making smart choices.

You can help alleviate the effect your dog has on the environment by understanding the issue and making smart choices.

“To evaluate the overall sustainability performance of pet food, PSC developed a ‘4-Factor Framework’ that assesses ingredients in relation to the main facets of sustainability metrics: environmental impact, social impact, nutrition, and animal welfare,” says Smith.

While each of the four factors can stand alone as distinct issues, they are also inextricably linked, making it important to carefully consider all of them when evaluating the overall impact of dog food brands.

Smith suggests choosing “sustainable businesses that can prioritize products that are ethically sourced using low environmental impact ingredients.”

Besides the environment, look for brands that use meat raised humanely, such as brands that have earned Certified Humane as well as companies that commit to reducing their carbon footprint. Use websites that rate brands according to their environmental and ethical practices, such as Ethical Consumer.

Another option lies in the protein choice. Some brands are turning to more “exotic” meats, including bison, quail, elk, sheep, deer, and even brushtail, as an alternative to factory-farmed animals. A few that stand out include The Honest Bison’s Elk Dog Food and Open Farm’s Venison Dog Food.

Other brands are turning to insects, grubs, and other small animals to reduce our dog’s carbon footprint. Jiminy’s, Chippin and Yora use grubs, crickets and fly larvae, all of which are high in protein and have a (fittingly) tiny carbon footprint.

With all this buzz regarding pets’ carbon footprint, there has been a lot of discussions (and arguments) about putting dogs on a vegetarian — or even vegan — diet. While turning our dogs into vegetarians (or vegans) greatly reduces their carbon footprints, it should be designed by a veterinary nutritionist and discussed with professionals, as not everyone is on board with this option, including most likely your dog.

Understand the Scoop on Dog Poop

Another way that our dogs impact the environment lies in the way their bathroom habits are handled by humans. “Dog waste that is not disposed of responsibly has a negative impact on water quality, drainage, and soil health,” says Smith. “Dog waste kills grass and other vegetation. It pollutes waterways and can lead to disease or death in fish. Poop bags full of waste that are not disposed of properly clog storm sewers or end up in bodies of water.”

Contamination occurs because dog poop may contain parasites, bacteria, and viruses, such as giardia, salmonella, and E. coli. These pathogens can leach into the soil and contaminate nearby water sources.

For example, if your dog poops in the grass, and you don’t pick it up, it turns liquid when it rains, and runoff flows into sewers and drains that then feed into rivers and lakes. There, dog waste may cumulatively add enough nitrogen and phosphorus to cause an overgrowth of algae, which devours oxygen and consequently suffocates aquatic life.

Related: 5 Eco-Friendly Dog Food Brands You Can Support Right Now

When it comes to picking up after your dog choose your tools carefully. Regular plastic waste bags may take hundreds of years to decompose. There are post-consumer recycled bags on the market, meaning they are not made from virgin plastic, but again, they don’t break down if you toss in the garbage.

And “biodegradable” poop bags that aren’t composted at home or in an approved industrial compost facility end up in landfills like regular plastic bags. But they actually produce methane as they degrade — a gas that also contributes to global warming.

“Flushing pet waste is the best disposal method,” according to the EPA. But check your local community guidelines first as many municipal waste plants can’t filter out dog contaminants. If you can flush dog waste in your area, dump out the contents and dispose of the bag in the trash.

With a little effort and careful consideration, you can lower your dog’s carbon pawprint, says

Smith. “Responsible pet parents can mitigate all of these negative impacts through conscientious and careful attention to the impacts their dogs have on the world around them.”

Related: 6 Sustainable Dog Food Brands and Why We Love Them

 

By Jillian Blume

Jillian Blume is a New York City–based writer whose feature articles have appeared in magazines, newspapers, and websites including the New York Observer, Marie Claire, Self, City Realty, the ASPCA, Petful.com, Best Friends Animal Society, The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, The Pet Gazette, and many others.

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