A cat-astrophe in the making: pets and sustainability

Oregon is known for a lot of things: hipsters, rain, hiking, Portlandia, craft beer, lumber…the list goes on. What only locals may realize, however, is how much we love our pets. In fact, 63.6% of Oregonians own a pet and the Eugene-Springfield area has the highest percentage of adults over 18 owning a cat in the country at 49.1 percent, followed distantly by Rochester, NY at 38.2 percent.

As much as we Oregonians like to practice yoga with our dogs and drink coffee in cat cafes, owning and raising a pet doesn’t necessarily align with the “environmentally-conscious” state of mind that we are so proud of. Now, I am a proud owner (or dog mom, if you prefer) of two wonderful rescue pups and I am not about to suggest we end pet ownership. However, there are many steps we can take as responsible pet owners to reduce the environmental pawprint of our furry friends. In this post, I am going to focus on two of those steps: what goes in and what comes out.

Recently, a trend has emerged in the pet food industry encouraging pet owners to buy “human-grade” foods. While I have admittedly uttered the words, “if it’s good enough for my dog, it’s good enough for me” while buying heinously expensive dog food, it is time we re-evaluate whether “human-grade” actually matters.

Perhaps the most obvious place to start is meat, which requires far more resources than plant-based food and puts a strain on the global food system. In fact, if American pets were a country, they would rank fifth in global meat consumption. While it is important for pets to receive adequate protein in their diets, they do not require prime cuts of meat. Instead, the animal byproducts that Americans do not like to eat are perfectly safe for dogs. What is important is that pets receive the right balance of nourishment, not “human-grade” meats.

I became interested in this topic one afternoon as I was picking up dog poop with a plastic bag that had “Save The Earth” printed all over it. Ironic, no? In fact, many dog owners—myself included—simply assume that bags advertised as “compostable” or “bio-degradable” are better for the environment. However, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report in 2015 warning consumers that these claims may be deceptive as there are no labeling guidelines on these packages.

As someone who picks up roughly 300 pounds of poop each year, I had to find a better way than tossing hundreds of bags in the landfill, especially when they are full of poop that could release excess nitrogen and carry disease. What did I find? Well, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the best way to dispose of pet waste is none other than flushing it down the toilet with other waste.

It is important that pet owners not only evaluate their pet food and waste for environmental impact, but also consider toys, grooming, vet care and even where they find their pets in the first place. While making these changes will likely never lead to a carbon-neutral pet, it will help reduce the environmental pawprint that will allow humans to continue to raise furry friends in the future.

Written by mblake

MacKenzie is an accelerated MBA student focused in sustainability. She is excited about sports apparel and the built environment, as well as animal and low-income causes.