What’s your pet having for dinner tonight?

You want the best for your pet. And you want the best for our planet. But is your pet’s food good for either one?

For that matter, is your pet good for the planet?

Sure, those bundles of love do wonders for our happiness and well-being. But they might not be so wonderful for the environment. While some people question one study’s conclusion that your dog’s impact on the planet is equal to that of an SUV, the fact remains that our pets do have a significant impact.

Your pet’s “Carbon Pawprint”

At MyDomino, we often talk about our “Carbon Foodprint” — the environmental impact of the food we eat. The truth is, most people just aren’t aware of their dietary carbon emissions. Becoming aware gives us the knowledge and power to make a positive impact with our diet.

But I have to admit that as much as I’ve been thinking about my own diet’s effect on the environment, I hadn’t given much thought to my cat’s dinner.

Now, it seems I should.

What are our pets eating? These days, it’s all the rage to feed them higher-quality meats, rather than the traditional meat by-products that were once more common in pet foods. And much of the meat our pets eat is beef or lamb. We’re also feeding our pets more meat, “human-grade” ingredients, and too much food to begin with.

Given the serious environmental impact of beef and lamb, it’s clear that our pets’ diets are not as sustainable as they could be.

Your pet’s food after it’s digested

Another part of your pet’s “Pawprint” is the waste it eliminates after eating.

Consider dog waste. That stuff you see people in cities diligently collecting into plastic bags. That’s a good thing, right? After all, dog waste contains all kinds of bacteria and carries diseases.

But those plastic bags end up in landfills, as does the methane-filled waste. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, estimated to have at least 30 times the effect of CO2 over 100 years.

According to an op-ed in the L.A. times, plastic bags full of dog waste account for as much municipal waste in San Francisco as disposable diapers — a full 4% of that city’s waste. In Chicago, 102 million cubic feet of methane are produced each year from 68 million pounds of dog waste. (Fun fact: Dogs poop more than humans, on average.)

Across the country, we have over 83 million dogs and 90 million cats. They produce enough waste to fill 5000 ten-foot-deep football fields.

That’s a lot of poop, a lot of trash, and a lot of methane.

So, what do we do?

Don’t worry — I’m not going to tell you to get rid of your beloved pets!

But you can take some simple steps to lower their “Carbon Pawprint.” Here are some of the top actions you can take.

Give your pet the best food — for it, not for you

Remember those “human-grade” ingredients I referred to earlier? That’s just a meaningless term invented to sell more pet food.

Your pet doesn’t need to eat what you eat. In fact, in some cases it shouldn’t.

Here are a few things to consider when picking food for your pet:

  • Feed them some meat. Cats shouldn’t go vegan — even if their human moms and dads are. Cats have evolved to need animal protein, so don’t deprive them of it. Dogs are a bit more flexible in what they eat, but it’s still good for them to eat some meat.
  • Don’t feed them just lamb and beef. Your pet can eat many kinds of meat! Many pet foods come in chicken, turkey, and fish varieties, so it doesn’t have to be all lamb and beef — which have much higher “Carbon Pawprints.” Just be sure to give them a range of meats (don’t make it all fish, for example). And consult with your vet to see what’s right for your specific pet.
  • Your pets don’t need a grain-free diet. You might think avoiding grains is best for you, but your pet can eat some. Just be sure you’re giving them a balanced diet that includes some meat. By adding grains and vegetables, you can reduce their dietary “Carbon Pawprint.”
  • You can feed them “meat by-products.” Pets are perfectly fine eating all kinds of animal parts that you might not fancy. Using every edible part of an animal is much more sustainable than throwing away what we don’t like to eat. Pet food provides an ideal way for us to make the best use of all those animal parts.
  • Pets don’t need “human-grade” food. Food that will be sold to humans must meet specific production requirements. That doesn’t mean those same requirements are necessary for pets.
  • Remember that each animal is different. Your nutritional needs are very different from those of your cat or your dog. The pet food industry takes advantage of us wanting the best for our furry friends — but what’s best for them is not always the same as what’s best for us. Individual cats and dogs may have specific needs, too. Be sure to consult with your vet to ensure you’re giving your pets the food that’s best suited to them.

Don’t overfeed your pet

Just as obesity is on the rise among American humans, it’s also become an issue for our pets.

A very simple thing we can all do is to watch our pets’ food intake. We all want to pamper our pets, but part of this should be looking out for their health and well-being. If you avoid overfeeding your cats and dogs, you’ll help them be happier and more fit — and you’ll lower their environmental impact.

Flush dog waste (but not cat waste!)

One simple solution for dog waste is simply to flush it. After all, your toilet was designed to deal with this kind of matter!

Cat waste, however, should not be flushed, as that can spread harmful parasites. For cats, you should instead opt for litter made of recycled materials, which is best disposed of in your trash.

What about biodegradable dog waste bags? There’s little point to using biodegradable bags for anything that will end up in a landfill (do use them for your compostable matter, though!). Landfills these days are designed to be airtight, so not much biodegrading happens there.

Compost dog waste (don’t try this at home!)

Image source: EnviroWagg

In San Francisco, a community open space has started a program to compost dog waste. If this kind of program were adopted city-wide, San Francisco could prevent 32 million pounds of dog waste from going to landfills each year.

Some companies like GreenPet Composting in Portland and EnviroWagg in Boulder are contributing to the dog-waste-to-compost trend. Toronto is getting two products out of its dog waste by anaerobically digesting it, which produces both compost and a biogas that can be used as fuel. Some dog parks in the U.S. are also looking into anaerobic digesters.

Dog waste composting is best left to large-scale operations like these, which can heat the stuff enough to destroy any dangerous elements in the waste. Dog poop has some really scary things in it that can cause all kinds of ill effects if ingested by humans — even blindness. It’s not to be trifled with. But if you really want to compost your dog’s droppings, check out sources like this one and this one for some tips. Be sure to use this compost only for plants you won’t eat. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Spay or neuter your pet

There’s such a thing as too much of a good thing! (Those kittens are cute, though, aren’t they?)

This may go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. With so many lovable critters around us already, we don’t need more. Please spay or neuter your cats and dogs to help keep down their overall environmental footprint.

A happy pet and a happy planet

Who knew our little furry companions had such an environmental impact?

The good news is, you can take simple actions to lower your pet’s “Carbon Pawprint.” Some of those actions will even make your pet happier and healthier. And if we all do a few simple things, together we’ll make a big positive impact.

What are you doing to make your life, and your pet’s life, more sustainable? Tell us your ideas in the Comments section below!


This article is meant as a general overview, and does not constitute professional health or nutrition advice. For advice on your specific pet’s needs, be sure to consult a veterinarian.