How to Make Fido an Eco-Warrior

Posted by Ben Jervey

You work hard to make your home, your diet, and your life as “green” as possible. But what about your furry friend? It’s easy enough to raise an eco-friendly pet, if you know where to start. We talked to Paul McRandle of Natural Resources Defense Council's Simple Steps about how to do it. Here are McRandle’s simple tips to get you started.
 
1. Dump the clump. If your cat litter is lumping clay (most are), switch it out to pine, wheat, or newspaper varieties. You’ll reduce the impacts of clay mining in its production, and avoid exposing yourself—and your pets—to carcinogenic silica dust.
 
2. Watch out for hidden toxins. This one’s essential: avoid toxic flea and tick treatments that are likely hazardous to your pet’s health, and yours as well. Many of these products contact pesticides that leave residue on your dog or cat’s fur and can cause brain damage or harm their nervous systems. Check out NRDC’s GreenPaws campaign to learn more.
 
3. Feed ‘em the good stuff. Make sure their diet is healthy and all-natural. There are some great options—meat and vegetarian—on the market. Check out this report to learn more about the sketchy ingredients in many popular pet food brands. Important note: While many would claim that vegetarianism is the most eco-friendly diet for humans, naturally carnivorous animals like dogs, cats, ferrets, and so on might struggle with it. Consult a vet before forcing fido into vegetarianism.
 
4. Better bath time. Clean your pet like you’d clean yourself. Don’t wash your animal with carcinogenic chemicals. There are plenty of all-natural or organic pet shampoo and soap options out there. (Vermont Soap Works has a great pet shampoo.) You could also use the same clean and healthy shampoos and soaps that you treat yourself with. Dr. Bronner’s, perhaps?
 
5. Curb that dog the green way. Enough with the standard plastic poop bags that clutter landfills, tarnish landscapes, or find their way into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Equip yourself with some biodegradable bags to pick up your dog’s doo. (One option is the BioBag.)
 
6. Be careful with your fish water. When you’re changing your aquarium tanks, never dump the contents into the toilet or—gasp—directly into local waterways. Doing so can release invasive species into local rivers, streams, lakes, and the oceans, as home aquariums often host dominant nonnative organisms that could harm local ecosystems. Dump the water onto your lawn instead.
 
7. Leave the coral in the ocean. While we’re on the subject of aquaria, never buy live rock—like coral—for your tank. McRandle quotes a WWF study that finds that 50 to 70 percent of reefs worldwide are threatened by the export of coral. Such coral harvesting degrades existing reefs, which are already struggling in the face of ocean acidification, and damages delicate ocean ecosystems.
 
8. Choose Nemo with care. Again on fish, choose your pet species carefully. According to a 2003 report from the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the $330 million a year aquarium fish trade threatens 1,500 species of exported fish, and also the ecosystems they come from. The Marine Aquarium Council offers a certification ensuring ecologically-sound marine life gathering practices from collector through to retailer. Look for the MAC label.
 
9. Unlimited hunting isn’t green. Cats are probably best left indoors, or in an enclosed area if they’re allowed outside. Why? Cats kill an incredible number of birds and rodents when they roam free.
 
Photo (cc) by Flickr user Ramón Peco

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