In a world besieged by climate change, making moves to go green is an essential lifestyle choice we all need to adopt to safeguard the future welfare of the planet. This also applies to looking after your cat. Here are some easy ways to embrace sustainable practices in the feline realm.
According to a recent study, producing the meat that makes up the bulk of cat and dog diets creates 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That’s the same climate impact as driving nearly 14 million cars for 12 months. But retooling your feline’s meals to reduce her carbon pawprint can be a tricky decision due to scientific and ethical factors. While humans can cut out meat to minimize their carbon footprint, putting your kitty on a vegan or vegetarian diet is discouraged by vets (except in select cases involving medical issues). That’s because cats are obligate carnivores — which means they naturally need to eat meat to survive. So to shift mealtimes towards greener pastures, focus on the quality of the ingredients in kitty’s food, and research the environmental consciousness of the company producing it.
Look for brands that use organic ingredients — although be wary of buzzwords like “human-grade,” which carry no legal (or certified) meaning. If a can of cat food features the USDA organic stamp, that means 95% of its ingredients are organic. Also, read the labels: You want actual meat to be the bulk of your kitty’s food, not added colors and artificial flavors, which suggest that greater mechanical processing went into making the chow. Look for cat food ingredients that sound like something you might eat yourself.
Now comes the catch: Cheaper brands of cat food are often criticized for using animal by-products. But while you may have concerns — like wet food and kibble that use the less desirable parts of the animal, including what might sound like icky organ meats — these actually create a smaller environmental footprint because there’s less waste involved. The idea that meat by-products aren’t necessarily bad for a cat is a similar stance to high-end farm-to-table chefs trying to change meat eaters’ habits by serving dishes using the whole animal, from nose to tail.
So how do you balance food that’s healthiest for your finicky cat with being environmentally friendly for the planet? Ultimately, you have to dig into the brand’s history and check out its sourcing and manufacturing practices. Look for brands that prioritize the welfare of the animals that wind up in their food — for instance, a company that bans cages and crates from the farms they source from. Claims to secure ingredients from local farms is also important, as it reduces transportation; also, keep an eye out to see if a brand has been accredited by sustainable farming and seafood organizations, many of which are specific to a particular region. Finally, don’t forget to make sure the packaging of the cat food you’re considering is actually recyclable.
Now it’s time to focus on how to dispose of all that organic protein she’s scarfing down. Look for litter that’s made from renewable materials that are often plant-based, like pine, corn or wheat. In the case of pine, the litter is made out of the sawdust waste produced by lumber plants and mills; wheat-based litter comes from so-called secondary wheat that hasn’t been passed as fit for human consumption. Recycled newspaper and even walnut shells have also been repurposed into kitty litter. And cleaning out that litter box? Don’t use any old plastic bag — switch to compostable cat litter bags.
Seasoned cat owners have likely been embracing recycled and repurposed cat toys for years, quickly realizing that their contrarian felines prefer to play with the packaging of a new gizmo rather than the actual plaything itself. Keep furrowing in this direction by digging through the treasure trove that is your recycling box: Egg cartons become instant treat toys, the tubes inside toilet paper rolls can be cut into smaller rings that will entice your cat to interact with them, and balled-up paper receipts are perfect for chasing.
Toys that are made from natural, renewable fabrics and that contain organic catnip are widely available these days, in bigger box stores and at craft markets. But sometimes the ultimate recycled cat toy is a humble cardboard box. Next time you receive a delivery, get creative and take a pair of scissors to customize the box into a fort with holes and entryways for your feline to hide in and play around. You can even bedazzle the box with stickers or by using markers. Ribbons and twine that come as part of the wrapping on presents make irresistible twirl toys that can be snaked around the cardboard box to stimulate your cat’s stalking instincts. Best of all, while making the switch to greener cat food and litter can cost more than traditional options, repurposed toys are effectively free or already paid for — meaning the planet, your cat and your wallet will all thank you.
Ultimately, caring for your cat in an environmentally friendly fashion can be beneficial to both your kitty and the planet she inhabits. Sure, it might take a little extra effort at times, but with climate change a very real and potentially disastrous danger, isn’t it worth taking those responsible steps and getting on board the green feline movement?
Can you dispose of your cat’s waste in a friendlier fashion? Yes, but only to fertilize your flowers — never use on edible crops, as waste can have harmful bacteria!
SIZE: First up, you’ll need a compost bin — as large as possible is best — with a lid.
LOCATION: Not near your house or your neighbors. Pet waste stinks! Also, not near any type of edible crops.
TYPE OF LITTER: Use plant- or newspaper-based cat litter only — clay and crystals will not work!
TIME: This isn’t quick and easy. Experts say it has to sit for around two years.
Phillip Mlynar spends his days writing about cats, hip-hop and food, often while being pestered by his rescue, a mackerel tabby named Mimosa. His work appears in Vice, Pitchfork, Red Bull, Bandcamp, VinePair and Catster. He’s won various awards at the Cat Writers’ Association Communication Contests, some of which are proudly on display at his local dive bar in New York City.