Let’s say you’re actively working on decreasing your carbon footprint. You pack your groceries in hemp bags, walk instead of drive and meticulously recycle. But what about Fluffy? What’s your cat’s carbon pawprint?
Cats are not particularly environmentally friendly pets, but there are things you can do to live green (or at least, a little greener) with your cat. It’s not necessarily easy, and I can’t guarantee that Fluffy will cooperate. But if you can even make just a couple of the following changes in your feline’s lifestyle, you can make a pawsitive impact on the environment over the life of your cat.
And if you keep the three R’s in mind–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle–you’re likely to find additional ways to live greener with your cat.
1. Forego Fish
Generally speaking, fish is not healthy for your cat. Mercury levels can prove deadly, and fish is the source of many urinary tract and thyroid problems.
But feeding Fluffy fish is bad for the marine environment as well. The pet food industry uses 10% of the supply of wild forage fish in the world. Wild forage fish are at the base of the marine food chain, providing sustenance to everything above it. Wiping out populations of wild forage fish eliminates the food supply–either directly or indirectly–of just about everything in the ocean.
2. Make Homemade Cat Food from local organic ingredients
Okay, I can hear your chortles of, “yeah, right,” from here. But you can make it in weekly or twice-weekly batches and it won’t take any more time than a trip to the pet food store. What does this have to do with the environment?
- Commercial cat food packaging clutters landfill.
- Significant amounts of fossil fuel are expended in shipping the ingredients around the globe to commercial cat food processing plants.
- Fossil fuel is expended in shipping the final product to your pet food store.
An added bonus, you’ll be able to relax the next time a pet food recall is issued.
Keep in mind, it’s not as simple as boiling some chicken. Do some research before you start to ensure that your cat is getting all of the nutrients necessary for optimal health, and keep in mind that ingredients that are tasty to humans (onions, garlic, raisins) can prove lethal to Fluffy.
Now when all that homemade food makes its way through to the other end of your cat, you have to consider the impact the cat’s waste has on the environment…
3. Switch from Clay-based Cat Litter to a Plant-Based Alternative
Clumping clay-based cat litters are produced through strip mining, not an enviro-friendly process.
They contain bentonite which, when ingested can wreak havoc with your cat’s respiratory and intestinal systems. Clay-based litters produce a lot of dust, which contains silicon particles that have been established by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a known human carcinogen, A recent study found that clay-based litter silica dust in cats’ lungs, and that cats with respiratory disease had up to six times the amount of silica in their lungs as healthy cats.
Try plant-based alternatives (wheat, pine, corn, paper, etc), or a flushing cat litter box which uses permanent crystals that are washed clean while the waste is flushed with water (but read #4 first).
4. Don’t Flush That Poo! … Wait a Minute, Maybe Not!
This issue is complicated and controversial. So I’ll present the facts and leave you to make your own decision.
The main issue with flushing poo is that sea otters and cat feces are a lethal mix. Scientists and researchers have recently discovered a correlation between Toxoplasma gondii (a parasite only found in cat feces) and the decrease in the sea otter population off the California Coast. T. gondii is not eradicated during the waste treatment process, and can eventually be ingested by sea otters with lethal consequences. In other words, flush cat poo, kill a sea otter.
But one can argue that waste that ends up in landfill is as bad for the environment as waste that ends up in our waterways. Clay-based litter does not break down in landfill, and some have claimed that the volume of cat litter in landfills is greater than that of diaper waste. Toxoplasma gondii in landfills can leach into the water supply. Seagulls frequent landfills and can transport Toxoplasma gondii to the ocean.
Does your head hurt, yet? What’s an environmentally-conscious cat owner to do?
Keep the following in mind:
- If your cat is a strictly indoor cat, it is unlikely that she has Toxoplasma gondii, and her poo is safe to flush.
- If you live more than 1000 miles from the sea, your flushed cat poo is unlikely to kill sea otters.
- If you use a flushing litter box that uses permanent crystals instead of clay-based litter, your solution is probably “greener” in the long run than depositing waste in landfill.
If you live in the western U.S. and your cats are not strictly indoor cats, click here for more info, then decide for yourself.
5. Use biodegradable disposal bags and litter box liners.
This is an easy switch. Biodegradable litter box liners are on the market and readily available online if you can’t find them at your local pet supply store. When you dispose of the waste, reuse paper grocery bags or use biodegradable waste bags. If your grocery store already uses cornstarch-based biodegradable bags it won’t cost you a penny.
6. Don’t Buy Cat Litter That’s Packaged in Non-Recyclable Plastic
Hard to believe, but some name-brand litters are packaged in non-recyclable plastic tubs. If you’re set on buying plastic-packaged litter, look for the recycle icon before you head for the checkout counter. We make a habit of buying cardboard-boxed litter because I think it degrades more easily in landfill.
6. Spay/Neuter Your Pets
Because it’s the right thing to do.
7. Keep Your Cats Indoors.
Cats kill songbirds, and keeping them indoors keeps them away from birds. It will also keep your cat from ingesting vermin that have been poisoned by neighbors, eating snail bait, chugging antifreeze, and other outdoor hazards. If your cats absolutely have to go outdoors: 1) Keep them inside during the morning, the time when birds are most actively foraging for food and vulnerable to attack, and 2) Put lots of bells on their collars.
- Buy furniture made of sustainable woods like bamboo or recycled cardboard materials.
- Don’t toss out ratty furniture; refurbish it. For example, revamp your old cat scratching post with new sisal (a really easy project).
- Buy local. Products that are locally grown and manufactured use far less fossil fuel than those transported from, say, China.
9. Create Back to Basics Cat Toys
Fancy battery-powered plastic cat toys are often no more appealing to your cat than a toilet paper roll and a length of clothesline or a rumpled ball of recycled foil. Grow your own catnip and stuff it into a hand-stitched fabric remnant. Build your cat a playhouse from old packing boxes. You’ll save money as well as the environment, and your cat will be none the wiser.
10. Adopt Rather Than Buy from a Breeder
If you have a particular breed in mind, you can adopt a cat from a breed rescue organization (like Siamese Rescue) rather than buying from a breeder. You’ll save a cat’s life, and you’ll decrease the demand for breeder-raised cats, thereby decreasing cat populations, which in turn diminishes cats’ impact on the environment.
Do you have any green-living tips to share? Leave them in the comments and we’ll publish the best this week.