Sometimes, ok, often, I do this often, I drive myself crazy trying to be the most sustainable version of myself I can. I research for hours and hours about best products. I try to factor in my veganism. Is the vegan version less harmful or the animal version?
And now I do the same for the dogs.
A researcher at UCLA determined that the carbon emissions produced by dogs and cats each year is about the same as a year’s worth of driving 13.6 million cars.
UCLA Professor Gary Okin discovered that the 163 million pets in the United States are “responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States.”
All that amounts to 64 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. If our pets were their own country, their meat consumption would rank fifth in the world.
Additionally, our pets drop 5.1 million pounds of poop annually, or the same amount of trash produced by all the residents of Massachusetts in a year.
So, what is a pet lover to do?
There are plenty of ways to reduce our pet’s carbon pawprint, especially as more and more companies understand that environmental sustainability means economic sustainability.
This is good news for sustainably-minded pet owners. The suggestions listed below are easy to do with minimal impact on your life, but that make a difference to the planet.
1. Participate in a Trash Clean Up
I have been so inspired by many of my Insta-friends who have partnered with Keep Nature Wild to organize trash cleanups in their favorite hiking areas. You wouldn’t believe the amount of garbage they find in just a few hours on a short section of trail. It’s unbelievable.
Spain has quite a trash problem, especially in natural areas, so now we make it a point to carry trash bags with us when we camp in our van and collect what we find during our stay.
Everyone can participate in the Wildkeeper program wherever they live and help leave the trails better than you found them.
Watch my friend Chipper (pictured above) pick up trash with his human, Katie.
2. Look for Eco-Friendly Dog Toys
I’ve been so thrilled to see the increase in sustainable products created for dogs in recent years. Dog toys are notoriously destroyed in seconds flat and can therefore end up creating a lot of waste.
Instead, look for stuffingless-stuffies toys made of more durable materials and from natural fibers like wood, antlers (which are shed naturally), hemp, or coconut fiber, and toys that are recyclable when they reach the end of their life.
Look also for toys that provide mental stimulation like treat dispensing toys and puzzles. (We love the brain game toys from Nina Ottosson)
Our favorite sustainable dog toy brands include:
West Paw: This B Corp and founding Pet Sustainability Coalition member makes 100% of their toys in their Bozeman, MT facility, designs durable, long-lasting toys made from sustainable materials with minimal waste, and created the Join the Loop program that enables the recycling of all toys.
Himalayan Dog Chews: This small company (which just happens to have set up shop in my hometown in WA), has created a super long-lasting dog chew made using an ancient Himalayan hard yak and cow cheese recipe. Rather than source the milk from Nepal, they have partnered with a third-generation dairy farmer in Washington and donates 100% of the profits of the Loom Toys to the Women’s Skills Development Center in Nepal, an organization that teaches women skills so they may become self-dependent.
We prefer to buy the 3-pack to minimize packaging.
Planet Dog: Another PSC member, Planet Dog’s toys are made in the USA of durable and sustainable materials. A portion of product sales go toward the Planet Dog Foundation, toys are made using recycled materials and reusable sources and are recyclable, and the office incorporates in sustainability with supplies and participation in composting.
3. Buy Less, but Higher Quality Dog Gear
I am a huge, huge, huge proponent of buying less stuff, but of higher quality. Yes, this means that you will pay a pretty penny for that item, however, it also means that you won’t have to replace that item for a long, long time, if at all.
Inexpensive gear is often poor quality and doesn’t last long, meaning you’ll just have to replace it next season for something new. Spend now to get something that will last for the long term.
4. Shop at Small and Sustainable Businesses
Sustainable business can mean so many things today. When I set out to make a purchase, I consider both the environmental and social impact of my choice.
I do a ton of research when I buy something because I know that where I spend my money makes a difference. I look for the following labels when I am shopping:
- B Corps
- 1% for the Planet
- Women or Minority-owned businesses
- Small artisans
- Local companies
- Members of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC)
These are a few (only a few!) of my favorite small and sustainable dog businesses brands:
Only Natural Pet: If I am not shopping at my local pet store, I am ordering from Only Natural Pet. They are a B Corp, member of the PSC, and committed to supplying only foods and products that are made using natural, human-grade, and sustainable ingredients.
I can shop without having to do any ethical research because I trust everything they sell on their site.
Use code AFLONGHAUL15 for 15% off your entire order.
Whyld River: After a backpacking trip on Mt. Hood left her pup, River shivering for hours, Rachel, founder of Whyld River, set out to make the Doggy Bag, a do it all, warm travel bed for dogs. The company donates one Doggy Bag for every 10 sold to partner organizations.
Mutt Cloth: Your dog will earn far more style points in a Mutt Cloth bandana than you will in your most chic attire. These gorgeous limited edition bandanas are all handmade, vegan-friendly, and many are curated from local markets and artisans from all over the world.
Mutt Cloth uses recycled, recyclable, and reusable mailers in every shipment and donates quarterly to rescue groups because dogs that wear bandanas have a better chance at adoption.
RoKodog: Shop owner Leanne began making nature-inspired bandanas for her two cattle dogs, Kyro and Kona that could keep up with their outdoor adventures.
Today, RoKodog sells some of the most beautiful handmade collars I’ve ever seen, fashionable treat pouches, and matching camera straps for the human. Leanne donates 5% of all profit to a Vancouver, BC-based non-profit called Raincoast Dog Rescue.
5. Host a Dog Gear Swap
Have you been to a naked lady party? If you’ve never heard of one, one person hosts a group of friends for the evening for a clothing swap party.
Each guest brings over clothes they no longer wear and makes them available to other participants who try them on during the event. I’ve scored some great finds at these parties and I can only imagine the dog gear that would make an appearance.
6. Pet Food
Due to the resources that go into making pet food and the amount of meat consumption by our animals, it comes with a significant environmental impact.
I personally make my dog’s food much of the time.
With various thoughts and trends and theories on specific diets for pets, it’s best to talk to your vet or a pet nutritionist about options.
The list below includes my recommendations based on sustainability of the company and quality of the food.
Here are a few options I would recommend for minimal impact:
I and Love and You: One of the founding members of the Pet Sustainability Coalition, I and Love and You features a 5-star rating on Dog Food Advisor, includes pre and probiotics for digestive health, does not use fillers like corn, soy, wheat, or rice, and the first three source ingredients are all meat or poultry-sourced.
Orijen: This was our go to brand back in Portland. We appreciated Orijen for their strict quality standards, use of ingredients that a “fit for human consumption,” and the fact that they incorporate fresh regional ingredients from Canada like cage-free eggs and poultry and wild-caught fish.
Only Natural Pet Powerfusion: This grain-free infused dry food includes raw superfood bites, goat milk, and raw freeze-dried meat bites for those who want the benefits of raw, but are maybe on a budget or who are still learning about the diet.
Primal: The premium quality raw foods used in Primal’s formulas come from certified organic produce, organic whole food supplements, and contain fresh, antibiotic-free and steroid-free meats and poultry, muscle meat, and bones.
Stella and Chewy’s: This manufacturer of high quality raw patties and raw-coated kibble sources ingredients responsibly-sourced from farmers and ranchers they know and trust. Their food is 90-95% meat, organs, and bone, with no added hormones or antibiotics. Further, all fruits and vegetables are sourced from organic sources.
Northwest Naturals: This PNW-based pet food brand is Oregon Tilth Certified and does third-party safety testing. Fruits and vegetables are sourced locally and the food undergoes minimal processing to ensure high nutritional value.
Like with anything, it’s best to buy in bulk. Not only is it less expensive, it also reduces packaging waste.
A few more tips for buying more sustainably:
- Buy in bulk. Not only is it cheaper, but it reduces waste.
- Purchase from your local pet store and ask if there is a local brand they carry.
- If you feed raw, purchase from your local butcher or farmer, or join a coop. If you have a friend that hunts, talk to them about setting some aside for your dog.
- Look for wild game meats, like bison, boar, and venison that tend to avoid factory farming.
7. Practice Leave No Trace
If you’re an avid hiker, you’ve probably already heard of and practice leave no trace principles. For those new to the concept, they are a list of seven guidelines for outdoor enthusiasts prepared by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics in an effort to minimize impact on the trails and other natural areas.
Dog owners must also realize that their pet can cause harm to natural areas, just as humans can. Amending the seven principles to apply to dogs helps ensure that the trails stay intact for the wildlife who live there and future users.
I have written an in depth blog post about how to practice leave no trace with a dog that explains the seven principles in relation to a dog and offers suggestions for minimizing your dog’s paw print when you go out and explore.
8. Disposing of Dog Poop
As an apartment dweller in a very old city, dog poop disposal is one of my biggest challenges when it comes to living sustainably with a dog.
We don’t have a yard and therefore cannot compost the poop or dispose of it in a large container. Our city does not have municipal composting, which isn’t really the best solution anyway.
Most dog poop bags don’t compost and/or many cities do not allow pet waste in the municipal compost. So, I end up using several bags each day in order to dispose of my dogs’ poop.
This blog post provides several solutions for disposing of dog poop on the trail and at home if you have a yard. Here’s the quick and dirty version:
- If you have a yard, consider composting your dog’s waste in a digester like the Doggie Dooley. (just make sure you keep it separate from the compost you would use for food)
- Use biodegradable poop bags if you plan to compost, like these:
- Reuse plastic bags instead of buying specific dog poop bags.
- If your city allows it, flush your dog’s poop down the toilet.
- Use newspapers or advertisements to pick up your dog’s poop.
You know that we will of recommend getting a dog bike trailer and using it to take your dog around town or on pedal-powered excursions.
Our whole blog came to be after deciding to quit our jobs and take Sora along on a two-year bicycle journey across Europe and South America. We didn’t want to leave her behind, so cycling was the way to bring her along.
Even at home in Portland, we would cycle everywhere and if Sora was able, we would bring her along in the trailer. We’ve written extensively about cycling with a dog on the blog.
The following posts should help you find the right trailer for your needs, teach you about how to cycle with a dog, and inspire some trip ideas.
- How to Bike with a Dog
- Best Dog Bike Trailers
- Product Review: Burley D’Lite
- Product Review: Burley Tail Wagon
- The Oregon Rode Trip: A Cycle Tour of the Oregon Scenic Bikeways
Alternatively, if you live in a city that allows dogs on public transportation, then go on an adventure by bus or metro!