Taking care of your best friend need not mean trashing the environment.
Caroline Zambrano shares top tips to minimise your dog’s carbon pawprint.
Dogs play important roles in our lives. They not only have a positive impact on our physical and mental health, but also become our loyal companions. However, they are often forgotten contributors to our carbon pawprint.
Sydney holistic veterinarian Dr Barbara Fougere is passionate about the environment and animals. She says pet owners can make small eco-friendly changes to collectively help reduce their dogs’ impact on the environment.
“We can decrease our dogs’ carbon pawprints by investing in natural or organic pet products,” she says.
Canberra veterinarian Dr Michael Archinal, who presents the ‘Dr Ark’ segments on Channel Nine’s Mornings with Kerri-Anne, agrees with Dr Fougere’s comments.
“There are many ways to raise a happy dog while protecting the environment,” he says. “Pet owners have begun to explore homemade or natural, preservative-free dog food options and eco-friendly pet cleaning supplies.”
In recent years, eco-friendly alternatives of pet products have become available around the world, from organic shampoos and toys to all-natural treats. In the current economic climate, not all pet owners can afford to purchase such products. “However, it’s important to remember that even a small change towards a greenfriendly lifestyle can benefit the environment,” Dr Fougere says.
Raising dogs the green-friendly way
Being aware of the way we live, the products we use and how we care for our dogs helps to maintain the balance of life on our planet. Dr Fougere and Dr Archinal share some simple tips on raising dogs the green-friendly way, without costing the earth.
Many breed clubs run rescue programs for purebred dogs in need of homes. Adopting a dog instead of buying a new one will lower the incidence of strays that can kill native wildlife.
Desexing helps to control the population of unwanted dogs. It also reduces the risk of dogs getting cancer or other diseases and suffering from antisocial behaviour such as fighting or wandering off and getting lost.
Scoop the poop
There’s nothing worse than stepping in a pile of dog poo, but more concerning is the amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) released when it breaks down. Many parasites and diseases are also transmitted through dog faeces.
A lot of pet owners are responsibly picking up after their dog, says Dr Fougere. “Making use of biodegradable bags and the bins provided by councils helps keep the environment clean,” she says.
When it comes to cleaning up the dog poo in the backyard, Dr Archinal suggests building a worm farm. “Compost worms decompose organic matter to produce worm castings, which make a great fertiliser for gardens,” he says. “Your ‘pet poo converter’ sets up the same way as a standard worm farm, but instead of feeding the worms fruit and vegetable scraps, you feed them dog poo.”
Take care though with how this fertiliser is used. While it is fine to use soil, fertiliser and mulch containing dog poo on a decorative garden, they should not be used on food crops as they may be contaminated with roundworm.
Dogs and wildlife
Dogs can also have a negative impact on various native animals, such as blue tongue lizards, birds, possums and koalas. If wildlife passes through your street or backyard, help to provide safe corridors for them to travel through by growing native plants for coverage.
“Suburbs with an abundance of trees and mature gardens have increased wildlife compared to areas with limited foliage,” says Dr Fougere. “Also, keep your dog on a leash in areas where you know our native animals like to live.”
Tick and flea treatments
Some veterinary experts have different opinions regarding spot-on flea and tick treatments. Dr Fougere suggests industry professionals need to look at producing more natural solutions. “Ideally, there would be more products available that minimise chemical use and adopt more natural ingredients that have been appropriately tested and proven to work,” says Dr Fougere.
Dr Archinal agrees that many natural products haven't been scientifically proven to effectively keep pets free from fleas and ticks. “This is concerning as a failure to treat parasites appropriately can lead to a potentially fatal disease called tick paralysis,” says Dr Archinal. “With this in mind, I prefer spot-on treatments to environmental sprays, as with spot-ons you can still reduce environmental contamination,” he says. Dr Archinal also advises dog owners to consult their vets for the most suitable tick and flea products for their dogs. Regardless of which treatment you choose, remember to perform daily checks to keep your best friend free from these nasty parasites.
The products we buy for our pets produce a whole range of waste, from leftover flea treatment containers to dog food tins. “Dispose of waste in a conscious way, such as recycling or wrapping securely, so people won't be affected by any leakages,” says Dr Fougere.
Also be conscious about using insecticides, shampoos and detergents that accumulate in the environment; what you wash your dog with travels down the drain and out to sea.
Be aware of what you’re feeding your dog, where the food is coming from and how it impacts the environment. Your decision to incorporate just one or two organic products in your dog's meal will decrease its carbon paw print.
“The organic industry doesn’t use chemicals or pesticides,” says Dr Fougere. “So, choosing to prepare your dog's food yourself or using natural and hormone-free products is a positive step not just for your animals, but for the environment we live in.”
Be mindful of the importance of feeding your dog a balanced diet and consult your vet or animal naturopath for advice. Dr Archinal says buying Australian produce is another way we can look after our environment. “When you purchase dog food, choosing local products will avoid huge transport costs,” says Dr Archinal.
“There are container-loads of food and toys coming across the ocean, burning up fuel and other transport costs.”
How to reduce your dog's carbon paw-print
Use natural grooming products where possible, such as paraben-free shampoos.
When cleaning up after your pet, use chemical free cleaning supplies and bagless vacuum cleaners. Bicarbonate soda is a great natural cleaning alternative.
Choose dog foods that use recyclable or biodegradable packaging.
Reuse toys, leashes, collars and other pet accessories, or donate them to your local shelter.
Beware of stain- and grease-proofing chemicals in dog beds, dog food packaging and carpets.
Beware of plastic softeners (phthalates) found in shampoos, toys and medicines.
Use biodegradable bags to pick up after your dog.
Keep your dog on a leash in wildlife areas.
Buy Australian-made products to reduce food miles.