What’s a pet owner to do about eco-pawprints?

This fabulous Washington Post column (courtesy of Slate) about how to manage environmentalism and pet ownership is … well, fabulous. As the owner of two ridiculously adorable kittens, I have felt plagued by the dilemma of whether or not to feed them meat all the time.

I rarely eat meat. I’m about 95 percent vegetarian, as a result of both the environmental degradation that results from meat production and the terrible conditions of the animals slaughtered. But when I got my kittens, I was instructed to feed them food that had meat as one of the first ingredients, and that’s what I did.

The aforementioned column was great because it recognizes the dilemma that vegetarians, vegans, and environmentalists share when trying to keep their pets — especially cats and dogs — healthy and figure out how to keep their pets’ eco-pawprints to a minimum.

The column suggests consulting your vet, but first and foremost trying to supplement some vegetarian food for meat — say, feed your pet half veggie and half meat each day. Most pet food is just scraps from processing meat for human consumption, so it’s not like anyone is slaughtering cows and chickens for the sake of cats and dogs — in fact, as the column suggests, the process of making pet food from scraps is more recycling and making use of scraps that would otherwise be wasted.

Other options include feeding your pet your unused food scraps — extra meat or vegetables that would otherwise go to waste. Web sites online like this one or this one give recipes for different animals, and the first one also gives tips on which ingredients to avoid for different pets.

If you don’t feel comfortable feeding your pets less meat, there are other actions you can take to lessen their eco-pawprint. Instead of buying pet-specific items like food and water bowls, take a few of your glass bowls (or buy some from a local thrift store) and use them instead.

Don’t get overzealous about toys — sometimes the simplest toys  are the ones pets appreciate the most. You can either make toys with items from around the house (cats love ribbon and cardboard boxes as much as anything else) or visit the thrift store for frisbees and tennis balls.

Thrift stores also have other pet accessories — like pet carriers and leashes — so keep your eyes open! You won’t find a $5 pet carrier anywhere but a thrift store or a garage sale, and the cheapest new pet carriers I’ve seen are $20 for tiny ones that can carry kittens or very small dogs. Environmental good deeds = saving money!   

The column has another great suggestion, which is that you can do things to reduce your own environmental impact in place of feeding your pet less meat. Try involving your pet, like instead of driving to the dog park, walk your dog around the block.

Pets might be smaller than people, but they can still have an impact on the environment. Be aware of what they’re eating, don’t feel too guilty about feeding them meat, try making your own pet food, and keep the pet toy spending to a minimum. A little creativity goes a long way.

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