Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Easy Steps to Make Pets Eco-Friendly

Pet Column for the week of May 11, 2009

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

The impact our pets have on the environment may not be something we usually think about. But given the fact that the Humane Society of the United States estimates there are 74.8 million dogs and 88.3 million cats in this country alone, it's hard to imagine how so many animals could not influence the world's ecosystems.

From resources that are utilized to produce pet toys and food, to water used in bathing and cleaning, "Pets have a huge impact on the environment," says Dr. Marcella Ridgway, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. She explains that there are several steps pet owners can take to help make sure their four-legged friends tread lightly on mother earth.

The basic principle of reduce, reuse, and recycle holds true for pets as well as people. One easy step is to recycle your pet's toys, rather than buy new ones. Take a few toys and put them away for a while. Then, when you pull the "old" toys out, they will seem like new.

Many options now exist for buying green pet accessories--those that are made from recycled or renewable resources or those that are made of recyclable materials. Also bear in mind that the durability of a product is an important factor. A nylon collar may last a lifetime and is therefore as sound an ecological choice as a "green" option such as hemp.

"Another concern is the amount of cat litter going into landfills," notes Dr. Ridgway. She recommends that owners use clumping litter so they can clean out only a little bit at a time. Some cat owners may even be able to train their pet to use the toilet, but teaching them to flush may be another story.

While our feline friends may not enjoy their weekly trip to the groomers, many of our high-class canine comrades frequent the beauty salon on a regular basis. But repeated bathing can mean a significant drain on water resources in addition to grooming chemicals in the environment. "Spot baths or just wiping the paws of your dog is sometimes all they really need," mentions Dr. Ridgway. Along those lines, buy shampoos and treats in bulk to minimize the use of packaging.

Although there are several small steps we can take, Dr. Ridgway says, "the biggest thing people can do to make pets more eco-friendly is to spay and neuter." The resources needed to house millions of unwanted dogs and cats are immense.

Each year the Humane Society of the United States estimates that 6-8 million cats and dogs enter shelters. Only half of those animals will ever find a home. With a simple surgery, we can help reduce the massive pet overpopulation problem this country faces, and also prevent the heartache felt by those that care for these animals.

In the end, you don't need to buy special food, toys, or collars for your pet to be more eco-friendly. Just simple common sense, such as picking up after your dog goes to the bathroom (hopefully with a biodegradable bag) or adopting a pet from a shelter can make a big difference.