Our furry friends have a sizable impact on the environment. Here’s how to help.

I wrote this article for Rodale’s Organic Life. The original story is published here.

2009 study at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington made waves by claiming our pet dogs have a carbon footprint double that of an SUV. While there is some debate about the accuracy of this claim, experts agree our furry four-legged friends leave a sizable environmental impact, mostly due to their high-meat diets. We’re not telling you to get rid of Fido (we would never!)—but there are a number of things you can do to reduce your pup’s carbon paw print.

OPT FOR EARTH-FRIENDLY EATS

Dogs eat a lot of meat—the Victoria University study said an average-sized dog consumes a whopping 360 pounds of meat per year. And according to USDA food consumption statistics, that is more than twice the average American’s meat and seafood intake of 135 pounds per year. But canines are dubbed canines for a reason, and it’s important that they receive a protein-rich diet. Instead of sacrificing your dog’s health, simply opt for more sustainable dog food like Earth Animal, which contains locally sourced ingredients grown in the United States and offers organic options. You can also select turkey or chicken-based products rather than beef or lamb, which are much more carbon intensive.

PURCHASE SUSTAINABLE TOYS AND GEAR

Companies like West Paw Design and Pet Lifestyle and You (P.L.A.Y.) embrace eco-friendly practices. West Paw Design is a founding member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition, which advocates for sustainable advancement in the pet industry. P.L.A.Y. and a number of other companies also offer dog beds made from recycled bottles instead of new materials—in fact, its website states that every extra-large dog bed utilizes 108 recycled bottles. The company is also certified Gold by Green America’s Green Business Certification program.

To find more eco-friendly pet companies, visit the Pet Sustainability Coalition member page or check out our list of  7 eco-friendly pet products you’ll love as much as your pets will.

INVEST IN BIODEGRADABLE OR FLUSHABLE POOP BAGS

Strolling any U.S. city you’re likely to spot signs warning you to pick up your dog’s poop. The simple fact is that dogs “go,” and the respectful (and environmentally sound) thing to do is pick it up—dog excrement can devastate the environment, from spreading diseases to fueling toxic algae blooms in the ocean. But plastic bags also are an environmental bane, from their production using carbon-emitting oil to their disposal—they can take from anywhere from 10-1,000 years to decompose, and often end up littering cities, forests and marine habitats.

However, your dog can make a statement with biodegradable doggie doo bags. The aptly named poopbags.com has a variety of bags including plant-based (commercially compostable), USDA-certified bio-based and recycled. You can also invest in flushable dog poop bags. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, this is the most sustainable dog excrement disposal method.

CONSIDER ADOPTING

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that 3.3 million dogs enter United States animal shelters each year. You can reduce your dog’s carbon paw print from the very beginning by making the choice to adopt instead of supporting additional breeding, which only increases the number of resource-dependent dogs in the country. This also helps cut down on canine euthanizations in an over-crowded U.S. shelter system.

WALK YOUR DOG FOR A CAUSE

Hopefully, you are already walking your dog on a daily basis. You can creatively use these walks to raise money for a variety of environmental charities like the National Park FoundationWorld Wildlife Fundcharity: water and The Nature Conservancy through an app called Charity Miles. Just start the app when you take Fido for a walk and you can earn 25 cents per mile. The impact seems minimal, but adds up. For example, a person walking their dog nearly every day for three miles could earn more than $250 in a year for the charity of their choice.

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