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Pawsome Pets

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

We are a nation of animal lovers and research has proven that owning a pet is good for us.



Reported benefits include:

  • Increased cardiovascular health

  • Increased physical activity

  • Pet owners report less depression

  • Pets increase social interaction and reduce loneliness

  • Dog owners generally have fewer trips to the doctors

  • Pets are great caregivers, giving us company and making us feel safer when home alone.

Some studies also suggest there are extra benefits to children:


  • Growing up with a dog can help infants to strengthen their immune system and reduce allergy risk.

  • Children growing up with pets generally grow up to be more empathetic

  • Teenagers who live with pets have been found to have higher self-esteem than peers without pets.

Despite their benefits, there has been a lot of news articles recently about the ecological impact of pet ownership. While pets may be good for us as individuals, it got us wondering whether pet ownership is really that bad for the long-term health of the planet?


Are there really that many pets in the UK to make an impact?

  • According to the PDSA, there are estimated to be around 10.1 million pet dogs and 10.9 million pet cats living in UK homes.

  • This equates to an average of 1.4 dogs and 1.6 cats per household.

That’s around 21 million dogs & cats that need fed, watered and cared for everyday.


An article published by the University of Derby tells us that historically, we have always had a close relationship with animals but the difference is, that back as recently as the 1980’s dogs were mostly fed whatever the household was eating, hovering up leftovers and, however accidental, helped us to keep food waste to a minimum.



From my own memories as a child, I recall dog toys being mostly superfluous to requirements. Instead of specific dog toys, I recall dogs playing happily with things like plastic bottles (long before recycling was the norm), an old slipper or an unwanted teddy bear. Tennis balls seemed an occasional treat.


Fast forward to today and UK pet owners are estimated to spend around £57 billion collectively on their pets every year! This includes costs for toys, pet clothing, beds, accessories etc. The dog food market alone is worth around £2.9 billion


That is a whopping change in a short time! Just 40 short years ago, dogs lived with us much more harmoniously, eating our leftovers and enjoying our hand-me-downs as toys. Today, we spend astonishing sums of money to pamper our pets!


Now, I’m not advocating that we go back to the ‘old days’ of feeding our dogs leftover bangers and mash, but it is important to recognise that keeping animals comes at an environmental cost and that ultimately, that we can reduce their impact.


The University of Edinburgh led the first project to assess the global environmental impact of pet food production. In 2020 they published an article outlining that they found dry pet food production, which accounts for 95% of mass-produced pet food sales around the globe, takes the equivalent land mass as twice the size of the UK to produce. They said that “ Annual greenhouse gas emissions were found to be 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. A country producing the same levels would be the worlds sixtieth highest emitter”



While these are global impacts, not UK, it’s an important consideration, especially when we consider that these impacts takes no account of the amount of wet food produced or even the snacks that we feed our pets, In 2018, the dog treat market was worth £462 million in the UK.


It is worth noting that in 2018, the top ten largest pet food manufacturers included Colgate-Palmolive with brands such as Hills Pet Nutrition, Mar Petcare which includes a wide range of brands such as Pedigree, Whiskas and Royal Canine and Nestle with a variety of brands including Purina and more recently Lilys Kitchen.

It would be a huge undertaking to delve into the ethical and environmental activities for each of the top ten pet food companies listed here but we would strongly encourage you to carry out your own reading about the activities and behaviour of your preferred pet food company. Here is an article we found that might be a good place to start. For instance, did you know that an investigation by Cruelty Free International (formerly BUAV) found that the big four pet food companies in the UK, including Purina Petcare (Nestlé), Hills Pet Nutrition (Colgate Palmolive), Iams (Procter & Gamble), and Pedigree (Mars) found that all of these companies provide funding for, or carry out their own, animal testing?



Given how we pamper our pets, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to read the results of a new pet health study that found the 3 most common health complaints in dogs are dental disease (12.5%), ear infection (7.3%) and obesity (7.1%)


But there seems to be a slow but growing shift in attitude about how we feed our pets. Petfood.com published an article in which they discuss analysis and claims made by Mintel, a market intelligence agency, who found that:

  • 27% of dog owners cooked from scratch/served leftovers to their pets in 2019up from 22% in 2018.

  • 21% of cat owners reported scratch-cooking/serving leftovers in 2019, up from13% in 2018.

  • 46% of cat/dog food buyers are interested in guidance for making pet food at home.

There are also growing arguments for a more plant-based diet for dogs (This is not an option for cats) but the arguments for and against can be complex and not one we are going to dive into in this blog. If you are considering this as an option, the PDSA has produced a short article about things to consider and if in any doubt, we would recommend you consult your pet's vet.


But it isn’t just the food we feed our dogs.


We also treat our dogs to an array of toys, clothing and accessories. Much of which is made, either full or in part, from plastic. Many of these products will be made in factories overseas and with little known about safety standards and supply chain accountability for human rights, it is hard to say what the real impact of our pet treats are in relation to the environment and communities around the globe.


In addition to the day-to-day pet toys that people buy, according to MoneyExpert.com pet owners also spend around £92 on gifts for their dog and £76 on gifts for their cats each year.



For the purposes of keeping this blog post short, we have focussed on the most popular pets - cats and dogs - but of course, all pets will have an environmental impact of some kind with exotic animals kept in heated vivarium’s which have their own unique impact on the environment.


We are not, for one second, advocating that we stop keeping animals in our homes and families but, we do think there has to be a better way.


Here are some tips for reducing the environmental impact of keeping dogs and cats.


Food:


With pet obesity on the rise and one of the top three health complaints affecting of our pets, a simple step to reducing the impact of our pets is to simply stop overfeeding them. Yes of course, we all like to treat our pets, but do we need to give treats so often?


Animal food, in the main, is formulated to provide the nutrients your animal needs so really, treats should be kept to a minimum. Just remember to adjust how much food you put down at mealtimes to allow for those snack moments. Not only does this save your pet's waistline but also saves you money on pet food over the year and possibly vet bills too if your pet becomes overweight.


Instead of buying highly processed, mass-produced, pet treats, why not make your own with foodstuffs many will already have at home – there are so many simple dog treat recipes available online now.

If you don’t fancy baking dog snacks, you could buy more natural or locally made snack products instead. Remember, a treat may be small to you, but to your dog, it could be the equivalent in calories to them as a donut, so it is important to be treat wise.


We've put together some dog treat recipes for inspiration over on our Pinterest page.


Toys:


We all love to see our pets happy and playing but do they really need so many new toys? Most dog toys are made from, atleast in part, virgin plastics. That is, plastics that are new and not from recycled sources. While there are now some dedicated pet accessory suppliers who produce only sustainable products, sustainable toys are not the norm in most UK pet stores.


If you really must treat your pet with a new toy, why not seek out suppliers of sustainable toys instead? Many are sold by smaller UK businesses so as a double bonus, not only would you reduce your plastic footprint, but you also get to support small businesses too. If every home with a cat or dog bought just one sustainable toy a year, that would save over 20 million plastic pet toys from heading to landfill where they take around 400 years to decompose, leaching toxins into the environment as they do so.



You could also consider making alternative toys for your pets too. For dogs, an old slipper or teddy bear will provide hours of fun. For cats, you could fashion a toy from a small stick with natural twine and a small teddy on the end for them to chase instead of the plastic ‘wand’ toys sold in pretty much every pet shop I’ve ever been in. Word of caution though, if you are upcycling or making a toy etc, you must ensure that there are no choke or obstruction hazards and no sharp elements such as glass eyes on bears that could detach and be swallowed (many teddies for younger children do have stitched eyes rather than beads etc), embellishments on slippers or other hazards like splintered wood or broken objects. Remember that pet playtime should always be supervised, with shop bought or homemade toys alike and any broken toys must be removed immediately and disposed of safely.


For inspiration, we have put together some natural and homeade toy ideas on our Pinterest page


Accessories:


Fast fashion is mentioned a lot these days in the UK media. The negative impacts of fast fashion are largely understood now, even if change is slow to take place.


Fast fashion and its negative impacts also applies to pet accessories. In the UK, pet owners spend, on average, £200 a year on clothes for their pets. That is a staggering amount when multiplied by the 10 million dog owners in the UK alone.


While some dogs, particularly those with thin or fine fur, for example Greyhounds or other sighthounds, do require a coat during the colder winter months, the fact is, most pets simply do not need pet clothing. And let’s face it, no matter how cute they look in that bumble bee costume, they definitely don’t need it! Especially considering that the polyester it is most likely made from will still exist in our environment for anywhere between 20 to 200 years, long after the half hour of fun and pet photoshoot have been forgotten.



For the owners of pets who require coats in the cold weather, why not shop local? There are now many makers who can be found on marketplaces who make coats that are not only made to measure but are also generally made to last, contain little to no plastics and aren’t shipped halfway around the world to reach us. Plus, you get to support a local small business at the same time.

If you just like to dress your pet in new clothes, maybe for occasions like Christmas or Halloween, or maybe just because it’s a Tuesday in the park, why not check out the second-hand market rather than buying something new? Or perhaps you could find a local maker who can fashion you something unique out of upcycled fabrics instead? Better yet, why not consider whether your pet really needs the clothes at all.


Toilet:


All dogs need to poop! But all that poop collection comes at the expense of the planet with some estimates suggesting we get through about 730 poop bags per year, many of which are still made from plastic. Switching to a plant-based, biodegradable bag is an easy swap.


If you have a garden, you could ditch the single bags and use a designated small spade/scoop to collect doggy waste and put it in one bigger biodegradable bag – like those used as bin liners - and then dispose of it in your usual green bin.


For cat owners, you can now get recycled plastic trays and plant-based liners too.



Links provided here are not affiliated with us in any way and as always, we urge you to check the safety of links etc.


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