Top 5 Greenest Pets

By Sarah Grace McCandless, Animal Planet

You can use eco-friendly initiatives to go green in nearly every aspect of your life, including the house you live in, the cars you drive and the food you eat — but what about the pets you love? From teaching responsibility to providing unconditional companionship, furry friends can certainly change your life for the better, but can they also change the environment for the worse?

Just like people, animals multiply, require food and shelter, produce waste, and use a variety of accessories such as toys and bedding that require a manufacturing process — all of which contribute to shaping and defining their carbon paw print. But just as we have the ability to make more sustainable choices within our own activities and lifestyles, there are more eco-friendly approaches when it comes to pet ownership as well. Check out the top five options for getting a green pet.

(Click through to the end for a printer-friendly version.)

Adopted Pets

One way a potential pet owner can take the eco-friendly route is by opting for a “recycled” pet of sorts through shelter adoption. These organizations have plenty of pets of various ages and breeds to choose from. In fact, up to 8 million dogs and cats — including many purebreds — enter animal shelters every year, according to the Human Society of the United States (HSUS). However, many potential owners still decide to buy their pets from pet stores or directly from breeders, which only adds to the problem of pet overpopulation by creating a demand for additional pets that need homes. As a result, animal shelters put down nearly 4 million animals a year, because the number of potential pets far outweighs the number of actual adoptions. Pet overpopulation can create serious issues for the environment, including increased waste production, as well as the need for additional farming space to provide enough food to feed those extra mouths. Adopting a shelter pet and having it spayed or neutered may, in a small way, help with combating this problem.

Why You Should Adopt a Less-Adoptable Pet

Indoor Cats

If you’re a proud cat owner, making the decision to keep your kitty indoors can do a lot to help keep the environment in balance. First, wildlife such as birds, squirrels and butterflies will thank you for saving their lives. Outdoor cats love to hunt, not out of a necessity for food but because they’re instinctually compelled to do so. According to the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife, these pets’ annual kill counts are in the hundreds of millions — one recent study estimates that domestic rural cats kill 39 million birds in Wisconsin alone. This can cause profound damage to the ecosystem, including the extinction of certain bird species, which has led to the development of programs such as Cats Indoors!, a program created by the American Bird Conservancy and promoted by the Audubon Society. Cat feces are also an environmental foe, because they contain parasites, such as toxoplasma gondii, that can wreak havoc on local water sources and the health of other outdoor creatures. Keep it green by keeping kitty inside.

Bringing an Outdoor Cat Inside

Double Duty Pets

Getting a pet that provides an additional benefit beyond companionship and love can also be a green choice. For example, one of the latest trends in eco-friendly pet ownership — even in urban areas — is keeping and raising chickens, which lay eggs that owners can keep for personal use. Some may find these birds less cuddly and pet-like than cats or dogs, but many who’ve raised them say that chickens can be trained to come when called and sometimes enjoy petting and lap-holding. Of course, anyone considering chicken ownership should make sure they’re able to provide proper living conditions for the animals, which includes allowing them the ability to move around and spread their wings, along with providing accommodations for adequate food, water and shelter. Also, many cities have regulations about how — or even if — you can keep chickens at your house, so it’s a good idea to find out what the rules are in your area before bringing home any hens. If chicks are out of the question, you still have dual-purpose pet options: Some other animals, such as rabbits, also can prove to be more than just a cuddly sidekick, since their droppings can be used in compost piles.

Build a Backyard Chicken Coop

Small Dogs

For dog lovers — especially those that live in tight quarters — opting for a smaller breed will not only help your personal space feel, well, more spacious, it will keep things in check from an environmental perspective as well. In their 2009 book “Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living,” Dr. Robert and professor Brenda Vale maintained that even a medium-size dog eats up to 360 pounds of food per year and has an environmental impact greater than that of an SUV driven 10,000 kilometers (6,213 miles) a year. In general, smaller dogs, such as Yorkshire terriers or chihuahuas, eat less than, say, Labrador retrievers, St. Bernards or German shepherds. This means less food that needs to be produced and packaged, and less waste that’s created as a result. Of course, this is not to say you should totally rule out medium or large breeds, but if your living space is already small, sticking with a small pet might be the greenest way to go.

Where Did Small Dogs Come From?

Low-Maintenance Pets

When people play around with the idea of a getting a pet, dogs and cats are often the first types of animals that come to mind. But there are other choices out there, and some of them are much more eco-friendly. For example, hamsters, birds, snakes and fish typically require minimal food and produce less waste. They also generally need only a minimal number of toys and very little bedding or other accessories. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spend billions of dollars each year on their pet supplies — many of which, toys in particular, are made from plastic. Their production can take its toll on the environment, so getting a pet that needs less may help you start out on a greener foot.

If you do decide to get a low-maintenance pet, however, proceed with caution. It’s possible to accidentally stray into exotic pet territory, which includes certain types of frogs and lizards, among other creatures. These exotic pets often need very specialized (and costly) habitats to mimic their natural environments as closely as possible. Not only could you end up spending more time and money than you initially bargained for, you may find that you’re actually hurting the environment by using special filters and chemicals needed to maintain your pet’s tank.

Ultimately, though, being eco-conscious while choosing a pet can be a rewarding process. You’ll take strides — big or small — toward improving the planet’s overall well-being while finding a pet you can love for years to come.

Related:
6 Health Benefits of Having Pets
5 Ways to Detox Your Pet’s Space
5 Tips for Adopting Shelter Animals

Next: printer-friendly version

You can use eco-friendly initiatives to go green in nearly every aspect of your life, including the house you live in, the cars you drive and the food you eat — but what about the pets you love? From teaching responsibility to providing unconditional companionship, furry friends can certainly change your life for the better, but can they also change the environment for the worse?

Just like people, animals multiply, require food and shelter, produce waste, and use a variety of accessories such as toys and bedding that require a manufacturing process — all of which contribute to shaping and defining their carbon paw print. But just as we have the ability to make more sustainable choices within our own activities and lifestyles, there are more eco-friendly approaches when it comes to pet ownership as well. Check out the top five options for getting a green pet.

Adopted Pets

One way a potential pet owner can take the eco-friendly route is by opting for a “recycled” pet of sorts through shelter adoption. These organizations have plenty of pets of various ages and breeds to choose from. In fact, up to 8 million dogs and cats — including many purebreds — enter animal shelters every year, according to the Human Society of the United States (HSUS). However, many potential owners still decide to buy their pets from pet stores or directly from breeders, which only adds to the problem of pet overpopulation by creating a demand for additional pets that need homes. As a result, animal shelters put down nearly 4 million animals a year, because the number of potential pets far outweighs the number of actual adoptions. Pet overpopulation can create serious issues for the environment, including increased waste production, as well as the need for additional farming space to provide enough food to feed those extra mouths. Adopting a shelter pet and having it spayed or neutered may, in a small way, help with combating this problem.

Why You Should Adopt a Less-Adoptable Pet

Indoor Cats

If you’re a proud cat owner, making the decision to keep your kitty indoors can do a lot to help keep the environment in balance. First, wildlife such as birds, squirrels and butterflies will thank you for saving their lives. Outdoor cats love to hunt, not out of a necessity for food but because they’re instinctually compelled to do so. According to the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife, these pets’ annual kill counts are in the hundreds of millions — one recent study estimates that domestic rural cats kill 39 million birds in Wisconsin alone. This can cause profound damage to the ecosystem, including the extinction of certain bird species, which has led to the development of programs such as Cats Indoors!, a program created by the American Bird Conservancy and promoted by the Audubon Society. Cat feces are also an environmental foe, because they contain parasites, such as toxoplasma gondii, that can wreak havoc on local water sources and the health of other outdoor creatures. Keep it green by keeping kitty inside.

Bringing an Outdoor Cat Inside

Double Duty Pets

Getting a pet that provides an additional benefit beyond companionship and love can also be a green choice. For example, one of the latest trends in eco-friendly pet ownership — even in urban areas — is keeping and raising chickens, which lay eggs that owners can keep for personal use. Some may find these birds less cuddly and pet-like than cats or dogs, but many who’ve raised them say that chickens can be trained to come when called and sometimes enjoy petting and lap-holding. Of course, anyone considering chicken ownership should make sure they’re able to provide proper living conditions for the animals, which includes allowing them the ability to move around and spread their wings, along with providing accommodations for adequate food, water and shelter. Also, many cities have regulations about how — or even if — you can keep chickens at your house, so it’s a good idea to find out what the rules are in your area before bringing home any hens. If chicks are out of the question, you still have dual-purpose pet options: Some other animals, such as rabbits, also can prove to be more than just a cuddly sidekick, since their droppings can be used in compost piles.

Build a Backyard Chicken Coop

Small Dogs

For dog lovers — especially those that live in tight quarters — opting for a smaller breed will not only help your personal space feel, well, more spacious, it will keep things in check from an environmental perspective as well. In their 2009 book “Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living,” Dr. Robert and professor Brenda Vale maintained that even a medium-size dog eats up to 360 pounds of food per year and has an environmental impact greater than that of an SUV driven 10,000 kilometers (6,213 miles) a year. In general, smaller dogs, such as Yorkshire terriers or chihuahuas, eat less than, say, Labrador retrievers, St. Bernards or German shepherds. This means less food that needs to be produced and packaged, and less waste that’s created as a result. Of course, this is not to say you should totally rule out medium or large breeds, but if your living space is already small, sticking with a small pet might be the greenest way to go.

Where Did Small Dogs Come From?

Low-Maintenance Pets

When people play around with the idea of a getting a pet, dogs and cats are often the first types of animals that come to mind. But there are other choices out there, and some of them are much more eco-friendly. For example, hamsters, birds, snakes and fish typically require minimal food and produce less waste. They also generally need only a minimal number of toys and very little bedding or other accessories. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spend billions of dollars each year on their pet supplies — many of which, toys in particular, are made from plastic. Their production can take its toll on the environment, so getting a pet that needs less may help you start out on a greener foot.

If you do decide to get a low-maintenance pet, however, proceed with caution. It’s possible to accidentally stray into exotic pet territory, which includes certain types of frogs and lizards, among other creatures. These exotic pets often need very specialized (and costly) habitats to mimic their natural environments as closely as possible. Not only could you end up spending more time and money than you initially bargained for, you may find that you’re actually hurting the environment by using special filters and chemicals needed to maintain your pet’s tank.

Ultimately, though, being eco-conscious while choosing a pet can be a rewarding process. You’ll take strides — big or small — toward improving the planet’s overall well-being while finding a pet you can love for years to come.

Related:
6 Health Benefits of Having Pets
5 Ways to Detox Your Pet’s Space
5 Tips for Adopting Shelter Animals

204 comments

Rose N.
Rose N.5 years ago

Thank you for posting.

Stephanie I.

Thanks for the advice.

Rooibos Bird
IE Ries5 years ago

Con't:

Birds (parrots, finches and any other species) require toys, accessories, and a LOT of personal attention. The larger the bird, the more poop. Birds poop on average every 15-20 minutes. The poop many not be as large or stinky as a cat or dog's feces, but it's very sticky and difficult to remove when dried.

Don't fool yourself about the "less waste and mess" part, as birds have a tendency to to what's comically called "projectile pooping" by bird-keepers: they lift their tails and shoot it out, often hitting walls and fabric (curtains) with it.

Birds fling their seeds and masticated fresh fruits and vegetables (oh, did you mention they need those, too?) by shaking the clumps from their beaks. They literally "paint" walls with the stuff.

Birds chew, and to keep them happy, occupied, and beaks and nails trimmed, they require chewing toys...which get "destroyed" quickly, must be replaced frequently, and can be rather expensive over time. So much for "minimal accessories and toys," unless you're insinuating that birds deserve less because they are birds?

Lastly, parrots particularly are LOUD. Very, very LOUD. They squawk, scream, shriek, whistle and make all sorts of ear-splitting vocalizations for a variety of reasons: boredom, frustration, to get your attention, to greet you, demands to be let out of a cage, to be given food and water, and so on. Your neighbors WILL say something if you have a parrot or 8, like I have.

Choose wisely!

Rooibos Bird
IE Ries5 years ago

Dogs and cats are NOT "green pets" no matter how one tries to cram them into that category for the same reason that most humans aren't green: their food consists of factory farmed animals and wildlife that is slaughtered at a huge expense to the environment, not even counting the clearcutting that happened, the pollution the waste causes, and the tremendous use of water to sustain factory farming operations. There's no nice way to say this, either. If you keep a carnivore as a pet, you're contributing greatly to the suffering of farmed animals with your "choice" of companion animal. Think about this very, very carefully.

"Of course, anyone considering chicken ownership should make sure they’re able to provide proper living conditions for the animals, which includes allowing them the ability to move around and spread their wings..."

WRONG

Where are getting this, from the Poultry Association? All birds require safe quarters for SLEEP but should have adequate area to roam, forage and exercise during waking hours. Just giving a chicken "enough space to spread her wings" is NOT adequate, it's forced confinement.

"For example, hamsters, birds, snakes and fish typically require minimal food and produce less waste. They also generally need only a minimal number of toys and very little bedding or other accessories."

Where did you get THAT crap from, animal breeders? Birds are NOT "minimal care" animals at all - please stop spreading dangerous misinformation!

Emily B.
Emily B.5 years ago

I love animals, thank you for some helpful information.

Ann P.
A P.5 years ago

Perhaps an earlier comment addressed this but, the methods used to obtain exotic fish and bird can be devastating to the environment, other creatures that environment supports and many of the animals are killed during the collection and transportation. If you truly love animals. Stick with domestic animals. Let wild animals be wild, show your love and appreciation of them by protecting them and their natural environment.

BTW My current kitty was a fostered (by my sister along with her siblings) coordinated by the local HS. Encourage everyone to spay/neuter and to encourage everyone they know to do the same. Decreasing pet over population is the greenest (and kindest) thing we can do.

Brea L.
Brea L.5 years ago

I have one disagreement with your article. Neither fish nor birds should be considered "low maintenance" pets. Fish live in a closed environment with a specialized biochemistry (i.e., the tiny confines of the water in their tank), and while it's not difficult to learn to maintain this environment properly, the skills must be learned and practiced to keep your fish healthy. Birds are highly social animals, with high metabolism rates for their size. While some, like finches, canaries, and doves, are reasonably content with moderate interaction (or best, being kept in a group of the same species), hookbills such as parrokeets, lovebirds, parrots, cockatoos, cockatiels and macaws are extremely intelligent and require lots of attention, and mental stimulation through both interaction and lots of different toys. The larger hookbills also have long lifespans compared to dogs and cats - different species range from 30 to almost 100 years - so owners should do a lot of research before making this decision, and be ready to take on responsibility for the long haul. You and your bird should also select and train your heir, if you're older than your bird is.

Bethany M.
Bethany M.5 years ago

Awesome article!

Jewel Rich
Jewel Rich5 years ago

Definitely Food For Thought Here..... I Never Thought That An Outdoor Cat Could Be Bad For The Environment!!!!!

Pam R.
Past Member 5 years ago

Cats -- neutered, indoors (except for the one who tears my house apart if he can't go out. In his defense, the only local wildlife I am aware of him eating are the rats -- he studiedly ignores birds and lizards).
All of them were strays -- one was a feral born in my neighbor's yard.

One thing pet owners might look at is the quality of the food they feed their pets.
Cheap, highly advertised commercial pet foods these days are not actually that good for your pets -- full of cornmeal and "by-products" that are not necessary, and can actually make your pet sick, get allergies, or have skin problems.

They will also eat more of the lower-grade pet foods, because they need more quantity to get the sustenance they need (the corn meal is used mostly as a filler, to increase the weight of the food, so you think you're getting a bargain for your dollar).

And the list of ingredients -- I won't eat something I can't pronounce myself, why would I feed it to my pet?

I switched to a high-end, natural cat food, with no corn meal or 'by-products', and nothing on the label I can't pronounce.
The initial cost is higher, but in the long run, it's cheaper. My cats are healthier. And I think it's greener -- and I wasn't even trying to be green!