How to Live Zero Waste with a Dog

Climate change affects every aspect of life for every living being on the planet — and that includes our precious pooches. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, climate change has increased the spread of canine diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, heartworms, and Lyme disease to areas where they were previously eradicated.

No surprise, then, that people and pups all over the world are joining the zero waste movement to minimize their environmental impact. Yet the term "zero waste" is also somewhat misleading. Producing absolutely zero waste is nigh on "impawssible" — but it certainly doesn't hurt to try!

While individual lifestyle changes won't be enough by themselves to solve the climate crisis, every little bit helps, and your cuddly canine can even join in the fight against global warming. Keep reading to discover the basic principles of living zero waste with a dog, as well as helpful tips on everything from zero waste dog treats and toys to sustainable grooming options. 

Zero Waste Living with a Dog: The Basics

Before you start making a wishlist of zero waste pet products, take some time to learn the basic principles of zero waste living.

  • Use what you have. Sadly, even the zero waste movement isn't safe from the superfluous spending attitudes of consumer culture. Whatever pet products you already have — food and water bowls, liquid dog shampoo, leashes, collars, toys — use them up before buying new, even if they're plastic.

  • Buy durable. When you do need to buy something, think twice before snapping up something made from cheap, synthetic materials. Opt for food and water bowls made from bamboo and stainless steel. Although it may seem counterintuitive, real leather leashes hold up better than vegan leather, which leads us to our next tip.
  • Do your homework. Not all "eco-friendly" materials are created equal. For example, most vegan leather is made from polyurethane, a synthetic material made of microfiber, which isn't biodegradable. Although it may be cruelty-free, that doesn't necessarily mean it's good for the planet. There's a wealth of information online regarding the true carbon footprint of some of the most popular sustainable materials. Generally, hemp and bamboo are excellent, low-carbon alternatives to plastic. 

Zero Waste Dog Food

No conversation on sustainable dog food can begin without addressing one of the biggest contributors to climate change: the meat industry. Considering that the typical canine diet consists of animal proteins and byproducts, it's likely that our pets have a carbon pawprint of their own (even if it's a much smaller one compared to ours). Naturally, this might lead eco-conscious pet parents to wonder, "Can dogs be vegan or vegetarian?"

Dogs are omnivores, and contrary to popular belief, they can survive on a vegan diet. However, just because they can doesn't mean they should. In fact, most vegan diets deprive dogs of essential nutrients, like keratin and collagen, which are often found in animal proteins. Feel free to give your doggo a vegan treat every now and then, though — most pups go dog wild for all natural peanut butter! Just don't switch your dog to a completely vegetarian or vegan diet without explicit instructions from your vet.

Now that's out of the way, let's talk turkey. Finding a good zero waste dog food is one of the trickiest parts of transitioning to an eco-friendly lifestyle with your dog. Here are a few options for zero waste dog food.

  • Consult your vet first. Before making any changes to your dog's diet, always seek the advice of your trusted veterinarian.

  • Buy in bulk. If you're lucky enough to live near a pet store which stocks loose kibble in bulk, bring your own containers and buy what you need. It's worth noting, however, that some bulk dog foods may be lower quality.

  • Buy food in recyclable packaging. Dog food packaging varies widely from cardboard boxes and plastic-lined paper bags to steel cans. Some local recycling programs may not be able to recycle dog food packaging, but Terracycle may accept packaging that's typically non-recyclable.

  • Buy food in the largest quality you can. If you can't buy in bulk and you can't find recyclable packaging, the smallest step forward on your zero waste dog food journey is to buy the largest quantity of food possible. Though single pouches of dog food are conveniently pre-portioned, they also generate much more waste.

While making your own zero waste dog food is technically an option, we strongly advise against it unless you really know what you're doing. Making a DIY kibble that contains all the proteins and nutrients your buddy needs is expensive, time-consuming, and requires extensive knowledge of canine nutrition. "Furtunately", zero waste dog treats are another story!

Zero Waste Dog Treats

Making your own zero waste dog treats is a walk in the park! The best part is, you probably already have all the ingredients you'll need. We've covered our favorite DIY zero waste dog treat recipes on another page, so we'll keep it short and sweet here with a list of the most commonly used ingredients:

  • Dog-safe veggies: broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, green beans, spinach
  • Dog-safe fruits: bananas, apples, blueberries, cantaloupe, mangoes, oranges, peaches
  • All-natural peanut butter (no added sugar or oils, please!)
  • Chicken stock

Don't have time to make your own? Most big-box pet stores carry loose treats in bulk, so bring your own glass or stainless steel container and fill it up with your doggo's favorite foods.

Zero Waste Dog Toys

Most dog owners might think finding a new zero waste dog toy is as easy as strolling through the woods and picking out a good stick. (But we don't need to tell you that gnawing on sticks is hazardous for your hound's health.)

So skip the stick and sniff out some better zero waste dog toy ideas. Need some inspiration? We've got you covered!

  • Buy secondhand. Before splurging on a fancy new dog toy from the pet store, hit up your local thrift shops. You never know — you just might find Fido's next favorite chew toy for a bargain!

  • Search for a hemp toy. This organic natural fiber is all the rage right now, and for good reason. Hemp plushies and hemp rope toys aren't only durable, but they're also eco-friendly. You'll find all sorts of hemp dog toys on the internet.

  • Beware of bones. Are bones safe for dogs? It depends. According to the American Kennel Club, large, durable raw bones, like beef shank, are best. You should never give your dog cooked bones, as they're brittle and splinter easily. Additionally, while antlers seem like a good choice, they can still splinter and cause dental damage.

Zero Waste Dog Grooming

First things first: the following zero waste dog grooming tips are best suited to dogs with healthy coats. If your doggo has a skin disease that requires medicated shampoo, you'll need to consult your vet before trying any of these sustainable swaps.

Without further ado, here are some quick and not-so-dirty tips to keep your tail-wagging treehugger looking sharp.

  • Use a bamboo brush. This is a particularly handy tip for dogs with thick coats. Brushes with bamboo handles and metallic bristles hold up well against dense fur and are readily available in most pet stores.

  • Try shampoo bars. You might be surprised to find that shampoo bars work just as well as liquid dog shampoos! If you're the crafty kind, you might want to consider making your own zero waste dog shampoo bars.

  • Clean that coat with castile soap. Many zero wasters swear by castile soap. This gentle, multi-faceted cleanser is a brilliant replacement for an array of products. If you're using it as a dog shampoo, make sure it's either unscented or mixed with a dog-safe essential oil, like tea tree or lavender. Also, castile soap is typically concentrated, so be sure to dilute it with water first.

And there you have it — everything you need to know about zero waste living with a dog. (Well, almost.) If you want more in-depth guidance, we have individual zero waste guides for each of the above topics and a few more!

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