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The Scoop

The Environmental Paw Print Of Man’s Best Friend & How Can You Reduce It

Paws down, dogs are our best friends—which makes it extra ruff to acknowledge the fact that they’re not the planet’s. Dogs have a carbon footprint, just like humans, and choosing to purchase eco-friendly dog beds & eco-friendly dog toys is a great first step!

Our friends at West Paw are doing their part to decrease their carbon footprint by using sustainable materials that are better for the earth, for their workers, and for your pets. However, It isn’t enough to offset it completely.

From the resources used to produce their food and toys to the waste they produce, our pets can have a significant carbon paw print.

In fact, in terms of emissions, owning the average medium-breed dog is about the same as driving a large SUV about 6,000 miles.

Now, consider there are over 90 million domestic dogs in the US alone. We won’t bore you with the mathematics, but that’s a LOT of metric tons of greenhouse gasses.

But fear not, there are many simple steps that dog owners can take to reduce their environmental impact and ensure a more sustainable future for our planet.

Let’s go for a walk around some of the environmental footprints associated with owning a dog and how you can help minimize each one without sacrificing their happiness or well-being.

1. Where We Get Them: Breeding Vs Adoption

If you’re still in the pet parenting planning stages, know that where you choose to get your future family member does play a role in their environmental impact.

We’ve all heard the phrase “adopt, don’t shop” and likely know that adoption is better from an animal welfare standpoint—there are so many loving dogs in the world that need homes!

But did you know choosing to adopt can also have a lower environmental impact?

Here are some ways breeders are potentially increasing the impact of your pet before you even put the bamboo dog collar on:

  • Overpopulation: There are more dogs in the world that need homes than homes that want dogs. While adoption helps bridge the gap between the two, breeding only widens it by contributing to overpopulation.
  • Transportation: Buying a pet from a breeder may require transportation over long distances, which can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. The same can be said of shelters, but most people have access to shelters within close proximity than breeders.
  • Veterinary care: not always the case, but pets from breeders may be more prone to health issues. Pets from shelters usually have mixed genetics which may make them more resilient to health issues and complications.


Regardless of whether you choose to buy or adopt, be sure to spay or neuter your pet to avoid accidentally contributing to overpopulation, too.

2. How We Feed Them: Sustainable Pet Food

The single largest portion of a dog’s environmental impact comes from what goes in their dinner bowl.

Conventional dog foods support industrial animal agriculture in a big way—as much as 25% of animal agriculture on the whole.

Not to mention the fact that it’s chock-full of synthetic ingredients, forever chemicals, and preservatives that can lead to canine allergies, obesity, and other health problems.

Combined, cats and dogs could establish their own country that would rank #5 in the world for meat consumption, necessitating the creation of 64 million tons of CO2 equivalent methane gas annually, a greenhouse gas roughly 26 times more potent at accelerating climate change than CO2.

That’s equivalent to 13 million cars driving on the road for an entire year.

The worst part is that many of these emissions are unnecessary.

Dogs are omnivores, which means they don’t need to eat meat to survive—unlike cats, who are “obligate carnivores” and thus cannot properly subsist and thrive on vegan cat food alone.

If you’re not comfortable switching to an all-vegan dog diet, start by paying more attention to the sourcing behind the meats you give your dog. Are they organically raised, grass-fed, wild-caught, or free-range?

West Paw Beef Lung treats, for example, are made in the USA with humanely raised and sustainably sourced Montana-raised grass-fed beef.

You can also simply reduce the amount of meat in your dog's diet by incorporating plant-based protein sources such as lentils, chickpeas, and peas.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to make their own food to ensure your dog is eating ethically, sustainably, and healthily.

With an increasing number of eco-friendly dog food brands hitting pet supply stores, it’s easier than ever to switch to food or treats (like West Paw’s) that’s both more natural for your pet and supports more sustainable food systems.

3. How We Clean Up After Them: Proper Poop Disposal

Next to food, poop is the most significant environmental issue associated with dog ownership, particularly in urban areas.

If not properly disposed of, it can:


  • Contaminate water sources with microorganisms
  • Lead to eutrophication due to its nutrient-rich composition that causes excessive algae growth and choked our natural biodiversity
  • Contribute to the spread of diseases like giardia, roundworm, and E. coli


That means every time your dog goes to the bathroom outside and the waste doesn’t get picked up, it’s causing potential contamination not just the environment, but the water table you drink from.

Think about it this way: would you want the runoff of 10.6 million tons of poop produced by US-owned dogs flowing into where you drink your water?

No amount of water purification makes us feel good about that.

As a pet owner, make a habit of picking up your dog’s poop every single time—whether at the dog park, on the nature path, or out in the mountains.

Even in sparsely populated areas of nature, dog poop can severely damage the natural environment, especially in more arid climates that don’t see enough moisture for it to properly biodegrade.

But picking up the poop isn’t a solution to this messy problem on its own. Dog waste bags themselves contribute to plastic pollution—especially if you bag it up then leave the plastic bag forgotten on the side of the trail (seriously, don’t be that guy).

Biodegradable pet waste bags are great, but only if you don’t have an alternative means of disposal. Contrary to marketing and popular belief, compostable and biodegradable bags of any kind are NOT better than plastic ones if your intent is still to throw them in the dumpster.

While they break down in less time, their organic base means they’ll release methane gas as they do so in landfills, which, as we’ve already established, should have us all tucking our tails between our legs.

However, using poop bags that are compostable is an excellent choice if you plan on actually composting your dog’s poop.

Just note that composting pet waste is not as simple as tossing it in your everyday indoor compost bin. You’ll need to create a separate compost bin (ideally a high-heat one that can reach up to 145°F) and be sure not to use the finished compost on vegetable gardens or plants meant for human consumption. It can be used on non-edible plants only.

If you don’t have the living situation to do compost, you can simply pick up poop using old paper and flush it, or see if your local area offers proper pet waste stations.

In short: ALWAYS clean up after your pet and try to dispose of it in something other than the trash.

4. What We Buy Them: Eco-Friendly Toys & Pet Products

We love spoiling our furry friends, but next time you think about impulse buying that adorable toy at the pet store, ask yourself: Do they need this? If so, is this the best option?

Eco-friendly pet products are those made with natural materials (i.e. organic dog beds) or recycled ones, like 5 Bamboo Pet Products For Sustainable Pet Parenting the Seaflex™ recycled ocean bound plastic toys and feeding accessories from West Paw.

Common natural materials include organic cotton, hemp fabric, natural rubber, and bamboo fabric, while recycled materials can be made of anything from old dog toys and ocean-bound plastic to West Paw’s Intelliloft®, a full recycled dog bed filling made of recycled plastic bottles.

Bamboo pet products, like collars, beds, and bowls, are especially popular as a naturally durable alternative to traditional plastic products.

If going the recycled route, be sure to select things that are BPA-free and can be recycled once they’ve been chewed on for the last time—like West Paw’s line of circular, recycled dog toys.

5. How We Walk Them: Preventing Ecosystem Harm

Dog ownership can also have an impact on land use. Dogs require space to run and play, and some breeds require more space than others.

Dog parks are one way we as a society have adapted to this, but if you live in more rural areas and are accustomed to taking your dog out on public land instead, the onus of managing their impact falls on you.

Certain breeds of dogs may chase and kill animals, and any breed has the potential to wander off trail and trod on fragile ecosystems when out and about.

If you live in the desert, for example, you may be familiar with the phrase “don’t bust the crust”. Dogs, however, are not capable of being aware of whether they’re stepping on centuries-old cryptobiotic soil crust. It’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure they don’t.

Plus, if dogs are running around off-leash, there’s often no way to know if they’re going to the bathroom. Unless you can keep an eye on them from afar.

Keeping your dog on a leash when in nature—no matter how well-behaved they may be—is the best way to prevent unintentional damage to the ecosystem.

Final Thoughts On Sustainable Dog Ownership

Dogs add joy to our lives. They’re our friends, our family, and our support networks.

Shown to decrease anxiety and depression, they can actually help balance out the rest of our eco anxieties caused by increasing plastic pollution and impending climate change.

But as much as we love our furry companions, we need to be aware of the environmental impact of owning a dog. After all, reducing your carbon footprint means accounting for those under your care who can’t do so themselves

By making small changes to your dog's lifestyle and the products you use, you can significantly reduce your dog's environmental impact while also promoting their health and happiness.