Being A Responsible Pet Owner

What does a responsible pet owner look like?

Over 11 million U.S. households welcomed a new pet last year, making many of us proud new pandemic pet owners.

While we love our furry friends, are we negatively impacting the environment with our decision? Luckily, responsible pet ownership helps alleviate an “either/or” situation. 

It starts with your first choice

The ASPCA reports that approximately 6.3 million companion animals (3.1 million dogs, 3.2 million cats) enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Making the choice to adopt a shelter pet that needs a home is the first step in responsible pet ownership. 

It’s also important to reframe existing perceptions on “kill” or “no-kill” shelters since these labels can be misleading in today’s animal welfare industry.

Here in Maine, the local Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (ARLGP) discourages these terms. They define themselves as “a life-saving organization committed to the preservation of life.” Wherever you adopt a pet, choose the place that supports the right cause.

Do we really need to talk about poop?


In the United States, pet dogs and cats produce about 5.1 million tons of feces, and they create as much carbon dioxide as the exhaust from 13.6 million cars – every year. 

While you can’t change your pets’ biological needs, you can balance the impact:

  • Use compostable doggy bags instead of plastic bags
  • Use biodegradable cat litter (made from bamboo, corn, etc.) instead of clay litter 
  • Flush your dog’s waste in the toilet
    • But never flush your cat’s waste; scientists discovered cat feces can pass deadly parasites on to endangered wildlife.

You can also reduce pet-related waste by using environmentally friendly pet products.

Why pet food is more than meats the eye

Plant-based living continues to thrive in the U.S., with about a quarter of Americans eating less meat. Our pets aren’t joining us for that veggie burger, though:

  • 180 million U.S. pets are fed beef, lamb, poultry, or pork at nearly every meal
  • Dogs and cats account for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact of U.S. meat consumption
  • American pets would eat the fifth-most meat globally if they made up their own country

Meat is protein, and animals need it. End of story, right? It’s the details that matter most. 

  • Cats are “obligate carnivores,” but they only need cat food with protein ratios in the high 20% and low 30% ranges, while many of today’s products are 50% or more. 
  • Dogs are more like humans, with evolved omnivorous diets, and they can have even less protein than cats. 

Required protein also depends on pet body weight and pet age. Typically, older cats and dogs need less calories/protein as they age. 

While many products imply non-protein sources are bad, Kelly Swanson, a nutritionist in the Department of Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois, says: “Some use the term ‘filler’ to refer to grains or fibres, but that is basically negative marketing lingo. Grains provide starch useful for diet structure and [are] a readily available energy source, and fibre provides many benefits to gut health.”

Crickets for Fido?

Protein-based pet foods often come from high-impact animals, like cows. Since that isn’t great for the planet, bugs are stepping up.  

Mars and Nestlé, along with other pet food companies, are currently developing insect-based alternatives for dogs and cats on the heels of a Petco survey that says that “55 percent of customers like the idea of using sustainable alternative protein ingredients in pet food.”

Jiminy’s Cricket Crave is just one example. Founded in 2016 after a United Nations’ report identified crickets as a sustainable source of human food, this kibble is made from cricket powder, oats, quinoa, sweet potato, and other plant-based ingredients.

A 3.5-pound bag of Jiminy’s Cricket Crave is $21.95 at Petco, three times the price of Purina’s chicken and rice dry food. But, Francesca Mahoney, Petco’s head of sustainability, believes that environmentally conscious millennials (currently the nations’ largest pet owning generation) will pay the premium price. 

It’s expected that the cost of insects (temporarily driven up by nutritional testing and a scalable supply chain) should drop as the market grows. 

It’s a beautiful time to be responsible

Life is better with our pets, and our planet is best with the right choices. With the products we buy, the services we support, and the daily habits we enforce, we can all be responsible pet owners that leave the right prints on the world.

Tell us – what makes YOU a responsible pet owner? (Bonus points for dropping a pic of your pet with your comment!) 

By Lindsay Ryan Crawford, September 30, 2021