Greening your pet
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Date: 11 September, 2008
'If you really want to be sure what your pet is eating, you can make your own dog food.'
Suzanne Elvidge looks at how to make your pet greener
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Getting a recycled pet
Rather than buying brand new ones, my cats are recycled pets (not quite the same as recycled PET) – all three of them came from pet rescue charities.
There are specialist charities for rehoming dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, chickens and small animals, and general rescues such as the RSPCA and Blue Cross.
When I was a kid, cat food just appeared to be a sludgy combination of all the leftover bits of unidentified animals in rather sloppy gravy, and smelled rather strongly of fish.
You can now get natural or organic food for your cats, chickens, dogs, guinea pigs, sheep, hamsters and rabbits. If you really want to be sure what your pet is eating, you can make your own dog food.
Some people argue that dogs can be vegetarians and vegetarian dog food is widely available (though there is some debate, and I don’t think this is a common side effect).
However, though there are some vegetarian cat foods available, I do not personally feel that cats should be fed vegetarian food, as they are obligate carnivores, which means their digestive systems are only designed to process meat-based food.
Instead of buying specially made (and generally non-recycled) pet food bowls, you could just recycle old china and glass bowls, and if you have a large pet, the glass from the front of an old washing machine makes a huge recycled food bowl.
A square of old lino or vinyl flooring underneath the bowl will keep the floor clean.
Finally, don’t forget to recycle your pet food tins or trays.
Cat and dog toilets
A lot of cat litter is made from Fuller’s earth (also known as bentonite), which is strip mined, an environmentally-damaging process that involves removing soil and rock from large areas. Bentonite can also be harmful to cats.
There are more eco friendly versions of cat litter – wood-based cat litter, recycled paper-based cat litter, even corn-based cat litter.
You can compost wet biodegradable cat litter, and the urine can accelerate the composting process (and I’ve found it also keeps rats away from my compost bin). It would probably be best if you only use the resulting compost on non-food plants.
Don’t add the ‘solids’ from dogs or cats (or other meat-eating animals), as these may carry nasty infectious disease (and you wouldn’t want that on your veg patch). You can allegedly train your cat to use the toilet, though this may be taking things a little too far...
Dog poo in public places looks and smells bad, and is a source of unpleasant infectious disease. Gather it up in biodegradable corn starch bags (or corn starch nappy sacks) and dispose of it in an eco-friendly dog toilet (or build your own).
You can also decompose dog poo in a wormery, but you should handle this compost with care and you should not use it on food crops, as it may still carry disease. These disposal options may also work with cat waste.
Small pet bedding can be made from recycled cardboard, recycled paper (even for cows and horses), recycled wood, and hemp waste. All biodegradable bedding from vegetarian animals is compostable. There are beds for cats and dogs with fillings made from recycled plastic bottles.
Rodents should have things to chew on to keep their teeth in trim, and to play in – if you don’t have a big enough store of toilet roll or paper towel inners, cardboard tubes made out of recycled card will keep them entertained.
For dogs, there are toys made out of hemp, recycled denim, or loofah, or make your own.
Most (though not all) cats love catnip – you can buy eco catnip toys, or grow the catnip, dry it and make your own toys.
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