Making Pet Ownership Sustainable

Have you ever looked at your pets and asked yourself why you actually have them? Much of the time the answers will involve them being a friend, cute, really cool, the best thing ever, etc. etc. All the answers are likely related to seemingly selfish needs. You are not normally saving a dying species or doing anything for the greater good really….Ok, you may have saved one or two animals from a life destined in a shelter, but it’s a small token.

In most cases pet ownership is neither good for sustainability or for personal finance. It’s costly and bad for the environment. We do it for us, almost simply because we, for some odd reason, like them!

pet ownership
SPF & Freya (our Newf)

I hope at this point I have not annoyed you too much. I LOVE animals. If I could, I would have an unlimited amount of pets, a menagerie of each and every kind of domesticated animal I could get my hands on. I know it is selfish in essence but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wrong. Breaking down almost everything a human does can bring it to some selfish notion, so I don’t think we should or need to stop owning animals at home. However, I do think we all have a responsibility to make that ownership more sustainable for our finances and our environment.

I wanted to take a look at a few areas and see where we could all improve. I am mostly focusing on the two best friends, dogs and cats.  They are by far the most popular pets in North America and Europe.  


Pets eat a lot and that is one of the biggest expenses. If you believe what you read then it seems the canned pet food industry is an unregulated horrible one! Whilst dead dogs and cats are not likely used any more other euthanized animals, dead, dying, diseased and all sorts of terrible animals parts are used in pet foods. The point is this food is unhealthy for your animal and could contribute to making them sick, costing you more in the long run. An alternative is to buy high quality, high nutrition food, but this is super expensive. The best route is obviously making your own food. Bones, good quality meat and raw veggies with brown rice are a good start.  Good quality meat could be costly, thus pushing even further and helping your animal go vegetarian or vegan could be a better choice. It may even allow you to grow most of their food in your own back yard.


Most toys won’t break the bank but they travel from a small Chinese, or far away factory, to the pet store.  They are often made from plastic and probably won’t last long. Dogs love plain old sticks! You can make small bean bags from dried beans and old clothing, An old piece of (clean) rope or string can be a great pull toy.  Cats love stuffed socks and most things feathery.  Just get creative and re-use old items to extend their lifetimes and save cash. If it’s biodegradable all the better. The pets likely won’t mind what it is; you see how much they love cardboard boxes!

Health and health care

As mentioned in the food section, taking your pets health seriously will help you save money and sustain a reasonably drug-free, more natural pet. A proper diet will keep their insides working correctly and teeth reasonably clean. Extra teeth cleaning can be done with a home made tooth paste and washing your pets with home made skin friendly products (baking soda with water and essential oils can work well). Keeping pets active, taking them out to run, fetch, play, teaching them tricks or whatever else you can do, will help your pet keep their weight under control and have good strong heart, lungs, and muscles plus keep their brains active. It’s debatable whether your pet needs insurance, but taking them for check ups and keeping an eye for possible illnesses and complications is essential. However, if you decide to but invest in a pet insurance, make sure to do your research as there are a lot of new companies that offer amazing deals, like Bivvy pet insurance.Veterinary costs are unregulated in the USA so shop around and get recommendations from friends and family to avoid paying too much.

Waste disposal

Pet waste is a tough subject. Healthier stool should result from a natural diet and this is somewhat helpful no matter how it is disposed. Still the dilemma to flush, throw away or even fertilize depends on many factors. You can flush dog poop in most places but cat poop has toxins that can affect marine life so that needs to be thrown away. If going to a landfill, the array of green dog waste bags are not really needed. Instead just the reuse of old news papers and bags is probably the best bet. Dog poop can, with help of some systems, be put into compost heaps and used for your garden. Just don’t ever leave it on the ground for kids to slip on and get in their eyes as this is disgusting and may cause blindness!

Limit your pets

It’s easy to end up with a mini zoo in your home but if you want to keep sustainable and even healthy it is best to just limit to a few. The more cramped the conditions the less healthy things will be for you and the animals and the more concentrated waste will be produced.

Always, always adopt / rescue

Animals from breeding facilities are still in extremely high demand. Although not every breeder is a puppy mill style affair any breeding of animals on a larger scale will lead to a lack of care and potential long lasting physical and mental health issues. The industry needs some serious downsizing, in my opinion.

Of course it makes it hard for those that feel they need a pedigree. Mixed breeds generally are healthier anyway possibly because of the introduction of more mixed genes but maybe for other reasons too. We don’t need pedigrees and don’t need new borns when so many animals are out there being rescued and eventually euthanized because homes can’t be found.

Put your breed expectations and age expectations out sight and always opt for adoption from a local humane society shelter or an Adopt-A-Pet drive.

Your pet’s health, your local environment, and your wallet are tough things to balance but never something you should ignore. Hopefully this post got you thinking a little and I recommend you do some more research and start experimenting.

Good luck my fellow animal lovers.

This is an article written by Forest Parks. Forest writes about frugal living, lifestyle, finance and more over at his site FrugalZeitgeist.com.

SPF Notes:  In the dog food link above I demonstrate how high end, high quality foods are actually less expensive than the cheaper alternatives!  Also, if you do feed your dog raw diet it is totally compostable.  I would not recommend adding it to your compost heap per se (smell) but there are systems that you insert into the ground and cover where the dog poop composts away to nothing.

31 thoughts on “Making Pet Ownership Sustainable

  1. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make our pets pay for themselves… I have their expenses down pretty well but just want to find some way I can make a small amount of money to cover said expenses. Been working on this for some time now. Any suggestions?

    1. Hey Marianne, maybe you could try pet sitting for people in your area. You likely take your pets for walks and things anyway, having another 1 or 2 along may be hectic but possible.

      1. Yes I have considered these options. Unfortunately, due to an instance with another dog when she was a puppy (and the reason her owners had to give her up to us), our dog is unpredictable with other dogs so these ideas wouldn’t be optimal. Her main talent is pooping so I’ve been trying to figure out some good uses for that… I’m not kidding. :) I feel like I should be joking but this is something I’ve spent some time thinking about.

    2. LOL. Here Here. I’ve been working on teaching my Lab to sweep the floor, but much to my chagrin, he’s not picking it up. :)

      Maybe try a pet photo contest? There are a bunch of them online and if your pets are cute they might win some extra cash…

      I’ve also heard about people selling manure online. Not sure about the fertilizing capabilities of dog poop though.

      1. Yes- my parents used to buy manure for our farm so this is where the marketability questions re: my dogs manure come from…
        I like the photo contest idea. My dog is particularly cute. I really hadn’t thought of this but I suppose if I entered enough of them, eventually I should win right?

  2. That’s such a great point about toys. I know they’re unnecessary, but sometimes it’s hard to resist buying my cat a mini angry bird to play with when they’re only $3, even though I know she’ll probably ignore it and steal my pens instead. I hadn’t thought about how far those cheap toys travel, but you’re completely right. I’ll definitely remember that the next time I’m being sucked in my silly cat toys she probably won’t even play with.

    1. Hey Melissa, sadly the toys are often more likely for us rather than the pets! I know the cost is minimal but sustainability wise they are a real drain.

      I’m glad you liked the article.

  3. I used to work at a pet store and was always shocked at how much people spent on their pets toys, accessories, etc. I don’t buy my dog toys simply because she has a lot from Christmas. We don’t have kids yet but my parents feel the need to spoil something so it ends up being my dog. LOL.

  4. I’m with Marianne! I wanted to breed my dog for awhile and then I always wished he could star in a movie or something. LOL.

    Seriously though, it’s pretty crazy the amount of money American’s spend on their pets. They are no longer animals…we treat them as human beings. A report came out a few months ago that American’s spent MORE on their pets last year than the entire GDP of 68 countries throughout the world. Insane.

    I’m a pet lover though. I have a 160lb Bullmastiff. He’s a dog though…an animal. Not a human – despite his human-sized body.

    1. A movie is a great idea! My dog has special needs though so I’m not sure how that would work. She’s deaf so we can only do hand signals. Maybe that would work better for a movie though? I love bullmastiffs. Love love love them!

  5. I gave one of my cats a little stuffed hedgehog when he was a kitten. To this day, it’s like his little buddy. He gets down in the dumps when it gets stuck behind furniture or somewhere where he can’t get to it. And, while it is pretty worse for wear after eleven years, it was probably the best $3 spent on him ever.

      1. My dog has had the same football for at least 5 years. We left it at my in-laws’ house once and he moped around like he lost his best friend. No matter what new toys come into the house, he goes right back to the football. It’s like his little security blanket.

  6. You do realise when you live closely with an animal how complicated and unique in personality they actually are. It is good for helping us realise that animals most definitely have a place here on earth, and that they should be respected.

  7. While I’m not a dog/cat owner, and don’t plan to buy one, I definitely commend people who make the choice to adopt or rescue. So many pets that could be brought into a family in that way, as opposed to buying from a breeder – at a premium price to boot.

  8. Forest, we don’t have any pets. I think if it wasn’t for me, my wife would probably have a dog right now. Although I am not truly “for” or “against,” I’m sure she would rather that I be super excited about a pet before getting one. Interesting post!!!

  9. We don’t have any pets. We used to have a lovely Blue Merle Border Collie but she took a serious dislike to our new son. It was a big wrench because she was a lovely dog that we had raised from a puppy but we couldn’t take the risk.

    My sister quickly found a new home for her and we gather she really landed on her paws as her new owners were just retired with no children…..

    But they do come at a cost. You just have to weigh everything up. We are under continual pressure from our youngest to get another dog but as we live in an urban area with only a small garden we (particularly I) think it is unfair to the animal.

    I didn’t know about toxins in cat poop – that’s news to me!

    1. That is sad but at least you found him a good home. I guess we can’t easily control an animals emotions all of the time.

  10. As far as I understand it sustainability is not about purely a monetary number, but about an entire lifestyle. Pets can make you more sustainable by simply playing with them more. Instead of spending money on a movie or going to the mall when you are bored and making bad impulse buys, take your pets out and play with them. Clean them, cuddle with them, anything to spend more time with them. They have saved you money and enriched your life.

    And to that point, take your pets to visit the sick or elderly. Then not only have they saved you money and enriched your life they have brought joy to someone who really needs it.

  11. I agree, owning a dog can be sustainable. My dog, Romeo, is an excellent disposal, use no electricity or water for the leftovers in my fridge, And thankfully bever gets plugged up!
    But seriously, his ability to make me go out and see the neighborhood and talk to people in my community supersedes any small impact IMHO

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