For many people who want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with the one they love most, that means staying home with their dog or cat. Even 68% of those who choose to go out say they’ll give their pet the final say about whether there’s a future with their date. Our pets are family, therapists, hiking buddies, and the stars of our social media channels. But are you showing your love for your pet in ways that harm the planet?
American families spent more than $120 billion on their pets in 2021, a number that’s been steadily increasing every year. The biggest piece of the pie is spent on food and treats, the majority of which are meat-based and come with a high environmental cost. According to a recent study, the global pet food industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions per year than the Philippines. The amount of land needed to produce dry pet food is twice as big as the United Kingdom.
Although pet-industry statistics also include veterinary care and services like boarding and grooming, billions of dollars are spent on toys, beds, and clothing. For Valentine’s Day 2022, one projection estimated that people would spend more than a billion dollars just on gifts for their pets. Every product we buy for our four-legged friends requires energy, raw materials, and other resources to produce. Many of them come wrapped in plastic packaging. And, if we’re being honest, our pets probably don’t really need most of that stuff anyway.
We’d do anything for our pets, but our desire to see them happy has made us accomplices in their overconsumption. Novelty pet products are one more way we’re lining corporate pockets instead of focusing on what really matters. This year, skip the cheap red and pink heart-shaped toys. Show your pet you love them in ways they’ll adore and with minimal harm to the environment.
Take Them on an Adventure
No mass-produced toy can compete with the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors. Skip your usual walking route and explore someplace new, whether it’s another neighborhood, a local park, or a hike in the wilderness. Keep your dog on leash to prevent them from harassing wildlife or trampling sensitive habitat. And be sure to pick up after them to avoid leaving behind any pathogens that might harm wild animals. Cats can be ruthless hunters of wildlife if allowed to roam, but just because your felines live indoors doesn’t mean they can’t safely have their own adventures outside on a leash and harness or in their own catio.
Teach Them New Tricks
You don’t have to leave home to give your pet a new experience. Training games are an excellent way to bond with your pet and give them the mental exercise they need. Teach your dog how to dance or master the classics like roll-over. Hide treats around the house for nose work games. And remember that training isn’t just for dogs — you can also clicker train your cat.
Give Them Organic Treats
When it’s time for cookies, treat your pet to something that’s good for them and the environment. There are plenty of organic, plant-based dog treats on the market as well as cricket-based treats, which are much more sustainable than meat-based treats. Or you can make your own dog treats with simple ingredients like pumpkin, peanut butter, and banana. Cats may be obligate carnivores, but that doesn’t mean they can’t snack on vegan treats or indulge in a catnip binge.
Create DIY Upcycled Toys
Greening your pet’s lifestyle doesn’t have to mean depriving them of toys. You can convert old T-shirts into tug and fetch toys. Old socks or jeans can also be knotted or braided into interactive toys. Use an old muffin tin or plastic drink bottles to challenge your dog with puzzle toys. Cardboard, scraps of fabric, and even toilet paper rolls can be converted into your cat’s new favorite pastime.
Spend Time, Not Money
While your dog or cat definitely needs playtime and mental stimulation, they don’t really need to be part of the Toy of the Month club or have their own wardrobe to be happy. Instead of giving in to the temptation of online shopping for your pets, put away your computer or phone and give your animals your undivided attention.
You don’t have to swear off ever buying your pet something new. But by skipping holiday-driven consumerism, we can reduce their carbon pawprints, minimize waste, save money, and increase our quality time together. If your pets had to choose between a new toy or collar and playing or walking with you, they’d choose you every time. That’s one of the reasons we love them.
About the Author
Stephanie Feldstein is the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity and the author of The Animal Lover’s Guide to Changing the World.