One of the reasons why I was interested in being more environmentally friendly was because I was interested in animals and their well being (there are a lot of animals in the wild, after all). So, it is a bit disconcerting when one discovers information about how having an animal companion might actually be bad for the environment.
I’ve discovered Carol Frischmann’s book Pets and the planet: a practical guide to sustainable pet care (636. 0887 FRI) at the library. Frischmann gives a detailed account of how to give your pets good care and still take care (or at least take the steps to take care) of the environment.
One of the problems is cats and cat litter. Cats themselves of course are not the problem. The problem is when people allow their pets to go outside, they often can injure and kill wildlife (cats and dogs can both do significant damage to wildlife, and vice versa). And while, as Alan Weisman’s poignant book The World Without Us mentions, cats can keep the populations of other introduced species such as starlings in check, they don’t decipher between our native songbirds and European house sparrows. To them, a bird is a bird, which is prey. Even if the bird gets away, cat saliva can infect the bird which may lead to an untimely death. So the best thing for both your cat and the other animals outside is to keep your cat indoors – this also extends the cat’s lifespan, as it keeps your cat safe from cars, coyotes, owls, other cats that can spread infectious diseases, etc.
As for cat litter – clay litters are ultimately not very good for the environment. For one, how we get the clay is by mining for it, which is hard on the environment. Clay litter is also not compostable or biodegradable, and contains silica which is potentially harmful for you if you breathe it in.There is also a risk (as with any clumping litters) of cat’s developing an intestinal blockage from licking the clumps off of their paws!
You can get pine litter (which is made from reclaimed sawdust from the timber industry.) This alternative is biodegradable, although you want to make sure that your cat does not react to the pine resin. Yesterday's News is a litter made up of recycled newspapers, although it doesn't have much in the way of odor control, and has parfum listed as one of its ingredients. Silica gel litter is recommended for cats, but fairly pricey, so I stick with pine litter.