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ENVIRONMENT & SOCIO-ECONOMIC ISSUES: Green Living

Greening Your Cat

by Michael Bloch

Environmentally friendly felines

In ancient Egypt, cats were revered as gods.. and they've never forgotten it. Such is our affection for our feline friends that they can run amok, creating havoc in the environment; and sometimes the line of master/pet can get blurred. Here's some simple things you can do to green your moggie - whether it likes it or not :).

Over 90 million cats are owned by 60 million households in the USA, there's over 3 million domestic cats in Australia, 9 million in the UK, 47 million in Europe and 4.5 million in Canada (approximate figures from various sources). That's a whole heap of kitties.

Protect wildlife from your cat.

Cats may make for wonderful companions and excellent mousers, but they also exact a heavy toll on native animals. Cats are hunters - period.

Many cat owners might think their cat is not a hunter; but it's part of the magic spell that felines cast upon their human slaves :). If your cat is allowed to go outside, unless it is obese or on its last legs - it will hunt; it's just natural.

Based on the figures I mentioned above, if each domestic cat kills even just one native animal a year; the toll is incredible - over 150 million creatures destroyed. Let's say the average hunting lifespan of each cat was 10 years; that comes to 1.5 billion native animals killed.

In most countries, dogs aren't allowed to roam and I've often wondered why cats are. Dog owners can be hit with heavy fines for allowing their pets to stray. It seems a little unfair to me that cats aren't subject to the same laws; especially given their killer instincts.

If you must let your cat outside, ensure it wears a bell as this will help alert animals to the cat's presence. A bell shouldn't give you a false sense of security that your cat is now nature friendly and able to roam as it pleases. I've seen cats learn to hunt without causing the bell to ring and actually use the bell to create confusion in their prey. It's pretty amazing stuff. So, on top of the bell, try to limit the amount of time your cat spends outside.

Another solution, albeit more costly, is to create an enclosure along the lines of a bird aviary. You're probably imagining a large cage with poor old Mr. Tiddles sitting dejectedly inside; but by adding toys and levels within the enclosure, cats seem to really enjoy it while also benefiting from the fresh air.

Leash train your cat

Although I've never attempted it; it appears that cats can also be leash trained - it's another option to consider if you'd like your cat to get some exercise outdoors but want to protect native wildlife.

Cat litter

This is a subject I've covered in another article; but just briefly, most cat litter isn't the byproduct of another process. The clay used is purpose-mined using strip mining techniques. Strip mining is where heavy machinery rips up the top layer of earth to get to a seam of a special type of clay. The seam is often quite thin, so large areas have been destroyed as a result. Some more environmentally friendly options for cat litter include:

- Silica pearls
- Newspaper (check for ink toxicity)
- Corn cobs that have been ground up
- Straw pellets
- Pine sawdust from mill waste
- Kenaf pellets (a type of hibiscus)
- Other cellulose fiber products

Food

Here in Australia, small cans of tinned food are quite popular. These are often portrayed as "luxury" type foods that your cat will love you for buying. These tiny tins seem to almost weigh as much as the food they contain! While steel tins can and should always be recycled, a great deal of energy is needed to produce them, and more again to recycle them; so try to buy larger cans if it means that nothing will go to waste and you won't overfeed as a result. 

Some manufacturers have moved to using small plastic containers - these trays add to landfill clutter, are made of toxic materials, take many years to break down and require crude oil in their production.

Buying dried cat food in cardboard boxes can save you a great deal of money and the environment substantial waste over the lifetime of your pet. Since originally publishing this article, I've been told that dry cat food may present some health issues if it's used exclusively; so perhaps break the usage up a bit - wet food some days, dry food others. Given there does seem to be a lot of debate as to the suitability of dry food; the best bet is to consult your vet on nutrition issues for your cat as its general health can also play a role in the recommended level of dry food.

Toys, bedding and accessories

As with childrens toys, our affection for pets tends to see us buying a lot of toys for our cats. Often these items are toxic chemical ladened plastics and given the tendency for cats to chew on toys, that's not such a good thing. As with children, a cat will tire of the toy after a while and it becomes just another piece of non-biodegradable junk.

Bedding is often made of plastic and synthetic fiber. Flame retardants used in many plastics have also been linked to an increase in thyroid disease in cats. Look for toys and bedding made from natural fibers raised organically and processed without harsh chemicals and dyes.

Spaying/neutering

Neutering, aka spaying, your cat is so, so, so important and I'm stating this from personal experience. Many years ago, I worked at the RSPCA (the equivalent of the SPCA in the US) as a volunteer. During my time there, I witnessed hundreds of healthy cats euthanized as nobody wanted them. At the time, I still had ambitions of becoming a vet, so I also participated in putting some of them "to sleep".

I cannot describe the look in a healthy kitten's eyes before it dies in this manner. There's trust as you gently pick them up, then the squeal as the needle loaded with "green dream" (a barbiturate) pierces the skin and is pushed into the liver, then confusion.. then death. It's not pleasant. Neither is putting these little bodies into an incinerator, neither is emptying the ashes with the small broken bones scattered through it, neither is mopping up the tar from the fat from their bodies that leaks out of the incinerator.

Sometimes the kittens weren't healthy; they would arrive half dead after being shoved into bags and dumped in stormwater drains. The cruelty I saw at times was mind-numbing. In these cases, the green dream needle was all we could give them to end their suffering.

For the dumped and stray kittens that survive and evade capture, they often become feral. In Australia, feral cats have a massive impact on the environment, killing many millions of native animals annually.

After just a couple of generations in the wild, feral cats are larger than domestic felines, well adapted to their surroundings and fierce hunters. We used to also deal with the ferals at the RSPCA and had a special shed to release them from the humane traps they arrived in. The procedure was to open the trap and then get the hell out of the shed as the cat would go nuts; literally bouncing off the walls. Only when it had exhausted itself did we re-enter; wearing protective clothing - these cats were extraordinarily aggressive. Back then, all these cats were destroyed and I believe that's still the case today.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, between six and eight million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters annually and some three to four million of these animals are euthanized.  Imagine that - *millions* of dead animals; it's tragic.

Unless you intend to breed from your pet and have the resources to do so responsibly; please, please have your cat spayed; it's one of the greenest things you can do as a pet owner. If finances are a problem, ask your local humane societies about assistance - they'll be aware of programs that may be able to partially or fully subsidize the cost. 

If you're thinking of acquiring a cat in the future; please consider checking out your local animal refuge first - you'll likely save a kitten or cat's life.

Owning pets is a great joy and responsibility - not only to the pet itself, but to the wider environment they affect.

Michael Bloch
Green Living Tips.com
Green Living Tips is an online resource powered by renewable energy offering a wide variety of earth friendly tips, green guides, advice and environment related news to help consumers and business reduce costs, consumption and environmental impact.





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