Almost two years ago, my boyfriend sent me a video of a tiny kitten, the kind of raggedy stray that proliferated in our college town. Maxine (Max for short) came into our lives suddenly and loudly, yelling from underneath a car. She was small enough to sit in one hand, and had an eye infection, but we absolutely fell in love immediately.
I remember sitting on my laptop in class, frantically looking for the best cat foods. I knew there were certain brands I wanted to avoid, but I didn’t know what the bet food, litter, or petcare items were. I’m vegan (obviously), but cats are obligate carnivores. How would we feed and take care of Max without sacrificing my own ideals and ethics?
Is Owning a Pet Even Ethical?
Ethical pet ownership is such an interesting and widely debated topic. Cats have been domesticated since 7500 BC, and dogs have been our furry friends even longer than that. Breeding in cats and dogs for specific characteristics has led to a lot of genetic issues (especially in purebreds), bringing into question the ethics of domestic animals, especially predators like dogs and cats. Furthermore, the introduction of cats to new areas has led to the extinction of several species (over 60 species of birds alone).
Max is an indoor cat now, and hasn’t killed anything bigger than a moth, thankfully. We’re unsure of her breed (please comment if you have an idea), but because of the area she is from, it’s likely she’s a mix. Our college town has a high population of strays, unfortunately, and very little action is taken to curb the population.
To college students getting their first apartment: congratulations! I’m sure that getting a pet seems like the next logical step, but please remember that your furry friend needs food, water, attention, toys, and vet care, and could be with you for 10 to 20 years (or even more)! You wouldn’t like it if you were dumped on the side of the road or left in a house when your parents moved. If you can’t make the kind of financial and time commitment needed for a pet, the most ethical thing to do is to not get a pet.
Overall, though, I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about having pets, as long as they are treated well. When possible, adopt animals instead of buying from breeders, and research how best to care for your new pal.
Food and Treats
Finding food for Max was my biggest hurdle. As a vegan, I don’t eat meat or any other animal products, but I would never try to put an animal, especially a cat, on an unnecessarily restrictive diet that could harm her health. I wanted to find meats that were raised as ethically as possible without sacrificing health benefits, all on my college budget. (Note: my parents help me financially a lot, paying for housing and most of my groceries during undergrad. I know that I am much more fortunate than many of my peers, and I definitely don’t live on a ramen noodle budget. I worked 20 hours a week for the second half of college, received a very good scholarship, and I do not drink, buy lots of clothes, or do any other typical money sinks for people my age. My discretionary income has been very comfortable, but I understand that what I view as affordable may not be for everyone.)
After much research, I found Halo Pets. Halo uses sustainably sourced whole meats, cage free chicken, and Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable seafood. We use a combination of dry and wet food, and she does really well. I also really like Halo Pets for its availability on Chewy.com, Thrive Market, and in store at Petsmart and Petco.
For treats, Max really loves Castor & Pollux Organix Chicken Flavor Organic Cat Treats (what a mouthful)! We are also trying to add in some new treats from Shameless Pets.
When I saw these treats on Grove Collaborative, I was so excited! Tackling food waste is one of my biggest passions, so the idea of upcycling sweet potatoes that would otherwise not be eaten was amazing! The treats are made in the USA featuring over 20% upcycled ingredients, and the packaging is 25% recycled as well. Post-COVID, when bulk bins and recycling are back in full swing, I may need to find alternatives for my low-waste lifestyle, but for now, every little bit of recycling helps.
Max loves treat dispensing balls, squeaky dog toys, and running through her tunnel. She spends much of her time hanging out and napping in her cat tree, as well. While most of her current toys are conventional plastic, I am working on introducing and switching over to more sustainable toys, such as these organic cotton catnip toys from the Package Free Shop.
First of all: I know a lot of people train cats to use the regular toilet OR use biodegradable flushable litter, but please don’t do so! Cat waste can contain a specific parasite that the sewage system simply isn’t equipped to filter out, and it can cause harm to other species and humans as well. TreeHugger has an excellent article on it here.
With that being said, we currently use conventional (clay) litter, because it’s the easiest option, especially since it all ends up in the landfill anyway. I am absolutely open to recommendations on how best to deal with cat waste. Currently, we just bag it in biodegradable waste bags like these and toss in the garbage. What are your recommendations for disposing of litter and waste in a more eco-friendly way?
I am a SCUBA diver. I have gone ziplining, rock climbing, done high ropes courses. I have swum with sharks. I am, however, not brave enough to bathe a cat. The research is inconclusive on whether cats, especially short hairs like Max, need baths outside of medical issues like fleas or injuries. Currently, if she’s particularly smelly or dirty, we go with the safest route of wiping her down with a Burt’s Bees Pet Wipe. It’s definitely not zero waste, but we were in a pinch at the time (with a very smelly cat), so I bought a pack and it’s lasted a while. When we run out, I’d like to find or make a spray and just use an unpaper towel to wipe her down.
I know that I’m not perfect, and probably won’t ever be. But the efforts we make now will seem second nature in a few years, and we can focus on the next steps in our journey toward a more sustainable world. What sustainable pet care habits do you have for your furry friends?
Notes: Thank you to my wonderful boyfriend for taking product and cat photos. This post is not sponsored, and I do not have any affiliate links, so making purchases from these links won’t help me (but will help you)!