They’re small, they’re adorable, but few of us realize the enormous impact our companion animals have on the environment.
In their 2009 guide to sustainable living, authors Brenda and Robert Vale found that a medium-sized dog has a carbon footprint of 2.1 acres, roughly twice the 1 acre for a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle driven 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles) a year. It’s not just dogs that are contributing to pollution. The couple found that cats occupy the same footprint as a small Volkswagen, while two hamsters equal the same emissions as a plasma-screen television.
By their very nature, many family pets are carnivores, and it’s that meat-eating diet that contributes to their substantial carbon footprint. Producing the grain and meat for pet food consumes a vast amount of resources — specifically land, energy, and water. That meat production belches harmful greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere in staggering amounts. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of all CO2 emissions worldwide.
Putting that into perspective, my 15-pound terriers each eat one cup of meat-based kibble every day. That’s 730 pounds of pet food required for two small dogs in only one year. Using the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) pet population statistics that means 29.2-billion pounds of food is produced for dogs in America in a single year. Consider that the average dog lives for 12 years.
Beyond their meaty diets, there are other factors bumping up that carbon “paw print.” Animal waste and the plastic bags used to throw it away contribute to millions of tonnes of waste in municipal landfills each year, and pollute rivers and streams used for human drinking water. In my hometown alone, an estimated 97,000 tonnes of dog waste is disposed of in Metro Vancouver regional parks each year.
There’s also all the bedding, clothes, toys, and supplies we lavish on our pets. Spending for pet products reached an all-time high of $60.5-billion in the US in 2015. We’re shelling out big bucks for many products that are plastic, bad for the planet, and not necessary to enhance and enrich the life and well-being of our pets.
It’s estimated there are up to 86 million dogs and 103 million cats owned in North America, and millions of rabbits, reptiles, snakes, turtles, hamsters, guinea pigs, and other small animals. More than 105-million fresh and saltwater fish are kept in home aquariums.
Unlike previous generations where dogs were relegated to the backyard, it’s now much more likely to see the family Fido in its master’s bed than in a wooden doghouse. The vast majority of pet owners surveyed in 2014 (86 percent of dog owners and 89 percent of cat owners) said they considered their pets to be a part of their family.
There are good reasons they are called companion animals. Pets provide friendship, lower our stress levels, act as emotional support, and have huge positive effects on our mental well-being, fitness, and happiness. So while we as human beings strive to make positive eco-friendly choices in our daily lives to reduce our own carbon footprint, it makes perfect sense that we extend those efforts to our family’s smallest members.
If you want to learn how to reduce your pet’s environmental impact, Greening Your Pet Care by Darcy Matheson is a must-read. No matter if your pet is a four-ounce gerbil or a 100-pound canine, Darcy will show you what steps to take to reduce your carbon paw-print.