Our four-legged friends don’t drive gas-guzzling SUVs or use energy-sucking appliances, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a climate impact.
Researchers have shown that pets play a significant role in the climate crisis.
But what do Barkley and Whiskers have to do with our warming planet? It’s the products we buy for them that need a closer look.
Their meat-rich diet is the biggest contributor to their carbon footprint, which requires an abundance of energy, land and water to produce.
And the production of pet food emits huge amounts of gases that warm the planet.
According to a 2017 study, feeding cats and dogs creates the equivalent of about 64 million tons of carbon dioxide in the US each year.
That’s roughly the same impact as 13.6 million cars on the road. And if our furry friends formed a separate country, it would rank 5th in global meat consumption, behind China, the US, Brazil and Russia, according to UCLA professor and study author Gregory Okin.
But don’t panic. Saying goodbye to your best friends is not the answer.
In addition to all the joy they bring, pets have a measurable positive impact on our physical health and mental well-being. Having a pet in the family is associated with less stress, fewer heart attacks, lower rates of depression, and increased self-esteem.
“Our work doesn’t mean we’re ‘against’ keeping pets,” said Pim Martens, a professor of Sustainable Development at Maastricht University and someone who has researched the impact of pets on the planet. “There are a lot of benefits too. Just be aware of the ‘side effects’”.
So what’s a concerned pet parent to do? Here are some ways to minimize your pets’ environmental impact while still caring for your furry fleet.
Evaluate your pet’s diet
First, and most importantly – responsible owners considering making significant changes to their pets’ diet should discuss this with their veterinarian to ensure it is suitable for their pet’s needs.
In fact, if you’re the proud owner of a feline, you shouldn’t even think about changing your diet. Cats are obligate carnivores — they must eat meat, according to Angela Frimberger, a veterinarian at Vets for Climate Action.
Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores and don’t necessarily need to eat meat at every meal – let alone steak from the sirloin.
“I sincerely want pets to be fed a good quality diet that is nutritionally adequate for them,” Frimberger said.
“But for most healthy pets, the trend of providing food with premium quality ingredients goes back to our habit of seeing our pets’ needs through the lens of what we would like rather than what they actually need or need. like. We must remember that what is attractive to us does not necessarily equate to actual nutritional quality for the pet.”
Frimberger noted that there are some new food developments on the market that are worth investigating, especially for dogs, including lab-grown meat.
A 2014 study found that bugs are a good, nutritious source of protein for pets — and they aren’t likely to make your companion sick (unlike humans who would find it revolting to eat these critters).
“Insect-based pet foods can be nutritionally complete and are starting to hit the market around the world,” Frimberger said.
“They may also be a solution for some pets who have food allergies to traditional protein sources.”
And, of course, only feed the amount of food your pet needs – they will be healthier and feel better too if they are not overweight.
cut the waste
While items like toys, bowls, litter, poop bags, and leashes are often necessary for your pet, looking at their durability, supply chains, and whether they can be recycled is just as important as the product itself.
For cats, look for the greenest litter option your feline will accept, such as those made from organic materials rather than clay. Although clays are naturally occurring soil minerals, they must be mined, which contributes to soil erosion, habitat destruction and groundwater contamination.
For dogs, choose biodegradable poop bags and always pick them up no matter where you are. Research shows that not picking up puppies’ poop can cause harmful microorganisms such as roundworms, E. coli and giardia to survive in your yard for up to four years, which is a health risk for humans.
Okin recommends flushing pet poop straight down the toilet.
“Our water system is designed to handle toxic waste and keep these pollutants out of the environment,” said Okin. Just make sure you don’t throw other things down there too – like bags of pet poop or non-washable kitty litter. Just feces.
And while it can be tempting to dress your little ones up for outings and various holidays, it’s important to purchase items with the animal’s genuine well-being in mind. In other words, ask yourself: what does your pet really need and what are you buying just to satisfy the shopping urge?
“We need to think about the real needs of the pet, not our pursuit of consumerism,” Frimberger said.
The general rule of thumb is that larger pets will have a greater climate impact than smaller ones, mainly because they need more food.
Therefore, you may want to consider smaller races or species if you want to minimize their impact on the planet. The carbon footprint of a Chihuahua will be much smaller than that of a Saint Bernard, for example.
You can also consider how some animal breeds tend to have more health problems.
“Avoiding animals with known health issues will reduce the need for veterinary intervention, which has a carbon footprint, and, most importantly, will reduce unnecessary suffering in terms of health and well-being,” said Gudrun Ravetz of Vet Sustain.
And for those of you who don’t like all the cuddling and drooling — you’re in luck.
“Small rodents and birds are great options,” said Okin. “Snakes, turtles and reptiles can also have a very low impact for those who like it.”
Source: CNN Brasil