What’s cute, fluffy and bad for the environment? The answer is lurking in your home, very possibly asleep at the end of your bed. Whether you own a cat or dog, you may be surprised at their impact on the planet.
According to a book, amusingly called ‘Time to Eat the Dog’ a medium sized dog has the same ecological footprint as a Toyota Land Cruiser and even your little kitty equates to a Volkswagen Golf in carbon terms. This is because they are meat eaters and producing meat takes a lot of land area and energy.
Not only that, but fouling by dogs is an environmental issue that can ruin parks, pavements, footpaths and beaches for other people. The UK dog population produces a scary 1,000 tonnes of excrement each day. If this isn’t dealt with responsibly by owners, it creates ‘no go’ areas for families and walkers. It is dangerous too, because of the risk of toxocariasis from roundworm in the faeces.
Meanwhile, cats aren’t so innocent either. Their predatory ways lead to the untimely deaths of birds, small mammals and amphibians. The Mammal Society estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. Those are just the ones they bring home, so the actual numbers could be much higher.
Hang on a minute though. It’s sounding very negative. As an animal lover, I’d like to mount a defence case for our furry friends. Firstly, much of the meat that goes into pet food is the waste from the human food chain. If it didn’t end up in a can of Doggo it would be disposed of, so the massive carbon footprint is not truly representative.
What about all those killer-cats out there? Well, even the RSPB states that there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens affects bird populations. This is because cats tend to take weak or sickly birds.
Pets bring subtle environmental and social advantages too, although these are harder to measure. A family pet helps children to learn about looking after things other than themselves, and that sense of responsibility is essential if they are to care about their world too. Of course, dogs need walking too, so you will end up outside, noticing the changing seasons, picking up scraps of litter and appreciating the world we live in.
A few simple changes can minimise the environmental impacts of your pet too. Obviously, dog mess should be disposed of responsibly. For your cat, a collar with a bell (and a quick release safety mechanism should the cat become snagged) can reduce predation of birds as well as other creatures. To reduce their use of carbon, simply choose foods made from rabbit and chicken, which have a smaller impact than those made from red meat or fish.
With a little thought, you can shrink your pet’s carbon pawprint while enjoying all the love and cuddles that they bring to our lives. Now you can’t say that about a Volkswagen Golf!
First published in the EDP and EADT.