Does What We Feed Our Pets Affect Climate Change?

What has the same terrible impact on the climate as 13.6 million cars driving for a year? Dogs and cats in the United States, at least according to a new study that found they produce 64 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

How is it possible for dogs and cats to leave such enormous carbon pawprints? Well, their poop is half of the problem. All the feces from the estimated 163 million dogs and cats in the U.S. adds up to approximately 5.1 million tons, according to the study’s author, Gregory Okin, a geography professor at UCLA.

That’s more garbage than what’s produced by 6.63 million American humans – basically the population of Massachusetts, Okin pointed out.

The other half of the problem is all the meat we feed our dogs and cats. The study, “Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats,” published Aug. 2 in the journal PLOS One, says they are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. If cats and dogs in the U.S. were their own country, it would rank fifth in the world in meat consumption, after Russia, Brazil, the U.S. and China.

A meat-based diet takes more energy, land and water to produce than a plant-based one, as the study notes, and it has a negative impact on the environment as far as erosion, pesticides and waste are concerned. Studies have shown the typical American diet produces the equivalent of 260 million tons of carbon dioxide from livestock production.

Okin, who’s a member of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, was inspired to conduct this study based on the growing popularity of raising chickens. “I was thinking about how cool it is that chickens are vegetarian and make protein for us to eat, whereas many other pets eat a lot of protein from meat,” he said. “And that got me thinking — how much meat do our pets eat?”

In his study, he compared the amount of meat eaten by 163 million cats and dogs to that eaten by 321 million American humans to see how many tons of greenhouse gases are caused by pet food.

Do We Need to Give Up Our Pets to Prevent Climate Change?

“Reducing the rate of dog and cat ownership, perhaps in favor of other pets that offer similar health and emotional benefits would considerably reduce these impacts,” Orkin wrote in his study.

Perhaps, but it’s highly doubtful that people are going to give up their cats and dogs or put them on meatless diets (although it should be noted that dogs can stay healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet as long as it contains essential nutrients). However, Orkin said that’s not his intention.

“This was not a study to make anybody feel guilty,” he explained. “I’m not saying people should go out and kill their animals or feed them something that isn’t appropriate. … It was a study just to figure out how big these numbers are, and the numbers are surprisingly large.”

A better (and much more reasonable) solution to help reduce our pets’ impact on climate change, Orkin suggested, would be for the pet food industry to make an effort to find alternative sources of protein, reduce overfeeding and reduce waste. Fortunately, he said the industry is starting to take steps in that direction.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

86 comments

Aaron F
Aaron Fyesterday

Dogs ARE omnivores, Cats are OBLIGATE carnivores. Please don't encourage those people who deny these animal's true natures and try to feed them according to their own delusions.

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Janis K
Janis K11 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Marija M
Marija M12 days ago

tks for sharing

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Jessica K
Jessica K16 days ago

Dogs are scavenger omnivores and cats' preference leans towards that of carnivore. It is not their fault that anthropocentric global warming exists and they all should be treated with respect. Thanks.

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Jen S
Jen S17 days ago

I would think human population growth poses a larger impact on the environment. That the foods pets consume has some effect may be possible, perhaps even likely, but compared to the consumption of humans, the amount would, I think, approach statistically invisible.

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Teresa B. S
Teresa B. S18 days ago

WOW, just wow. I've had my dogs and cat on raw food, but money is really tight and I'm finding it really hard to continue. Any suggestions on any good dog and cat food both dry an wet? http://onedaytop.com/good-human-food-dogs/

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Christina S
Christina S21 days ago

Dogs are carnivores and eat meat. To think people are going to feed their pets a vegetarian diet is foolish. I'd be more worried about the overpopulation of people and all their crap!

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silja s
silja salonen25 days ago

common sense would dictate that all beings consume and cause waste. foolishness to think otherwise. however we do have the capacity to make great strides protecting this beautiful planet ...

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Philippa Powers
Philippa P28 days ago

Thanks.

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HEIKKI R
HEIKKI R29 days ago

THANK YOU

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