Impact on Environment: Pets’ Carbon & Ecological Footprints

Pets do leave huge carbon ‘paw-print’ on planet!


While humans are deemed as the main culprits for environmental degradation, our animal companions also do have a part to play albeit their small roles. Surprisingly, pets – dogs, cats, goldfish etc. – although seemingly harmless, do affect nature as well.


Food: Carbon Footprints

Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat. However, other animals are not any much better for the environment either.

John Barrett, Stockholm Environment Institute

The production of pet food that owners purchase for their pets include many varied and intensive  processes: cattle farming, packaging, shipping, storage and finally distribution. Considering the need to meet the high pet food demands worldwide, the combination of these effects significantly contribute to the negative state of today’s natural environment. In addition, dogs and cats have a meat-based diet which of course, is the most energy-intensive diet there can be.

The Vales, specialists in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington, had analysed various well-known brands of pet food and calculated that a medium-sized dog consumes about an estimated of 164 kilos of meat and 95 kilos of cereal each year. Taking into consideration also the size of land necessary to generate the amount of food for a companion pet, a “medium” sized dog has an annual carbon footprint of about 0.84 hectares. Cats have an footprint of about 0.15 hectares, slightly below the driving of a Volkswagen Golf for over a course of one year. The footprint of two hamsters translates to that of a plasma television; the small and humble goldfish also burns energy equivalent to that of two cellphones!!

Adding to pets’ environmental impact is the fact that, other than their collective consumption, they now eat more individually and very often far more than what they actually require in their daily diet. In this trend of “humanisation”, pet owners are increasingly treating their companion pets like people, offering treats and nibbles on top of their daily meals. Most commercial pet food also contain two or even three times more than the required protein animals really need. It is this protein – whether it comes from carbon-intensive beef, lamb or fish – that is the biggest contributor of our pets’ environmental footprint.

But president of France’s 30 Million Friends animal rights foundation Reha Huttin highlighted the human impact of eliminating pets would be just be as devastating (do also check out the blog’s section on Effects of Pets on People!).


Other Ecological Impacts

Pets’ environmental impact is not restricted to the carbon footprint they generate: for instance cats and dogs (among many other animals) spread diseases and viruses, and pollute waterways. What about the animals that pets hunt or kill as a result of their animal instincts, for instance, cats preying on birds and mice? Our pets devastate wildlife too.

Many wild animals – birds, frogs and other mammals – have been hunted, killed and eaten by feline predators every year. Dogs similarly have a role in decreasing biodiversity in areas they walked; their faeces also can generate high levels of bacteria in rivers and streams thereby turning water unsafe for marine life or drinking. Waterways may also starve consequently from insufficient oxygen, leading to loss of precious aquatic life. Pet owners who flush their pets’ litter down the toilet can also infect marine animals with toxoplasma gondii, a parasite capable of causing a fatal brain disease.

Pets’ carbon footprints left behind are largely attributed to humans’ action (such as the way we produce their food or not taking pro-active measures to prevent our pets from hurting wildlife), and if every one plays a part in fostering an environmentally-friendly pet-keeping behaviour (such as purchasing/making pet toys out of recycled materials), then we can greatly reduce what pets “generate” and thus “leave behind”. Despite the devastating visions of the environmental impact by our companion animals, solutions fortunately do exist. The blog has a section on Ways to Reduce Pets’ Impact on Environment that you might wish to take a look at.


Nonetheless the effects of pets have to be viewed in a holistic manner. Pets are valuable and indispensable companions to humans, and has been that way for many thousands of years.

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