Reducing Your Carbon “Pawprint”

Everyone loves their furry friends. What are some simple things we can do to lower their “pawprint?” The household cat or dog is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your carbon footprint, but producing the meat needed to feed the US’s cat and dog population puts out an estimated 64 million tons of greenhouse gas every year. There has also been a trend of heavy marketing and increased consumerism for pets; people are encouraged to treat them as a family member and services like monthly subscription boxes of toys and even caskets for pets have become trendy. Pet ownership can be done sustainably, as long as we stay mindful.

Consider What Kind of Pet to get and from where.

If you’re starting out on the path to pet ownership and haven’t decided what you want, consider a smaller pet or an herbivore. Small dogs and cats eat less than large dogs, and pets that are herbivores like rabbits or hamsters will have a lower carbon footprint than meat-eaters. If you opt for a dog or a cat, consider a “rescue” – one that needs to be adopted. Roughly six and a half million animals enter shelters each year.

Make Sure Your Pet is Fixed

This one is a good recommendation for any pet owner, even if you don’t have sustainability on your mind. Making sure that populations stay under control, and adopting rather than buying from a breeder, helps to keep the overall pet population and the resources they consume under control.

Feed Them Poultry

Eating chicken rather than red meat like beef can reduce the carbon footprint of a human by about 50%. Dogs and cats are carnivores and can’t eat plant-based diets, but you can reduce their carbon footprint by choosing less resource-intensive meats in their food. Also, watch how much you feed your pets – many in the US are overfed, which isn’t good for their health or for the planet. There’s a trend of pet owners are moving to more luxury types of foods – refrigerated meats, individually-packaged meals in disposable plastic single-use containers and the like.  Just like in our own lives, reducing the amount of packaging and energy-intensiveness is important.   

Pet Consumer Choices

Pets are becoming bigger consumers. We’re encouraged to buy everything from monthly toy and treat subscription boxes to elaborate burial services and caskets. Producing all of these things uses resources and generates carbon, so before you buy something for your pet consider if they really need it – just as we can for ourselves.

Pets in the Big Picture

Having a pet does not necessarily mean that someone’s carbon footprint is huge – the issue comes if having a pet is part of a larger consumer trend. If there’s a household with a big car, a big home, a large family and a big dog that eats beef and has similar consumer patterns to their owners, that magnifies the issue. Pet ownership is on the rise, but that may not be a bad thing for the planet. The birthrate in the US has been dropping, and 2019 marked the lowest point in 32 years. There are different reasons this could be happening; some blame the great recession and lingering economic instability. It could also be par for the course for a wealthier country. As birthrates have fallen, pet ownership has been on the rise, and it’s been suggested that many are filling their drive to nurture with “fur-babies,” which even when pampered have a lower carbon footprint than a human baby.

The bottom line when it comes to pets and the environment is to enjoy them, but keep them in mind when you’re considering your impact on the environment.

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