Our Pets and Our Planet: How Cats and Dogs Affect the Environment

dog pet climate impact

I find myself dog-sitting a friend's little family member, Scout. The daily routine of feeding some prepared meat and walking the dog provides a calming routine. Scout and I are starting to bond well, but, as with everything, this over-thinking mind wanders off into the concepts of pet environmental impacts. Why is this not a thing we hear about? We hear about the human population and our impact daily, but our furry friends seem to escape the judgment. How much impact does our family friend have on the planet?

But first, the world has a massive number of cats and dogs, and the need to have them in our lives is increasing. In Brazil, the number of dogs in the country surpassed the number of children in the 2013 nationwide census. It is estimated that the US has 76.8 million dogs, Brazil has 52.2 million, and China has 27.4 million. Cats in the US number 58.4 million, China 53.1 million and Brazil 22.1 million.

cat on stairs

Although this article is mainly about the impact of pet food on the environment, it is essential to know about their direct impact on wildlife through hunting. Research about cats' impacts on wildlife has been published widely. Free-ranging domestic cats are estimated to kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually. Some cat owners hang little bells to warn the pray. Others may even keep the feline to help control unwanted pests.

But what is the environmental impact of feeding these animals daily? Dogs and cats eat protein-rich diets, which are high in animal products. Research shows that to produce 100g of beef, 164m² of land is required, and 100g of lamb and mutton requires 185m². Poultry and pig meat, at 7m² and 11m², require much less land. Currently, 50% of the world's habitable land use is for agriculture. I focus mainly on land use due to its impact on conservation. Still, the CO² impact is also substantial; as regularly reported in the media, 26% of greenhouse gas comes from our food production. For every kg of meat, beef production emits 100kg of greenhouse gas, and poultry 10kg.

So, how much does my pet impact the environment? As with everything, the answer depends on what you feed it. If you feed your dog a dry pet food you bought from the store, the impact is substantially less than when you feed your dog a wet diet of mainly meat products. A 10kg dog's impact will range between 12.4% and 97.8% of a regular human's impact, where 12.4% is dry food and 97.8% is wet food. The study indicates that Brazil's cats could be responsible for between 2.9% - 24.6% of Brazil's total emissions. Research thus shows that it is critical what we feed our best friends and get a better understanding of their role in the bigger picture.

You can read more about the study here.

Dr Adriaan Buys
Dr Adriaan BuysEnvironmentalist, Speaker & Consultant
Adriaan Buys, the founder of ConservationMag.org, is a researcher, environmental consultant, speaker and wildlife photographer. With a passion for inspiring change, he tells the stories of nature's plight. Contact him at adriaanbuys.com.

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