Polluting pets: the devastating impact of man's best friend

December 21, 2009 by Isabelle Toussaint and Jurgen Hecker
A man walks his dog in the snow in the East Village on December 19 in New York City. Man's best friend could be one of the environment's worst enemies, according to a new study which says the carbon pawprint of a pet dog is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle.

Man's best friend could be one of the environment's worst enemies, according to a new study which says the carbon pawprint of a pet dog is more than double that of a gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle.

But the revelation in the book "Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living" by New Zealanders Robert and Brenda Vale has angered pet owners who feel they are being singled out as troublemakers.

The Vales, specialists in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington, analysed popular brands of pet food and calculated that a medium-sized dog eats around 164 kilos (360 pounds) of meat and 95 kilos of cereal a year.

Combine the land required to generate its food and a "medium" sized dog has an annual footprint of 0.84 hectares (2.07 acres) -- around twice the 0.41 hectares required by a 4x4 driving 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) a year, including energy to build the car.

To confirm the results, the New Scientist magazine asked John Barrett at the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, Britain, to calculate eco-pawprints based on his own data. The results were essentially the same.

"Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the of meat," Barrett said.

Other animals aren't much better for the environment, the Vales say.

Cats have an eco-footprint of about 0.15 hectares, slightly less than driving a Volkswagen Golf for a year, while two hamsters equates to a plasma television and even the humble goldfish burns energy equivalent to two .

But Reha Huttin, president of France's 30 Million Friends animal rights foundation says the human impact of eliminating pets would be equally devastating.

"Pets are anti-depressants, they help us cope with stress, they are good for the elderly," Huttin told AFP.

"Everyone should work out their own . I should be allowed to say that I walk instead of using my car and that I don't eat meat, so why shouldn't I be allowed to have a little cat to alleviate my loneliness?"

Sylvie Comont, proud owner of seven cats and two dogs -- the environmental equivalent of a small fleet of cars -- says defiantly, "Our animals give us so much that I don't feel like a polluter at all.

"I think the love we have for our animals and what they contribute to our lives outweighs the environmental considerations.

"I don't want a life without animals," she told AFP.

And pets' environmental impact is not limited to their carbon footprint, as cats and dogs devastate wildlife, spread disease and pollute waterways, the Vales say.

With a total 7.7 million cats in Britain, more than 188 million wild animals are hunted, killed and eaten by feline predators per year, or an average 25 birds, mammals and frogs per cat, according to figures in the New Scientist.

Likewise, dogs decrease biodiversity in areas they are walked, while their faeces cause high bacterial levels in rivers and streams, making the water unsafe to drink, starving waterways of oxygen and killing aquatic life.

And cat poo can be even more toxic than doggy doo -- owners who flush their litter down the toilet ultimately infect sea otters and other animals with toxoplasma gondii, which causes a killer brain disease.

But despite the apocalyptic visions of domesticated animals' environmental impact, solutions exist, including reducing pets' protein-rich meat intake.

"If pussy is scoffing 'Fancy Feast' -- or some other food made from choice cuts of meat -- then the relative impact is likely to be high," said Robert Vale.

"If, on the other hand, the cat is fed on fish heads and other leftovers from the fishmonger, the impact will be lower."

Other potential positive steps include avoiding walking your dog in wildlife-rich areas and keeping your cat indoors at night when it has a particular thirst for other, smaller animals' blood.

As with buying a car, humans are also encouraged to take the environmental impact of their future possession/companion into account.

But the best way of compensating for that paw or clawprint is to make sure your animal is dual purpose, the Vales urge. Get a hen, which offsets its impact by laying edible eggs, or a rabbit, prepared to make the ultimate environmental sacrifice by ending up on the dinner table.

"Rabbits are good, provided you eat them," said Robert Vale.

Explore further: Study says dogs have larger carbon footprint than SUV

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26 comments

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babaroga
1.7 / 5 (11) Dec 21, 2009
To Jo01:
Everyone who claims to be 'eco' and has a child (or even worse, has several children) is a complete hypocrite and should shut up about the subject.
(Funny how people always find an excuse to have children.)

if this is your honest opinion then You are clearly not right in the head!
LordKelvin
4.9 / 5 (8) Dec 21, 2009
This is clearly BS. There are 400 million pet dogs in the world, according to these clowns, they require 336 million hectares to survive every year. That's twice the amount of cultivated land in the US.

I'm guessing the accounting methods used by these authors are pretty flawed.

If you live in NZ and have a dog and live near these authors, please allow your pup to express itself on their lawn. I think that's a fitting review of the quality of their work.
danman5000
5 / 5 (4) Dec 21, 2009
I tried to take this article seriously, but then they said this:
...owners who flush their litter down the toilet ultimately infect sea otters and other animals with toxoplasma gondii, which causes a killer brain disease.

Oh please no, not the baby sea otters! Nevermind those "other" animals like sharks or sea cucumbers, they aren't cute and cuddly so who cares.
(that particular disease might not affect those particular animals, but you get my point)
deatopmg
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 21, 2009
""Rabbits are good, provided you eat them," said Robert Vale."

Guess he never heard of "Rabbit starvation" i.e. insufficient essential fatty acids to survive plus the severe environmental destruction THEY cause.

Carbon pawprint is moot anyway because CO2 driven global warming is, as has recently been revealed in FOIA releases from UEA, a political movement and not scientifically supportable.

Bottom line here, as well presented by Jo01, is simply too many people.
freethinking
1.7 / 5 (11) Dec 21, 2009
If we just eliminated all the AGW proponents from the world, the world carbon footprint would be reduced significantly. It is the AGW proponents like Al Gore that use all the resources, fly in their private jets, eat rare foods, etc.

DozerIAm
3 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2009
the problem with the "global warming" kooks and the "population bomb" kooks and the "too many pets" kooks is that they all think their "pet" crisis is (1) valid and (2) more important than the other ones, and (3) that the only solution is a full solution. Thus, nothing will get done for any of these things, which is good as nothing should be done for any of these things. Just tune out the kooks and life will be just fine.
Simonsez
4 / 5 (4) Dec 21, 2009
@DozerIAm > I agree completely! Sensationalist journalism will march on completely ignorant of the recent exposure of Climategate or whatever they are calling it. I just tune it out and groan inwardly whenever family members force me to educate them by espousing climate fear propaganda. Forgive them, they know not what they do.
Fabian
4.3 / 5 (3) Dec 21, 2009
LordKelvin - You are correct to point out their accounting error. The food used for dogs and cats comes from the same cows and crops grown for humans. If they add their numbers on top of the numbers denoting the carbon footprint of humans, they're double counting. More specifically, it's the scraps of the cow - the internal organs, snouts, tails, etc - that are used to make most dog food. That cow would've been raised for its meat for people anyway, so the farmers are being more efficient by using the whole cow. That major flaw aside, I do think people should keep their cats indoors to prevent them from killing birds. I also think people should religiously pick up their dog's business when they're outside. In places where people don't, literally tons and tons of fecal material can end up in creeks and lakes - not good for things.
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (5) Dec 21, 2009
"I think the love we have for our animals and what they contribute to our lives outweighs the environmental considerations.

"I don't want a life without animals," she told AFP.

Can we apply that logic to other things in our lives to validate them? Because I feel the same way about beer and guns

Seriously, though, I hope no one ever takes that woman seriously about anything ever again
freethinking
1.3 / 5 (8) Dec 21, 2009
NotAsleep, sorry, feelings only count for socialist causes. Motorcycles are not a leftist cause so you cant have feelings for them unless Al Gore likes them. As for guns you can have feelings for them as long as it is hate, fear, loathing, etc.
woolwit
5 / 5 (2) Dec 21, 2009
"With a total 7.7 million cats in Britain, more than 188 million wild animals are hunted, killed and eaten by feline predators per year."
Are the carbon footprints of the mice and birds that the cats kill calculated into the total carbon footprint of the cats? i.e. is it break even, or?

But obviously cats and dogs DO have a carbon footprint. I'm glad to finally see some studies coming out. I read once that half the meat consumed in America went to cats and dogs–but don't know how accurate that is and/or whether or not it was waste product that humans wouldn't have eaten otherwise.

NotAsleep
3 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2009
Way to ruin my personal validation, Freethinking! It looks like you posted before I changed "motorcycles" to "beer". Beer, I hoped, would have even less carbon footprint than a motorcycle, since I end up moving a lot less when using it
Alienizer
5 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2009
How about a T-Rex, they must of pollute 100 times more than dogs, but yet, there was very good air back then, until humans started their crap.

This story is pathetic.
LordKelvin
not rated yet Dec 21, 2009
Fabian, that's what I thought the likely explanation is for the 0.84 "hectares" figure. I'm guessing they more than double counted. I'm sure they also counted trees that aren't planted on land that's was cleared for agriculture (even if it was 100 years ago), etc... If that's the case, I don't think they should use a unit like "hectare".
freethinking
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2009
NotAsleep, now you are causing me problem, beer generally gives people good feelings, but beer has co2. Wait, so does softdrinks. Well having bad feelings about softdrinks is allowed as socialists don't like softdrinks anymore as it is a know cause of obesity.

So for me to be a good socialist AGW proponent, believer, I cant have pets, kids, fly, own a house, drink beer, own a gun, eat meat, eat fruit in the winter, drive, heat or cool my home, have lights.

But I ask, why does Al Gore and a lot of the other rich AGW proponets do/have/does all these things? Can someone please answer me that before my faith fails me?
freethinking
2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 21, 2009
Anybody else notice that the flurry of doom and gloom reports/studies of and about AGW has deminished this week?

Is it because of climategate or is it because the party of the rich and famous is over?
dkarloski
5 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2009
What this article fails at is comparing a pet's carbon footprint to that of a human being. I would be very surprised to see that the total carbon footprint of all the pets in the world being anywhere close to the carbon footprint of the 6,692,030,277 human beings (number from Google)in the world today.
finitesolutions
5 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2009
"Anybody else notice that the flurry of doom and gloom reports/studies of and about AGW has deminished this week?

Is it because of climategate or is it because the party of the rich and famous is over?"

:)

It is because it got so cold in Europe and North America.
Last week was the first winter week. Had it been warmer they might have been way more vocal. But in the cold is better to shut up as not to hurt your throat and stay indoors.
There was Nathan Myhrvold speaking on CNN proposing geoengineering by spraying aerosols in the stratosphere above the polar caps. The aerosols will reflect 1% of the sun rays and will cool the caps by at least 1 degree. It seems feasible to me.
http://www.thaind...755.html
AAhhzz
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 22, 2009
Reha Hutton said:
Everyone should work out their own environmental impact. I should be allowed to say that I walk instead of using my car and that I don't eat meat, so why shouldn't I be allowed to have a little cat to alleviate my loneliness.

Why should you have to say or do that?

Is there a Law that limits your "Carbon Footprint" now?

And if there is, are you not responsible for the carbon emissions of your children? And thier Children? Perhaps you should cut your own throat to help save the planet.

What a self serving and utter farce. If you added up all the numbers the AGW folks have put out over the years to "educate" us lowely non elites we would have a 100% Carbon doixide.

Which would likely be fine by them since it would mean everyone was dead.
LordKelvin
5 / 5 (1) Dec 24, 2009
Here's a better comparison:

My dogs (32 pounds & 60 pounds) go through about 6 pounds of dog food per week. In bulk, premium dog food is about $1/pound. That's $312.

A typical SUV cost is $30k, and avg miles driven is 15k. So over ten years the SUV cost to "make" is $3000. The fuel cost is about $2000-3000 per year.

I assume the resources to produce goods is at least approximately proportional to their cost, so something is quite fishy with their numbers.
Dreadneck
5 / 5 (2) Dec 27, 2009
I don't care what a bunch of nihilistic misanthropes have to say about my dog, my automobile, or my eating habits. I refuse to be reduced to third world squalor for the sake of these hateful, power-mongering idiots. If they want to live in mud huts and eat tree bark then more power to them - but if they try to force me to do the same then they can get bent.
Dreadneck
not rated yet Dec 27, 2009
I hear dog is pretty good eatin... hey theres a constructive solution to energy-sapping companion animals- lets make sausage. Make sure though that the cats are T gondii free- that contagion alone is responsible for much insanity in rural gooberville america


I wonder what's responsible for the insanity in urban libtard america?
DozerIAm
not rated yet Dec 28, 2009
@Jo01
You are right, your detractors are wrong. Overpop is the source of all the worlds problems. Our disproportionate compulsion to reproduce is a remnant of the Pleistocene. Our deeming this rampant ability as 'sacred' is one more reason for religions to end. Pets are a neurotic expression of this, another form of children we cant seem to have enough of. I say outlaw all domestic animals except the food animals and those with jobs to do. Free the slaves! Neuter them all and send them to... Madagascar? -to live out their lives in freedom.
@velanarris
Every time somebody brings up family planning somebody else evokes the third reich, usually religionists. Are you a godder of convenience? Oh and hospitals use more energy than most facilities; quit smoking.


Otto, here is my problem with your post - I simply can't tell if you are being direct or sarcastic. Don't forget this board does get it's share of nuts of all varieties. So - what *IS* your opinion on these things?
DozerIAm
5 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2009
@velanarris
...hospitals use more energy than most facilities; quit smoking.

Hasn't it already been well documented that people who smoke end up having less total health care expenses than those who don't (because they die earlier)?

Here's an example of a news article discussing this:
http://www.usatod...ts_N.htm
defunctdiety
5 / 5 (1) Dec 28, 2009
Well, let's see... where does the overpopulation stem from. The impoverished and uneducated.

Hmmm, let's see, what is the known and proven best way to reduce birthrates in human populations? That's simple, education.

Hmmm, now what's the best way to raise a peoples standard of living? What, education? Interesting.

Okay, well, what's the best way to reduce crime...? Ah yes, education.

What's the most effective means of getting people to reduce their carbon footprint, if they are so inclined, or make any positive eco-friendly change in their life? Education.

Noticing a trend? Overpopulation is not the problem in and of itself, the problem is ignorance, educate people and so many problems take care of themselves. The problem is the induced-apathy of People, subtle economic oppression and the governments that employ these tactics, i.e. socialism/big government.

Forget universal healthcare, universal education should be the issue. And I dont mean the advanced day-care that is college.
DozerIAm
5 / 5 (2) Dec 30, 2009
@otto1923 - you may be aware that Im not alone in realizing the impact of overpop on the world? Take out a pencil and write on your best coffee table:
people = 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64;
food supply = 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
See? Even without the commas, commodities can't keep up. Inflation sets in, stability crumbles, everybody blames the king, war or revolt ensues. The only noncyclic result without 'management' is irreparable damage to the environment. With 'management' destruction is limited and Progress continues.

Otto, Paul Erlich made that argument back in the late 60's with his book "The Population Bomb". He was wrong and not just by a little bit. So are you.

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