Scientists tally the environmental impact of feeding meat to our cats and dogs. It's huge

dog
Credit: Noël Zia Lee, Wikimedia Commons

You've heard about the carbon footprint, but what about the carbon paw-print? According to a new study, U.S. cats' and dogs' eating patterns have as big an effect as driving 13.6 million cars for a year.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, reveals how our furry, four-legged companions' consumption of meat and other animal products adds a sizable, and largely overlooked, climate cost.

When it comes to environmental effects, meat-eating takes the cake. A 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that producing a kilogram of chicken results in about 3.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide, while a kilogram of pork comes with 24 kilograms of . The same amount of beef, however, can be responsible for up to 1,000 kilograms of CO2 - a worrisome figure given that this greenhouse gas is largely responsible for the significant warming of the Earth's climate. That's not even counting the livestock's water usage footprint, which dwarfs that of agricultural crops.

It's a growing concern given that developed countries such as the U.S. consume lots of animal protein, and that developing countries that are economically on the rise seem to be increasing their share of too.

But one sleepless night about five years ago, UCLA geographer Gregory Orkin realized something: Those environmental assessments rarely if ever took into account the consumption by dogs and . The thought gave him pause - perhaps even paws.

"Because I couldn't sleep, I got up and just kind of started throwing some numbers together," he said. "It's evolved a lot since then."

He calculated the likely number of calories needed by the United States' and cats, who number around 163 million, and examined the ingredients in and tallied up which ones were derived from animals.

The results? Cats' and dogs' overall caloric consumption was about 19 percent that of humans in the U.S.

"Just to put that in context, that's about the same amount of calories that the country of France consumes and so that whet my appetite a little bit," Orkin said.

Notably, dogs and cats actually consumed about 33 percent of the animal-derived calories that humans did, perhaps because their diets are generally more meat-heavy than ours, Orkin said. On the other end, they also produce about 30 percent of the feces that humans do (and much of that gets thrown in the trash in plastic bags, instead of treated the way that human waste is).

In short, Orkin concluded, American dogs and cats eat enough animal product to account for about 64 million tons of methane and nitrous oxide, two other powerful greenhouse gases. That's about the same impact on our warming climate as driving 13.6 million cars for a year.

"Americans are the largest pet owners in the world, but the tradition of in the U.S. has considerable costs," Orkin wrote in the paper. "As pet ownership increases in some developing countries, especially China, and trends continue in pet food toward higher content and quality of meat, globally, pet ownership will compound the environmental impacts of human dietary choices."

Orkin stressed that he wasn't advocating giving up beloved furry friends - far from it. But for people who want to be aware of their environmental impact so that they can try to reduce it, it's probably worth knowing the full effect of their household, canines and felines included.

There's also a movement toward putting more meat in pet foods, perhaps driven by what Orkin called the 'humanization' of pet products. But dogs aren't pure carnivores. They're omnivorous, having developed the ability to readily digest starches - possibly from the trash heaps that accumulated around ancient human encampments. So dogs, at least, could potentially get even more of their required protein from non-animal sources than pet owners may commonly think.

"I certainly hope these kinds of numbers will encourage the market to consider adding those as market choices, and I also think that individuals can make choices," Orkin said.


Explore further

The truth about cats' and dogs' environmental impact

More information: Gregory S. Okin et al. Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats, PLOS ONE (2017). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181301

©2017 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Citation: Scientists tally the environmental impact of feeding meat to our cats and dogs. It's huge (2017, August 7) retrieved 21 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-08-scientists-tally-environmental-impact-meat.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
2112 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Aug 07, 2017
Scientists tally the environmental impact of feeding meat to our cats and dogs. It's huge


Cry me a river.

Aug 07, 2017
Cut and Paste article author is identified. Good Nobody at Phys.org read the paper.

Paper is under Creative Commons Attribution License. - Open and readable - Good

Math is 100% algebra but not trivial. Percentages are provided with confidence intervals.

Data for Paper is available‼!

Paper does not extrapolate cumulative quantity of piled up dog pooh in 2100. Good

Does not purpose any solution which are:
a) Send all puppies to Vietnam where they eat them.
c) Only allow feral cats as they contribute nothing the GHG.

This does not meet the threshold of Climate Porn. However, that Phys.org found this noteworthy of mention shows what a Global Warming propaganda rag it is. Cattle emission of methane dwarfs this by orders of magnitude. Methane makes CO2 look like as pussy as far as heat retention goes.

Aug 07, 2017
Junk science at its worst. Will PETA say anything about the stigma this puts on poor dogs and cats. Doubt it.

Aug 07, 2017
What About Fish Gobbling up Fish in the Oceans? Omega-3 Effect & NOT Pollution ?
What is Gore Saying ?
Essence of The Story: 1kg Chicken = 4 kg Co2, 1kg Pork = 25 kg Co2, 1kg Beef = 1000 kg Co2 Burden on the Planet !

Aug 07, 2017
Are you people paid to just sit around and troll articles regarding climate change?

Aug 07, 2017
Figures. Ever consider getting a real job instead of content-filling with crap?

Aug 07, 2017
@idiot illiterate turdgent TROLL
This does not meet the threshold of Climate Porn. However, that Phys.org found this noteworthy of mention shows what a Global Warming propaganda rag it is
apparently you have no idea what a news aggregate is

for starters, this is simply a news article that is taken from PLoS ONE and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

maybe one day you will learn how to actually read more than the title before commenting

doubtful, considering you've already decided to ignore the facts for the sake of your personal delusional Dunning-Kruger based beliefs

Isn't the meat in pet food made from animals and animal parts that weren't fit for human consumption? Isn't it basically runts, knackered animals and parts not even fit for hot dogs? If so, pets aren't adding CO2, we're just not wasting human food that already cost a lot of CO2. If not, maybe a greener way to feed pets would be to raise rats and roaches on rotting food waste.

Aug 08, 2017
"Are you people paid to just sit around and troll articles regarding climate change?"

PTTG, given how quickly and consistently they show up for the climate change articles, and little else, that is probably correct.

On the other hand, if they aren't paid trolls, they must be among the biggest morons on the planet. Think about it. Wasting loads of their time to write complete falsehoods for free that won't persuade hardly anyone on this science-focused website.

Aug 08, 2017
I'm going with "another clickbait headline that the article doesn't support" for this one.

Sorry you don't like dogs. I'm a cat person and I like dogs better than you do. Azzhole people have axxhole dogs. I avoid them all.

Don't associate with avvholes. Get over it.

Aug 08, 2017
This 'pet' ownership in American is a new thing. Didn't happen until after it became commercialized by the pet food companies. I would like to see the profits from the pet food industry tallied the same way as above and the ownership of the various pet related industries. Bet you its huge. Its never listed in the GDP. And every household has a cat or dog. Bet you can't discover the actual ownership of the AKC and the profits from 'registered' animals.
Consider this: those cats and dogs were nearly feral and then got 'improved' i.e. became a profit making tool. Next are those kids we have with abandon. Genetic engineering will be hugely profitable.

Aug 08, 2017
This 'pet' ownership in American is a new thing. Didn't happen until after it became commercialized by the pet food companies
@katesisco
WTF?

you do know that just because you believe something doesn't make it true, right?

ROTFLMFAO

KBK
Aug 09, 2017
According to a new study, U.S. cats' and dogs' eating patterns have as big an effect as driving 13.6 million cars for a year.

If you remove one single large ocean going cargo carrier from the mix, the effect would be like taking more than 50 million cars off the road.

"How 16 ships create as much pollution as all the cars in the world"

http://www.dailym...rld.html

"Thanks to the IMO's rules, the largest ships can each emit as much as 5,000 tons of sulphur in a year – the same as 50million typical cars, each emitting an average of 100 grams of sulphur a year."


KBK
Aug 09, 2017
Bunker fuel is the world's greatest environmental catastrophe in existence, by far. Hugey so. By multiples, nearly by magnitudes.

Thee are about 100,000 vessels burning bunker fuel and there is no constraint on fuel quality or pollution, in any way shape or form.

Yet they are all tightly packed into one area of endeavor, which is EASILY targeted and repaired.

Yet we have this AL gore shit about how people and their efforts must die, first.

Like the ships don't even exist. No one is recognizing or going after international ocean shipping as the greatest threat to the environment that currently exists and is also the easiest target to fix and the cheapest to fix and the quickest to reach a fix.

What the fuck is wrong with people???

Aug 09, 2017
KBK

This is a good point. Instead of pursuing diminishing returns of the cats, dogs, and Obama EPA policies, this is a place where there would be a good bang for the buck invested.

Aug 14, 2017
Those ships are also carrying automobiles to and fro, as well as energy consuming electronics, and yes even pet food-- as well as catching pet food since fully 10% of the world's forage fish catch–the tiny unloved species like anchovies or krill-- go into pet food. In fact, about 40% of all ocean fish caught are turned into oil and meal–used in food for livestock, farmed fish and pet meals, contributing to unsustainability.

Outdoor cats also ravage populations of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians as well as spread toxoplasmosis. Dogs kill plenty for fun too, including some livestock. Pets are just another indulgence we humans cannot afford as a species. Try making human friends and getting unconditional love from them instead.

Aug 15, 2017
Outdoor cats also ravage populations of small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians as well as spread toxoplasmosis. Dogs kill plenty for fun too, including some livestock. Pets are just another indulgence we humans cannot afford as a species. Try making human friends and getting unconditional love from them instead.


Good point. On the other hand, in many other countries, where cats are still almost feral, they do not have the huge rat problem, like, e.g., in New York. Although, in New York they have a lot of squirrels that probably would be hunted by feral cats???

Aug 16, 2017
"Taste of the Wild" brand Cat Food includes:

Trout, Salmon, "Ocean fish meal" (whatever is caught in drift nets and ground up). Also, blue berries and raspberries (?). Also vitamins in their chemical forms (mined and otherwise engineered.

"Taste of the Wild" brand Dog Food includes:

Buffalo, Lamb, Chicken, Bison, Venison, Beef, ocean fish meal. Also bacterially derived vitamin chemicals.

Both sold in the local "sustainable" food co-op. The parking lot is always full.

As humans force all other life on the planet to compete for ever dwindling resources and land as their numbers shrink precipitously, we (America) are sacrificing their bodies and their lives to our vanity pet animals. Pet owners are sentimental and emotional, incapable of an authentic relationship with non-human life on Earth. Avoid these people! Speak up against the fallacy that pet animals enhance human life. Stop the destruction of wildlife and habitat!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more