heard about the carbon footprint, but what about the
carbon paw-print? According to a new study, U.S. catsí
and dogsí eating patterns have as big an effect as
driving 13.6 million cars for a year.
findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, reveals how
our furry, four-legged companionsí consumption of meat
and other animal products adds a sizable, and largely
overlooked, climate cost.
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 carbon dioxide. The same amount of beef,
however, can be responsible for up to 1,000 kilograms of
CO2 ó a worrisome figure given that this greenhouse
gas is largely responsible for the significant warming
of the Earthís climate. Thatís not even counting the
livestockís water usage footprint, which dwarfs that
of agricultural crops.
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 meat consumption
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 cats. The thought
gave him pause ó perhaps even paws.
I couldnít sleep, I got up and just kind of started
throwing some numbers together," he said. "Itís
evolved a lot since then."
calculated the likely number of calories needed by the
United Statesí pet dogs and cats, who number around
163 million, and examined the ingredients in pet food
and tallied up which ones were derived from animals.
results? Catsí and dogsí overall caloric consumption
was about 19 percent that of humans in the U.S.
to put that in context, thatís about the same amount
of calories that the country of France consumes and so
that whet my appetite a little bit," Orkin said.
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).
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. Thatís about the same impact on our
warming climate as driving 13.6 million cars for a year.
are the largest pet owners in the world, but the
tradition of pet ownership 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."
stressed that he wasnít advocating giving up beloved
furry friends ó far from it. But for people who want
to be aware of their environmental impact so that they
can try to reduce it, itís probably worth knowing the
full effect of their household, canines and felines
also a movement toward putting more meat in pet foods,
perhaps driven by what Orkin called the Ďhumanizationí
of pet products. But dogs arenít pure carnivores. Theyíre
omnivorous, having developed the ability to readily
digest starches ó 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.
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,"