The world is heating up, the ice caps are melting, the forests are burning… it’s all a bit doom and gloom as far as the environment is concerned. Thankfully, we are slowly coming round to the idea that each and every one of us needs to make big changes in our lives to help protect it. If you’re environmentally conscious (and you really should be!), you may be wondering how you can reduce your carbon footprint in all aspects of life, including pet ownership. Well in this rest of this article, we will be going through 5 ways you can help save the planet by reducing your pet’s carbon pawprint.
Carbon Footprints and Climate Change
First, a little environmental science! Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas that acts like a warm blanket in the atmosphere, trapping heat from the sun, keeping our blue planet at a stable temperature. The issue is the amount of CO2 produced (carbon emissions) in the last 200 years by humans is huge, and the blanket is becoming thicker. This means more and more heat is being trapped over time, resulting in very real increases in the global temperature. Other warming factors are combining with this effect to turn our wonderful world into steadily warming greenhouse.
We often refer to our ‘carbon footprint’, which is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by the things we do every day. A smaller carbon footprint means we release less CO2 into the atmosphere, meaning less heat trapped and less global warming. Individually, the volume of CO2 you save is small; but if all 7.7 billion of us did the same, it would make a real impact.
You probably can think of things you do already to lower your carbon footprint, but you may not have considered any changes regarding owning a pet. The exact numbers vary, but many studies have concluded that pet ownership is a huge contributor to larger carbon footprints worldwide – so what can you do to reduce it instead?
The biggest change you can make is probably the hardest… don’t have a pet. It’s pretty obvious that if you don’t have any pets, they won’t be producing a carbon footprint. However, many of you will understandably be quite opposed to that idea (and of course, pet ownership has many other benefits – Ed.). Instead, having fewer pets may be a better solution. Fewer dogs and cats in your household means less carbon emissions and a smaller carbon footprint. You can also try and have smaller animals – smaller dog and cat breeds produce a lot smaller carbon footprint than a big Great Dane. You might even want to consider a hamster, gerbil or guinea pig, which are even better for the environment than dogs and cats.
We’re not proposing you get rid of your pets immediately, or downsize your 40kg Labrador for a Chihuahua… but maybe consider the impact of multiple and larger animals the next time you are shopping for a new pet.
By far the biggest component of a pet’s carbon pawprint is their diet. Producing pet food creates a lot of waste CO2. Furthermore, food for our cats and dogs is improving in quality – this means it generally has a higher meat content, and the meat is coming from more expensive parts of the animal. All of this means more animals are needed, so more CO2 is released by producing the food. It can get worse if you are feeding your pet with meat from abroad, which must be transported a long way.
There are thankfully a number of changes you can make to reduce the impact of your pet’s diet on carbon footprints. The first is to consider feeding less – many of the UK’s pets are obese as a result of overfeeding. These podgy pets could actually do with going on a diet, meaning less food and definitely no treats! Less food means less carbon emissions. However, as an improper diet can lead to a lot of health issues, we would strongly advise you take your pet to your vet first, so they can give you advice and recommend a suitable diet.
Also, consider the source…
The next thing you can do is to reduce the quality of your pet’s food. Consider buying pet food with lower quality meat or less meat in it – cheap pet food is often bulked out with soy or plant-based protein, which are perfectly safe and produce a lot less carbon emissions. You should also consider what kind of meat you are feeding your pet. Factory farmed beef is the most carbon emitting of all meat-products, so it’s really good to switch your dog or cat’s food to something more environmentally friendly, like chicken or fish. Cats and dogs are not like us, and don’t really care if the meat is prime sirloin, or offcuts of offal; as long as it is an approved UK product, cheaper food is safe, tasty and better for the environment.
But watch out for vegetarian and vegan options
While we are on the topic, we should mention vegetarian dieting, which is becoming popular on social media, but has a lot of misinformation which we should address. First of all, it is never ever safe to feed a cat a vegetarian diet – they are obligate carnivores, meaning they can only get the protein they need from meat. A cat on a vegetarian diet is at risk of many health problems and can die. Dogs are not obligate carnivores; this means they technically can survive on a non-meat based diet. However, there are very few commercial vegetarian products available that contain all the necessary nutrients to keep a dog healthy. We strongly advise not giving your dog a vegetarian diet unless specifically told by your vet, with guidance and monitoring from them. Although feasibly possible, a canine vegetarian diet is too risky to attempt yourself. It might be greener, but pure vegetarian diets can risk the health of your dogs and cats.
Travelling with your Pet
We’re all aware that travelling by plane or car produces quite a large carbon footprint, so why not consider this when travelling with your pet. Instead of travelling by plane abroad, you may want to consider alternative options. Perhaps going overland by train or bus? You could also go somewhere closer, instead of halfway round the world! Even consider leaving your pet at home, with a sitter or at a kennel/cattery; if your pet doesn’t travel, they won’t be produce a travelling carbon footprint.
Closer to home, when you next strap your dog into the car, ask yourself if is it a trip that needs to be made by car, or can you walk it? Owning a dog encourages walking, so you should take advantage of this and use people power more! This could mean walking, or even cycling with your friend running alongside.
If there are journeys that have to be made, then pet-friendly public transport is always more eco-friendly than a personal car. Finally, you can always car share; if you would normally drive to the countryside for a walk, look around online for local dog walking groups that might be making similar trips. One car is half as harmful as two, so sharing a lift can go a long way.
We spend a huge amount on pet products: toys, poop bags, clothes, grooming products, litter and more. Many of these items are plastic, the material that seems to have become a curse word as of late, as it is quite polluting to produce, and can be harmful when abandoned in the environment. Many products are also made abroad and have to travel a long way to reach UK pet shops.
Our advice is to start shopping smarter. Buy products that are made locally – smaller independent pet shops or craft markets often have handmade products that are much better for the environment. Try to avoid plastic when you can, or ensure it is recyclable; you can even now buy biodegradable dog poo bags!
Consider also whether you need to buy something at all? You can make many fun toys out of the items you have at home, and can even repair old toys when they get a bit worn. Old bedding, blankets and cleaning cloths can be renewed with a good wash which saves having to buy a new one.
Finally, we have a few other tips if you want to think about pet ownership as a whole. There are millions of pets in the UK – every one of these has a carbon footprint. We mentioned above that fewer pets means less carbon footprint. While this is true, there are ways around having to give up pets altogether.
If you’re looking for a new pet, try to rescue from a shelter or animal sanctuary. Fostering or adopting a stray dog or cat is a lot less harmful for the environment than creating demand by buying from a breeder, who may then want to breed again, creating a larger carbon footprint. This will also rescue a lonely animal who will want to be your friend for life, so it’s win-win!
Finally, you can help make sure that there aren’t too many polluting pets by getting your pet spayed or castrated. Every year, abandoned and feral puppies and kittens are brought in from the streets. As well as being very sad for the animals themselves, they are producing a carbon footprint. By spaying and castrating, preventing unwanted animals being born, there will be fewer carbon emissions made by pets nobody planned for.
Climate change does not have one simple solution. Instead, there are a thousand small changes that we must make to help reduce its impact in the coming years. Every aspect of life must change, and having a pet is included. Animal lovers don’t have to give up their beloved pets any time soon, but by following some of the advice above, you can help reduce your pet’s CO2 emission, lower their carbon footprint, and slow down climate change.