Are Pets Bad For The Environment? The Surprising Way Your Dog Might Be Contributing To Climate Change

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Behind Fluffy's adoring eyes and furry exterior lies a ravenous carnivore bent on world destruction. At least, that's the impression you might get from a paper recently published in PLOS One. Apparently, your beloved pet could be encouraging climate change, and it's all thanks to their infinite, predatory appetites — although your inability to resist their pleading gaze at the dinner table probably doesn't hurt.

In the paper, University of California, Los Angeles, geology professor Gregory Okin looked the meat consumption of dogs and cats in the United States, then calculated its environmental impact in terms of carbon dioxide production. Research has repeatedly shown that meat production requires more resources and generates far more waste than the farming of grains and vegetables. In fact, a 2014 study suggested that the simple act of giving up beef is a more effective way to reduce carbon emissions than selling your car. As a result, many environmentally-conscious humans have adopted a plant-based diet to minimize their impact on the earth.

Their furry friends, however, are a different story. According to Okin's calculations, the 163 million cats and dogs in the United States are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of American meat consumption. In fact, if they were to rise up against their human oppressors and establish their own country, they would rank fifth in meat consumption worldwide. Basically, dogs and cats maintain the diets of 17-year-old boys in the middle of a growth spurt: all meat, all the time.

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Needless to say, this has a serious impact. Each year, meat consumption by pets produces about 64 million tons of carbon dioxide. To put that in perspective, that's comparable to the yearly emissions produced by 13.6 million cars.

Okin didn't stop there. He also found that cats and dogs produce about five million tons of feces per year. This might be a something you'd rather not think about, but poop has an environmental impact. It produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, so every time your pet does their business, they're contributing to climate change. (As are you, for that matter.)

Given that the majority of people in the world owns pets, and we are all subject to the effects of global warming, this is an issue affecting pretty much everyone, and there isn't an easy fix. There's considerable debate about whether dogs and cats can thrive on a vegetarian diet, so that may not be a healthy option. However, Okin noted in the Los Angeles Times that dogs, at least, are omnivores, which is something to keep in mind when shopping for food — Lassie's dinner doesn't have to be prime rib presented on a silver platter. It's okay if there are grains and weird meat parts mixed in, even if you'd rather not eat it yourself.  

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The impact of pets on the environment is yet another challenge in the fight against climate change, but hey — at least it shows that your pets really are part of your household. Even if they're another species, anyone who eats that much of your food is truly part of the family.