There are many reasons why some people decide not to own a pet – responsibility, cost, time commitment, mess and so on – but until now I’d never been aware of the climate change argument for not owning a pet. I found out about this new argument when I was reading a magazine recently, and it was a shock to see pet ownership compared to owning a gas guzzling car or flying in the eco-guilt stakes. According to the article, owning a large dog such as a German Shepherd has twice the eco-footprint as owning a large 4×4 car, consuming the equivalent of the amount of energy that 1.1 hectares of land could produce.
Seeing this argument in black and white in a respected science magazine was initially quite shocking and made me worry that as a vet, I was actively contributing to climate change by encouraging pet ownership. However, when I read the article in more detail and thought about the arguments they’d put forward for a while, my worries subsided as I realised that the basic facts behind the feature were rather flawed.
The way the author had made his argument was to take the amount of energy required to produce the meat and grains that an average dog eats in a year. And at face value, this does give the shockingly high figures he came to – but, and it’s a big but, I think there’s a fatal flaw in his argument. The author is assuming that all the meat that goes into pet foods is produced specifically for this purpose and is therefore adding to the total amount of meat being produced in the world, and therefore the energy used and emissions released. However, I know both from my training as a vet, and as a pet food producer, that the vast majority of pet foods are made from leftovers from the human food chain, and therefore have little or no impact on the total amount of food raised. Nearly all the meat that goes into pet foods comes from the carcasses and undesirable cuts of meat that we don’t want to eat and that would otherwise be discarded and wasted.
So my counter-argument would be that owning a pet is not anywhere near as bad for the environment as this article tried to suggest and that all of us pet lovers can breathe a sigh of relief and continue to share our lives with our cats and dogs without feeling guilty about contributing unduly to climate change!