Dog, cat and the climate: the questionable eco-balance of pets

Great Dane, kitty and the climate: The questionable eco-balance of pets

Flying is not good for the climate – that is clear to everyone. But there are also neglected aspects: What, for example, is the actual eco-balance of pets??

When it comes to measures to combat climate change, everyone talks about flying less, eating less meat and driving less. Often it is misjudged that also dog and cat with the ecological balance of their mistresses and masters strike to account.

The issue has long been neglected, says Michael Bilharz of the Federal Environment Agency to the German Press Agency (dpa). It failed, among other things, because of a lack of data on the environmental impact of pets. So it took twelve years before pets were included in the popular CO2 calculator on the office’s website just over a year ago. In the meantime, there is scientific data. These are difficult for some pet owners to cope with – because our beloved four-legged joys enrich our lives enormously.

Such data is in no way intended to pillory livestock farmers. Most hobbies bring a load of the environment with themselves – so also the attitude of dog& Katz. Below in the text you find Tipps, how everyone can improve the ecological balance of its domestic animal and protect perhaps in other ranges the climate.

What does the life cycle assessment of Kira, Cleo and others look like??

According to scientific model calculations, a larger dog can already account for half of the CO2 emissions that each human being would only be expected to cause in order not to contribute to further climate change.

"If someone goes to the demonstration for more climate protection with a 50-kilo dog and then demands a stop to short-haul flights, that’s a double standard", Matthias Finkbeiner, head of the Institute for Technical Environmental Protection at the Technical University of Berlin, tells dpa.

The Berlin scientists calculated this in 2020 for dogs of different sizes. They included the origin and production of the food as well as packaging and transport, but also the environmental impact of urine and feces and the associated street cleaning.

The resultAccording to Berlin’s calculations, a dog weighing 30 kilograms causes around 19 tons of CO2 in 18 years. That corresponds per year to approximately 1050 kilograms, thus well a ton CO2. A smaller Doberman bitch or a small Labrador dog are in the same order of magnitude. According to the CO2 flight calculator of the myclimate foundation, one ton of CO2 emissions corresponds to a return economy flight from Frankfurt to Las Palmas on the Canary Islands (1.1 tons). CO2 emissions are higher for larger dogs such as St. Bernards and Great Danes, and lower for smaller dogs such as pugs and Maltese.

A medium-sized dog defecates about a ton a year. This small Chihuahua significantly less

Two tons of CO2 per earthling per year

Mathematically, each inhabitant of the Earth should emit only two tons (2000 kilograms) of CO2 per year in order not to burden the climate further, because according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this is the capacity that the Earth can naturally absorb. In Germany, the figure is currently much higher: per person, according to the Federal Environment Ministry, the figure was around 8500 kilograms in 2019.

The life cycle assessment institute ESU-Services in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, has calculated 2019 life cycle assessments for pets ranging from horses to ornamental fish. The methodology was different, the institute included, for example, car trips to the forest for walks with the dog or heat loss through a cat flap. It comes to the conclusion: The attitude of a 29-Kilo-Hundes – approximately a Labrador – over one year corresponds approximately to the CO2-Emissionen of a car driving distance over 2828 kilometers. Keeping a cat weighing 4.2 kilograms is roughly equivalent to the CO2 emissions of driving 1164 kilometers by car.

Whoever tackles the subject must expect hostility, everyone says. With many humans the blood pressure rises in view of such computations immediately. "Is it still possible? Should we euthanize all horses, dogs and cats immediately??", it says in the comment under a contribution to the topic.

Some animals destroy their own climate protection efforts

The scientists emphasize: It does not go around to put animal owners and – owners at the pillory. "But we must be clear about this: Every hobby causes environmental pollution", says ESU Services founder Niels Jungbluth. "One goes skiing, the other golfing, the third has a horse, a dog or a cat.". Everyone has to weigh things up for themselves, says Finkbeiner: "Having a dog, eating meat every day, driving the fattest car and flying a lot – that might be too much." And Bilharz says: "If you live vegan, for example, you can improve your carbon footprint by 800 to 1000 kilograms of CO2 a year. But if you have a Labrador or retriever at the same time, that savings is gone again."

The number of dogs in Germany has more than doubled within 20 years. 2020 lived here according to data of the federation pet need 15.7 million cats and 10.7 million dogs. In the course of the pandemic, when more pets were acquired, especially in lockdown times, there could have been noticeably more of them.

"With the domestic animals it is factually a quantity problem", means Bilharz. A watchdog on the farm or a cat that catches mice in the barn is one thing, but a dog is another. "But if I have a cat in every fifth apartment in a dense housing development with 400 apartments and they all roam the backyard and go hunting, then not only do we have a climate protection problem, but soon we won’t have any birds there either."

Hunting cats are a major threat to birdlife

Weighing up the pros and cons is not easy

Pet owners often say that pets are good for them, and that should be taken into account. So people with dogs are out in the fresh air more, and they fly less. Children learn to take responsibility for living beings, cats could help with depression and other mental illnesses. "We do not deny the benefit at all", says Finkbeiner. "But in an ecological balance such a consideration has nothing to look for. There are also with "bad products" There is definitely a benefit: One person’s well-being is enhanced by a dog, the other by a Porsche."

Improving the life cycle assessment of pets

There are many ways to improve the eco-balance of pets. "With three children, do you have to have three cats or is one enough??", means Jungbluth. Can’t you also walk the neighbor’s dog instead of owning your own?? The environmental impact of urine and feces can be at least partially mitigated by collecting the feces, says Finkbeiner. The CO2 pollution caused by burning the plastic bag with the droppings is therefore less than the damage caused by the droppings outside.

According to the calculations, the largest part of the climate impact has the food. "It is theoretically possible to feed adult and healthy dogs on a purely plant-based diet", says Volker Wilke of the Hanover University of Veterinary Medicine Foundation. Trials with vegan diets – such as those based on peas, lentils, sweet potatoes or soy and with the addition of vitamin A, taurine and other amino acids – have not shown any negative consequences, he says. Necessarily with a conversion however the advice of knowledgeable specialists is necessary. Otherwise, dogs could suffer from damage to the heart and nervous system, muscular atrophy or other problems.

"In order to improve the ecological balance, however, it does not have to be about the basic question of meat yes or no", says Wilke. More dry food instead of wet food also makes a difference. "Vegan food with a large proportion of soy from Brazil and additives from other parts of the world as wet food in a can can be many times more harmful to the climate than dry food containing meat, which is produced here." The balance is also improved by feeding meat and by-products that humans do not eat – such as the udder or lungs of the cow – or by using insects as a source of protein.

With the cat it is more difficult, says Wilke. "It is nearly impossible to feed a cat on a plant-based diet." However, one could also improve the life cycle assessment here by using food with animal by-products rather than particularly high amounts of muscle meat, or by feeding more dry food if possible.

  • Read more: Feeding cats and dogs vegan: Is feeding without meat species-appropriate?

Many animals would be overfed anyway. "Adapting feeding to real needs would also have enormous potential in terms of sustainability", says Wilke. "Many pets suffer from overweight. Not only in terms of health, but also in terms of sustainability, you should make sure that your four-legged friend stays slim."

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