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This Is How Terrible Your Pet Is for the World

Bad news for pet owners.
Photo: CC0 Public Doman, via

"Oh FFS" is a column where I pick out all the stuff you love most in life and look at how it's destroying the planet. Enjoy!

What is it? Pets.
What's that? Those animals that live in your house and rely on you for sustenance.
Is it recyclable? Probably not?

So how bad is the problem?

Look, we all love pets. Yours, especially. Flappy, or whatever twee name you've given him, is literally the best pet ever. But is Flappy the best thing ever for the environment? Is little Flappy actually destroying Earth's delicately balanced atmosphere? Unfortunately: yes, he is.

"There are many impacts of pets on the environment," says Gregory Okin, UCLA Geography professor and author of a recent study into the environmental impact of pets. "But they can also carry disease, pollute waterways and coastal zones through runoff from areas with faeces, and have adverse effects on wildlife. They also carry toxoplasmosis, which can be very harmful, especially to people with compromised immune systems. The effect through their food is related to the extent to which they add to general impacts of agriculture on the environment, including but not limited to raising animals."


In fact, little Flappy’s food is the main concern when it comes to environmental devastation – specifically, all those lovely wet chunks of jellied cow fat and pulverised chicken face. According to Gregory’s study, meat eaten by pets creates the equivalent of about 64 million tons of CO2 a year, which has about the same environmental impact as a year's amount of fumes from 13.6 million cars.

If we put those statistics into human terms, cats and dogs are responsible for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat-eating in America. And let's not forget all that dog shit you have to pick up; in America, pets produce about 5.1 million tons of faeces every year – the same amount as 90 million American humans – which also has a huge CO2 output in terms of processing.

So is little Flappy, as adorable as he is, one of the biggest threats currently facing the environment? Yes and no, but mainly yes.

"Basically, I think many people are blind to the fact that pets might have any impact at all," Gregory explains. "People are very aware of choices related to driving, water use, fertiliser pollution and so on, but they are less aware of the impacts that their choice to have a pet – and the choice to have a certain kind of pet – has on the environment."

We shouldn't lump all the blame on dogs and cats here, because it's also worth considering the impact of, say, fish, or exotic animals like snakes, or any other pet that needs heat, warmth and light to survive, because all of that requires a huge amount of electricity to sustain and therefore will produce a large amount of CO2. Mind you, we can mostly blame dogs and cats. Especially big dogs and cats.


"A large dog who eats a meat-filled diet has a much bigger impact on the environment than a small dog or a cat," Gregory tells me, "and because of their size and meat consumption, these all have bigger impacts than a hamster or mouse, which are herbivores."

What's the solution?

"One of the most important choices people can make with the pets they have is to feed their pets a less meat-rich diet," Gregory explains. "Dogs are not wolves: they do not need a mostly meat diet. Much of the information that people get about their dogs' needs comes from marketing – from companies trying to sell pet owners more – and more expensive – food for their pets.

"People should talk to their veterinarians about the optimal diet for their animals, and follow those recommendations, not the marketing they see. And people should clean up after their pets. Pet faeces is the main way that they spread pathogens."