Dogs, worse than SUVs for the planet

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Is your sweet pooch more harmful to the climate than an SUV? This iconoclastic thesis is disputed to say the least, but despite everything, scientists are calling on dog and cat lovers not to be ostrich: their animal has an impact on the planet.

In 2009, the book It’s time to eat the dog of Brenda and Robert Vale angered the owners of four-legged companions. His conclusion was clear: the enormous consumption of meat by a medium-sized dog has an impact on the planet twice that of an SUV driven 10,000 km.

Ten years and several studies later, scientists do not agree on the extent of the carbon footprint of dogs and cats, mainly related to their diet.

Scientific controversy

“I have nothing against pets, they do a lot of good for people (…) But to make informed choices, you have to have all the information”, explains to AFP Gregory Okin, professor at the ‘University of California, Los Angeles.

In a study published in 2017, the researcher estimated that the 160 million American dogs and cats were responsible for 25 to 30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. Or 64 million tonnes of CO2, or driving some 13 million cars for a year.

Calculations based on “many inaccurate assumptions”, contests with AFP Kelly Swanson, professor of animal nutrition at the University of Illinois. “The majority of animal feed comes from by-products of the human food industry.”

Meat waste

“Today, the CO impact2 of conventional industrial pet food is negligible, ”adds Sébastien Lefebvre, from the VetAgro-Sup veterinary school in Lyon.

This will only become a problem “when humans stop wasting” or become “completely vegetarian”, he quipped. In the meantime, “not pretty” pieces of meat or offal that humans are choosy about can be “valued for domestic carnivores”.

For Gregory Okin, this argument does not hold: “I have traveled enough in the world to know that some things that I would not consume, others would eat them with pleasure”. In addition, “in some countries like the Netherlands (…) there is meat produced for animal consumption”, assures Professor Pim Martens, of the University of Maastricht.

However, “like humans, the carbon footprint depends on where you live in the world,” the scientist told AFP. According to its study published in 2019, an average dog (10 to 20 kg) emits over its entire life from 4.2 to 17 tonnes of CO2 if he lives in the Netherlands, 3.7 to 19.1 tonnes in China but only 1.5 to 9.9 in Japan.

In theory, 10 tonnes of CO2 represent about two cars driven for a year, but he refuses to make any comparison: “Does that mean that if you don’t have a dog or a cat, you can have an SUV or drive your car more?” It does not mean anything”.

Big dog> Small cat

Researchers seem to agree on at least one thing: a large dog that eats more has a larger carbon footprint than a small cat.

Once the observation has been made, what solutions for masters worried about the impact of their faithful companion on the planet? To get rid of? The question is not there, answer the scientists, who call above all to make choices in conscience. “It’s not black or white. Cats and dogs are also linked to a lot of positive things, ”such as psychological benefits, Pim Martens insists.

Adopt a hamster or a bird instead, as Gregory Okin suggests? “Maybe from a strict carbon footprint point of view, we should prefer a lizard or a spider” but “the interaction is not the same”, jokes Professor Martens, himself the happy owner of ‘a cat.

One solution, for animals and the planet, would already be not to feed them excessively. Some experts also advocate the incorporation of other sources of protein in their diet, such as insects already used in some kibble. But again, opinions differ on the environmental impact of farms specifically intended for animal feed.

Vegetarian animals?

As for transforming your companion into a vegetarian, “in theory, it is not impossible” for a dog, under veterinary control, estimates Sébastien Lefebvre, who warns on the other hand against the risk of killing his cat, a real carnivore.

A carnivore with the instinct of hunter responsible anyway for an “ecological disaster” of another order, he warns. “A massacre around your home: birds, shrews, lizards …”.