The Environmental Cost of Pets

In the USA, more of us are pet owners than anywhere else in the world. In excess of sixty percent of households have a pet, which totals more than 180 million pets. Dogs are the most popular with 1 out of 3 households having at least one dog. Cats are the next most popular pet, with 1 out of 4 households having at least one cat. That adds up to a lot of pet food needed to feed them all.

Feeding America’s cats and dogs requires lots of energy and resources. It has been estimated that more than one quarter of the environmental impacts of using fossil fuel, water, land and agricultural chemicals to raise livestock is to generate the food needed to feed our pets.

If you are thinking about providing a home to a companion animal, consider the kind of diet that you will be able to feed your companion cat or dog. There is a plant-powered dog movement and it is possible for your dog to lead a healthy life eating a plant-based diet. Apparently, having evolved living with humans for 40,000 years, dogs are omnivores like us. Cats, however, are different, they are carnivores. Nevertheless, although controversial, there are veterinarians who provide some evidence that it is also possible to feed cats vegetarian diets with diligence to ensure they get the nutrients that they need. As those who live with cats know, they can be fussy eaters and so may not take readily to such diets. The good news is that companies are developing lab grown meats for pet foods that could be available soon. Lab grown meats have far less impact on the environment. Other ideas for environmental harm-reduction include the development of pet foods from insects and fungi. These may provide the answer for feeding cats and other carnivores.

Companion animals can impact our environment in other ways. It is extremely sad and a moral tragedy that we humans are driving the Earth’s 6th mass extinction. It is even worse to consider that our love of our pets may be a contributing factor. Strays and feral communities of cats can live and breed without interaction with humans. In the USA, feral cats as well as domestic companion outdoor cats kill twelve billion mammals and about two and a half billion birds every year. Feral cats cause most of these wildlife deaths. The Humane Society estimates that there could be 40 million stray and feral cats in the US, and that only about 2% of this population is spayed or neutered.

There is no doubt that feral cats kill wildlife. If you live with a domestic companion cat, consider keeping it inside so it can’t kill wildlife. Support organizations that spay and neuter feral cats, and that vaccinate them and treat them for disease.