Life cycle assessment of dogs and cats : are pets underestimated climate killers??

Dogs and cats also have a CO2 footprint. But how do our pets perform in practice?? And how can pet owners improve their carbon footprint??

In 2020, 15.7 million cats and 10.7 million dogs lived in Germany. What does that mean for the carbon footprint?

Flying, meat consumption, cruise ships and suvs – today’s climate killers are well known and sustainable and climate-neutral alternatives have long been sought.

But what about the ecological balance of pets?? How big is the ecological pawprint of "balu"?, "tiger" and "findus really?

And what can pet owners do to improve their carbon footprint?? We answer the most important questions.

What is the carbon footprint of a dog??

What is the ecological footprint of large dogs?? Scientists at the Technical University of Berlin also wondered about this and have already investigated it on a large scale in 2020. Factors such as the production of animal feed and environmental impact caused by urine and excrement were also taken into account.

The results are sobering. A dog weighing 30 kilograms causes around 1.050 kilograms of CO2 – that’s just over a ton.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), if the climate is not to be further burdened, each inhabitant of the earth should only produce two tons of CO2 per year. Who owns for example a small dobermann bitch, consumes already by the bare animal husbandry half of its annual CO2-capacity.

For comparison: a small labrador causes about as much CO2 emissions annually as a single flight from berlin to washington. According to calculations by the CO2 flight calculator myclimate, the CO2 emissions for this one-way flight are 1.1 metric tons.

matthias finkbeiner, head of the institute for technical environmental protection at the Technical university of berlin, also points out that dog owners are often unaware of the ecological footprint of their four-legged friends: "if someone goes to a demonstration for more climate protection with a 50-kilo dog and then demands a stop to short-haul flights, that’s a double standard."

How high is the CO2 balance for a cat??

Already in 2019, the life cycle assessment institute ESU-services, based in switzerland, investigated the climate footprint for the most common pets like dog, cat, horse up to the ornamental fish. For the analysis, factors such as the heat loss of a cat flap were also taken into account. The study found that keeping a 4.2-kilogram cat annually is roughly equivalent to the same CO2 footprint as driving a car 1.164 kilometers.

For comparison: a car trip from berlin to venice causes the same amount of CO2 emissions as keeping a cat for one year.

Keeping a cat causes as much CO2 emissions each year as a car trip from Berlin to Venice

Is the pet a blind CO2 stain?

that the pet factor has so far not been taken into account when calculating climate balances tends to be overlooked, also confirms the climate protection expert of the federal environment agency michael bilharz.

Interested consumers can calculate their own personal CO2 balance on the website of the German Federal Environment Agency. However, according to Bilharz, it took twelve years before the factor of pet ownership was integrated into the CO2 calculator about a year ago. In the meantime, the selection point "pets" can be used to answer under the point "other consumption" be entered.

The question of the extent to which the keeping of pets clouds the ecological balance often heats up the minds of people. Climate-conscious pet owners in particular, who attach great importance to a CO2-neutral and sustainable lifestyle, are often taken aback by such balance sheet calculations.

Pet lovers often argue that pet owners spend less time on long-distance travel, spend more time in the fresh air on walks, and that pets are good for people in general. For example, it has long been proven that cats can speed up the recovery process in cases of mental illness and depression. In addition, their purring can not only lower blood pressure in humans, but also stimulate the release of serotonin.

Many scientists agree: it is not a matter of pillorying animal lovers in general, but of pointing out blind spots. An important point is the question of proportionality. Finkbeiner from the Technical University of Berlin points out: "Having a dog, eating meat every day, driving the fattest car and flying a lot – that might be too much."

What can i do as a livestock farmer to improve the carbon footprint??

If you are aware of your pet’s ecological balance, you can turn a lot of small screws to improve your individual carbon footprint. This means that the environmental impact can be reduced at least in part by using the dog excrement is collected when walking the dog every day – even if a plastic bag is used as a container. According to finkbeiner, the CO2 pollution caused by burning the plastic bag together with the excrement is still lower than if the excrement is simply left lying around in the open.

Another point is the number of pets. According to the German Pet Supplies Association, around 15.7 million cats and 10.7 million dogs were living in Germany in 2020. Since pet ownership has boomed in times of the ongoing pandemic, these figures are likely to have risen significantly once again. the founder of the eco-balance institute ESU-services niels jungbluth asks accordingly: "with three children, do you have to have three cats or is one enough??"

Always take it with you: If you take your dog's excrement with you in a plastic bag, you save additional CO2 emissions

Negative carbon footprint: should i feed my pet a vegan diet??

It is already well known that a purely plant-based diet improves the individual ecological balance. According to bilharz, those who eat a vegan diet can annually between 800 and 000 kilograms of CO2, which would be equivalent to keeping one labrador or retriever per year.

In the life cycle assessments of pets, the largest item of climate impact is animal feed. Many pet owners ask themselves whether, for example, the use of plastic bags dogs should be fed a pure vegan diet – a question that is not only discussed in pet forums, but also occupies the scientific community.

does a vegan diet harm my dog?

Volker wilke of the foundation veterinary university hannover says on this "it is theoretically possible to feed adult and healthy dogs on a purely plant-based diet. So would have attempts with a purely vegan nutrition with dogs no negative consequences shown. In these tests, dog food based on peas, lentils, sweet potatoes or soy was used, to which vitamin A, taurine and other amino acids were added.

With the nourishing change however caution is required. An incorrect diet can cause damage to the heart and nervous system, muscle atrophy or other problems in dogs. Therefore, the advice of a knowledgeable expert or the attending veterinarian should always be sought when changing the dog’s diet.

According to wilke "it does not have to be about the basic question meat yes or no go". For example, using more dry food instead of wet food in feeding can make a difference.

Wilke also points out that feeding purely vegan dog food can reduce the ecological balance could even deteriorate under certain circumstancesvegan food with a large proportion of soy from brazil and additives from other parts of the earth as wet food in the can can be many times more harmful to the climate than dry food containing meat, which is produced here."

Can I feed my cat vegan?

According to wilke, the vegan diet of cats already more difficult: "it is almost impossible to feed a cat on a vegetable basis."

More on the topic

The pandemic goes, the pet also in animal shelters more and more cats and dogs are delivered

Secured puppies at the animal shelter in Stuttgart

nevertheless, the ecological balance can also be improved here by cat owners giving their animals more dry food if possible or using cat food that does not contain a lot of muscle meat but more animal by-products.

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