Earth Day update: Pets leave carbon paw prints

A New Zealand study says more than two acres of land are required to provide food for one dog's lifetime.
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Apr 19, 2011
By dvm360.com staff

Have you ever considered your veterinary patients' impact on the environment? You probably never thought that pets might not be very green. But recent research suggests pet ownership makes more of an impact than we might realize. According to sustainability researchers from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, more than two acres of agricultural land is required to provide the meat and grain necessary to sustain a medium-sized dog for its lifetime.

What's more, researchers estimate that 154,440 square miles of land is required to feed the cats in the world’s top 10 feline-friendly nations—America is ranked first among them. Here’s some perspective: California is 163,696 square miles in total area. This is the equivalent of bulldozing the entire state to grow what's needed for cat food. The research also says that a humble goldfish requires 3.4 square meters of agricultural land.

The New Zealand researchers had more findings about our pets' impact on the planet:

  • Cats kill a lot of wildlife. Worldwide estimates put yearly kitty-induced death tolls into the billions.
  • In some areas, there’s a lot of overlap between wildlife, domestic livestock, pets, and people. Such overlap increases risks of pathogen transmission to all of these groups.
  • Along the California coast, sea otters are experiencing an epidemic caused by the bacteria Toxoplasma gondii, which is found in cat feces. Cat owners flushing excrement and litter down the toilet has created a situation where T. gondii is collecting in rivers and estuaries.

Of course, this doesn't mean that people should forego pet ownership or that you should you stop serving your veterinary patients. But perhaps we can all be a little more planet-friendly, especially on Earth Day, April 22. For ideas, click here to read seven ways other veterinary practices have gone green.