The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

21 December 2009

Time to eat your dog?

Should owning a Great Dane make you as much of an eco-outcast as an SUV driver? Yes it should, say Robert and Brenda Vale, two architects at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, who specialise in sustainable living. In their book, “Time to Eat the Dog? The real guide to sustainable living”, they compare the ecological footprints of popular pets with those of various other lifestyle choices - and pets do not fare well.

As well as guzzling resources, especially eating processed meat which requires a high input of resources, cats and dogs devastate wildlife populations, spread disease and add to pollution. It is time that we recognized the ecological footprint of our pets.

To measure the paw, claw and fin-prints of the family pet, the Vales analysed the ingredients of common brands of pet food. They calculated, for example, that a medium-sized dog would consume 90gms of meat and 156gms of cereals daily in its recommended 300gm portion of dried dog food. At its pre-dried weight, that equates to 450gms of fresh meat and 260gms of cereal. That means that over the course of a year, your dog will wolf down about 164kgs of meat and 95kgs of cereals. It takes 43.3sq m of land to generate 1kg of chicken per year (it is far more for beef and lamb), and 13.4sq m of land to generate 1kg of cereals. So that gives him a footprint for an average dog of 0.84 hectares. For a bigger dog such as a German Shepherd, the figure would be 1.1 hectares.

Meanwhile, an SUV such as a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser driven a modest 10,000 kms a year will uses 55.1 gigajoules, of energy both to fuel it and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser's eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares – which is less than half that of a medium-sized dog.

Owning a dog really is an ecological extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat.

The Vales found that cats have an eco-footprint of about 0.15 hectares (slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf), hamsters come in at 0.014 hectares apiece (buy two, and you might as well have bought a plasma TV) and canaries half that. Even a goldfish requires 0.00034 hectares (3.4 sq m) of land to sustain it, giving it an ecological fin-print equal to two cellphones.

What can we do about this? We could:

  1. Give up owning a pet altogether for environmental reasons. If we are unwilling to do that, then…
  2. Trade down first to smaller pets, and then to vegetarian pets.
  3. And if in the end, you must have a pet, probably go for a goldfish.
  4. Or why not get a virtual pet?


Anonymous Andrea said...

There are vegan pet foods. Also, you should eat vegan yourself. It is the only true way to be environmentally friendly.

1:54 am  
Blogger jade said...

This is one of the best blog posts I have read in months! Domesticated pets are a luxury our planet can really not afford any longer. I have tried vegan pet food with my mums dogs, and while they love it, I just can't bring myself to enforce a non-meat eating regime on human bred carnivores - it just doesn't seem fair. Thanks for bringing this issue out into the open, I'll be sharing it around!

4:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets keep our pets..lets loose the suv,s etc.

5:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dogs are meant for people and people are meants for for dogs. Here's what i think. treat all life forms as equal and god , the centre. we should try to live with minimum killing. humans and dogs, live on fruits and milk. dogs can eat like this supplemented with meat as necessary. picture a green, green world with minimum technology, families, cows , dogs and fruit trees together in harmony with the forest. God is love. everything is connected.

7:44 pm  
Blogger J Koes said...

when i read "give up our pets for environmental reasons" i can't but gasp, really. do you seriously suggest putting an adult, healthy dog to sleep "for environmental reasons"?

6:58 pm  

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