The Tim Minchin song ‘The Fence’ includes the lyric ‘And your dog has a bigger carbon footprint than a four-wheel drive’. There have been multiple studies supporting this claim, with cats also carrying a hefty carbon footprint. So, what contributes to this carbon footprint and what choices are there for a greener pet?
Although cats and dogs make wonderful pets, providing them with meat products adds to their carbon footprint. Dealing with pet waste is also an issue.
The best pets for minimising environmental impact are those with very simple vegetarian diets, that don’t require exercise and have basic accommodation needs that don’t require power.
Keeping chickens is a great choice. If you’ve not had them before, you might be surprised by how much personality a chicken has. In addition, chickens provide eggs and potentially meat, they eat insects in your garden, and their waste is a great fertiliser.
Here are some of the other low carbon footprint choices:
Rats are highly intelligent social animals. Rats need mental stimulation, such as learning to do tricks or riding on your shoulder. They become very attached to people and display personality such as making happy noises when they play. Rats are very clean and curious animals that love opportunities to climb and play in water or dirt. As a nocturnal animal, rats need a quiet place to sleep during the day.
Guinea pigs can enjoy a quiet life in a hutch for most of the day if they get some exercise in a larger area and have some environmental enrichment to play with such as hay. Making a surprising range of noises from squeaks to growls, you can get to know your guinea pig’s personality by listening. Although not as sociable as rats, guinea pigs do enjoy being cuddled if you accustom them to frequent handling.
Rabbits are like guinea pigs. They enjoy being held and groomed once they are used to it and have positive handling experiences. Find a secure surface such as your lap for their feet when you hold them. Stimulate your rabbit by providing things to chew, build and play with, such as sticks and hay. Provide toys at intervals so they don’t get bored. Rabbits need enough space to jump and run as well as a place to hide.
All these animals prefer to be in groups. If you are considering a guinea pig, for instance, it is better to get two. Be careful of gender though. Or you may have many more than two.
What can you do if you want to reduce the carbon footprint of the pet you already have?
Choose your pet food carefully. If the food is made from unused by-products, it adds less to the environmental burden. Although dogs can live on vegetarian diets, it does take careful planning. However, it is not difficult to reduce your dog’s meat intake and significantly reduce their carbon footprint.
Use biodegradable kitty litter and pet waste bags.
Keep your cat indoors to prevent the death of local wildlife.