Just Blame the Dog for Environment's Ills

Jim Deskevich, co-author of Eco Dog, has tips on food, toys and grooming items that are easy and inexpensive to make and good to your pet and the environment -- PROPS and dogs in a pen (Producer: Victoria Bert) IStock

So apparently Rover whizzing on the carpet isn't the worst thing he does. Not by a long shot. He's also killing the planet.

Maybe that's a little harsh. But, at the very least, he's not helping matters.

That's according to a study titled Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living, which finds that dogs have a greater eco-footprint than gas-guzzling SUVs.

Robert and Brenda Vale, two sustainable-living researchers from New Zealand, authored the study, which was reviewed in the New Scientist. Their conclusions are based on the amount of resources expended to feed household pets - in a medium-sized dog's case it takes slightly more than 2 acres of land to produce the roughly 360 pounds of meat and 210 pounds of grain they consume each year.

In contrast, less than half that amount of land would be required to produce the energy to power an SUV driven a modest 10,000 miles a year, according to the study.

Larger dogs would obviously have a greater eco-footprint; smaller dogs a lesser one.

Cats, meanwhile, have a smaller footprint - roughly a third of an acre - but that doesn't mean they're environmentally friendly either. As the New Scientist notes, "cat excrement is particularly toxic" and has been known to cause brain disease in sea otters off the California coast. (Thanks to cat owners flushing used kitty litter down the toilet, which makes its way out to sea).

But some other scientists are dubious of the study's primary findings.

"When I saw the study I ran some quick numbers," Clark Williams-Derry, chief researcher at a the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based sustainability thinktank, told the Seattle Times. "The average dog has to eat at least twice as much as the average person for this to be right. People are just heavier than dogs so, I just had to scratch my head at that.

"It doesn't mean dogs don't have a big impact," he said. "But I view it with a healthy dose of skepticism."

But short of getting rid of your pets, what can be done to minimize their environmental impact? The Vales' study suggests modifying their diets to be less resource-intensive.
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