90 million homes in the EU have pets. How can we reduce their carbon footprint?

33 per cent of the world's population own a dog.
33 per cent of the world's population own a dog. Copyright Canva
By Aoife Donnellan
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33 per cent of the world’s population owns a pet: how do we calculate their carbon footprint, and what can we do to reduce it?

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Around 90 million households in the EU have pets, and 33 per cent of people worldwide are dog owners, according to one recent study.

But should we be reconsidering our pet ownership in favour of the environment?

Is having a pet worse for the environment than flying?

According to the CEO of Luxaviation, a Luxembourg-based luxury airline, having pets is as polluting as travelling by private jet.

Speaking at the FT Business of Luxury summit in May 2023, Patrick Hanson claimed that one of his customer’s produced an average of 2.1 tonnes of CO2 per year, which amounts to the same as owning three dogs.

His estimate came via a 2020 carbon footprint calculator made by Mike Berners Lee.

Environmental organisation Greenpeace estimates that private jets have emitted a total of 5.3 million tonnes of CO2 in the last three years, with the number of flights skyrocketing from nearly 119,000 in 2020 to 573,000 in 2022.

There is also a large variability in pet ownership, making private jet comparisons like Hanson’s unreliable.

But it’s true that the number of pet owning households continues to rise year on year. In 2023, 66 per cent of US households had a companion animal: a 10 per cent jump over 35 years from 56 per cent in 1988.

So how can you ensure that your furry friend is treading lightly on the world’s resources?

How does pet food affect emissions?

An important factor to consider in the environmental impact of pet ownership is food choices.

According to a survey on the global consumption of pet food, there is a wide variety from country to country.

In the US, one of the largest pet food markets in the world, pets are predominantly fed with chicken.

The Spanish market favours beef, fish, and chicken as well as mixed wet food. France, like Spain, prefers a variety of choices, while consumers in Greece and Czech Republic tend to choose beef for their dogs.

Research on the environmental impact of pet foods is limited, but choosing items with lower meat content typically reduces emissions.

A 2022 study concluded that feeding a 10kg dog wet food produces 6,541kg of CO2 emissions each year. Choosing dry food for the same dog reduces those emissions to 828kg of CO2.

The pet food market is increasingly brimming with sustainable alternatives for man’s best friend, like meals made from insects and plant-based ingredients.

Reducing the amount of meat in pet food will have a positive environmental impact.

How to choose the right pet for your environment

Ensuring that your pets are appropriate for your local environment is also important.

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As both cats and dogs can affect wildlife through hunting and harassing other local creatures, it is vital to respect your surrounding ecosystem.

Choosing an appropriate breed for your climate, as well as one that won’t outgrow its surroundings, helps to reduce the need for excessive walking or feeding.

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