Dogs are worse for the Earth than SUVs – at least according to the authors of Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living, Robert and Brenda Vale. So if you’re in the market for a new pet, you might want to stay away from the canine variety. I admit, I probably have no place telling you not to adopt a dog – I have a rather un-earth-friendly purebred. We all commit a few environmental sins, right? But if you don’t have a pooch yet, there are plenty of cute, cuddly, furry and friendly animals that come without the bark and big carbon pawprint. Consider loving one of these low-impact pets instead.
Using the Ecological Footprint Technique, the Vales came up with carbon footprint comparisons for many pets. Owning two hamsters is like owning a plasma television. They only need a small cage and a wheel to run around on. You’ll need to line the bottom of their cage, too, but the ink on old newspapers and magazines can be toxic to hamsters. Instead, look for pet bedding that’s biodegradable and compostable. In addition to pelleted food which comes with the carbon costs of shipping and production, hamsters can eat fruits and vegetables from your garden or kitchen scraps including leafy greens, apples, bananas, green beans, cucumbers and carrots.
A captive-bred variety of birds like canaries has a relatively low impact – four of them have the same carbon footprint as two hamsters, or a plasma TV. Birds taken from the wild do adversely affect the local wildlife population though. Canaries and other small birds like parakeets also eat grain, which must be produced, processed and shipped to you. You can help lower a pet bird’s impact by recycling newspapers to line the bottom of their cage.
While a little orange fish swimming around in a bowl might not be as fun as taking a dog for a walk, the Vales say their impact is comparable to two cell phones. Since they don’t require a heater or filter their energy consumption is low. You will need to clean the bowl and change the water about once a week. You’ll use about a gallon of water a week, which is probably less than a pooch consumes. Also, since goldfish food flakes are very lightweight and their daily serving is minimal, you don’t have to factor in much for the cost of shipping and production.
Felines aren’t without fault either, but instead of causing SUV-sized trouble for the Earth, the New Zealand architecture professors compare cats to Smart Cars. One of the biggest problems with cats is kitty litter. More than eight billion pounds of the non-biodegradable material gets dumped in landfills each year. So if you choose an eco-friendly kitty litter you might be able to reduce your cat’s impact.
However, there’s no getting around the fact that cats’ waste can also carry toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause problems with pregnancy and can even survive through sewage treatment plants to later kill marine life including sea otters.