Climate change and animals: how to reduce your carbon footprint and keep your pet healthy

VANCOUVER – There are an estimated one billion dogs in the world, and researchers are studying their carbon footprint and challenging pet owners to choose sustainable foods, toys and activities.

A study from the University of British Columbia suggests how keeping animals can be easier on the planet. Alexandra Protopopova, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, says there are many ways to reduce a pet’s environmental impact.

“A lot of us don’t necessarily see pets as contributing to climate change, but at the same time, we’re pretty used to the idea that a lot of our own behaviors can cause emissions,” said Protopopova, who works in the Animal Welfare Program at the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at UBC.

“It’s just about taking the tutelage and thinking about it from that specific perspective,” she said /

Protopopova said modeling research shows that feeding a large dog commercial dog food could release more than 2,500 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions over its lifespan.

“That’s a really huge amount,” she said, noting that the ways to reduce a pet’s climate impact are to not overfeed them and choose more sustainable protein than beef.

Beyond individual decisions, Protopopova also suggests that a collective push to demand the pet food industry to be more transparent about its emissions is also needed.

Almost 60 percent of households in Canada have a pet, Protopopova said. In Canada, there are approximately six million dogs and eight million cats.

Plastic waste is another thing to consider, she said. Choosing compostable dog poop bags and opting for plastic-free toys can also help reduce dog-related waste, she said.

“We can also reduce our use of plastic by repairing and reusing old toys, and maybe also focusing even more on social enrichment, like walks in the park (and) play rather than (the) plastic (toy) enrichment that we are so used to relying on, ”she said.

But beyond eating and buying toys, there are “babysitting behaviors” that result in higher or lower emissions, Protopopova said. This includes adopting a dog or pet suitable for the region you live in, not selecting a husky if you live in the wilderness.

“Animal keepers are very motivated – and rightly so – to ensure the welfare and comfort of their animals,” she said.

If a person adopts a husky but lives in a very hot city, they are likely to rely on childcare methods that are not sustainable, such as air conditioning or having to drive somewhere to walk their dog.

“It is very important not to lower the welfare standards (animals and animals) that we have, but what we could do, as animal keepers, is to consider the types of pets that we have. we bring into our house, ”she said.

This could include opting for smaller pets – be it a smaller dog or cat, or selecting a pet that can produce food for humans, such as a chicken, or a pet that eats all table scraps, like a rat, Protopopova said.

But just as emissions from pets have an impact on the climate, pets are also feeling the impacts of climate change. For example, Protopopova pointed to the many cats and dogs that suffered heat stroke or died during the recent heat waves in British Columbia.

“Climatologists tell us that heat waves are going to become more and more frequent and more and more severe,” she said.

“Our pets are also going to experience these heat waves,” she said.

Research also indicates an increased risk of exposure of pets to more infectious diseases as climate change alters the geographic range of pathogens, and Protopopova also fears that animals are less likely to receive care. which they need during extreme weather events – such as less walking, which in turn increases the risk of obesity and related health problems.

“These could also negatively impact the human-animal bond and even cause the owner to abandon their pet,” Protopopova said.

With files from Angela Jung of CTV News Vancouver

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