The Environmental Impact of Having a Pet

Gilles Berdugo
5 min readApr 27, 2021


Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of having a pet? Those conscious of the environment try their best to help save the earth by lowering their carbon footprint where possible. We recycle, make conscious choices when it comes to transport, shop carefully, and travel as sustainably as possible. Some of us are even eating less or no meat and dairy to combat the effect these industries have on the environment.

But does your eco-action list include your pets and caring for them? Keeping an animal as a pet comes with food and health care requirements and a unique set of responsibilities that may not always positively affect the environment. Let’s explore the benefits of having pets and whether they can negatively affect the environment. And, if so, what pet owners can do to lower their pets’ carbon paw-print.

Is Having a Pet Sustainable?

Pets provide companionship, loyalty, and endless entertainment. Having a pet is even good for our mental health. The findings in this study by Plos One revealed that companion animals have excellent potential as social buffers for psychological distress and loneliness.

With the pandemic causing lockdowns globally, pets have played an even more prominent role in their pet parents’ lives. People are alone and lonely, mental health issues are at an all-time high, and pets can help with this. Sadly, however, keeping a pet has its downsides.

Most household pets are carnivores, which means that, even if we decide to follow a plant-based diet, it’s not that simple for our pets. In Robert and Brenda Vale’s book ‘Time to eat the dog?’ the authors suggest that feeding a dog causes around double the carbon footprint of a Toyota Land Cruiser. The same applies to a cat and a Volkswagen Golf.

Robert and Brenda Vale’s book ‘Time to eat the dog?’

There are excellent benefits to having a pet, but it’s also not the best thing to do if you’re concerned about the environment. Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Or, should we rethink adopting a pet if we care about the planet? What about people who already have pets? Let’s explore ways to reduce the environmental impact keeping a pet has.

Dog and cats carbon emissions compared to cars
Feeding a dog causes around double the carbon footprint of a Toyota Land Cruiser and the same applies to a cat and a Volkswagen Golf — who would have thought?! Image by Gilles Berdugo

Tips For Sustainable Pet Ownership

If you have a pet, here are seven tips to lower your furry friend’s carbon paw-print:

#1. Adopt, don’t shop!

Even if you’ve always wanted a Labrador Retriever like Marley, or a specially bred pedigree cat, don’t be tempted to buy a purebred pet. You would be supporting an industry that produces more animals than what we’ll ever need. Every day, animal shelters euthanize thousands of potential companions. Even the process of euthanization is taxing on the environment.

If you adopt a rescued pet through local shelters or online sites like, you’ll be saving a life and welcoming a grateful, loyal, and loving companion into your home. It’s also a far more sustainable option.

#2. Shop sustainably

If you are environmentally conscious, shopping in bulk is probably already on your eco-action list. Buying pet food, cat litter, and other pet supplies in larger quantities will save on transport and packaging materials. It will also probably save you money.

#3. Cat litter

Did you know that the average cat goes through around 100lb of cat litter every year? The less you use, the less your cat’s toilet habits will affect the environment. To make the most out of this tricky situation, try these tips:

  • Use biodegradable litter made from renewable materials like corn, paper, compost, wood, or beet pulp.
  • Scoop clumps of waste out every day so you can go longer between refills.
  • Use a mild eco-friendly detergent when you clean the litter tray. It’s good for the earth and your pet!

#4. Sustainable food

The food manufacturing process places a considerable burden on the environment. By selecting sustainable food options for your pet, you will help to reduce this. Watch out for clever marketing texts that use words like ‘natural,’ which could be misleading. Shop for organic food with proper certification. Google is your friend here — when in doubt, do some research online.

#5. Can pets be vegetarians or vegans?

As vegetarianism and veganism are becoming more popular, more pet owners are considering changing their pets’ diets and their own. While a world with drastically minimized meat and dairy consumption is excellent for the environment, it’s not always a good idea for a pet. Dogs and cats both typically need animal protein to maintain health.

However, it is certainly possible for these animals to live on a plant-based diet with new research and products available. If you feel strongly about this dietary choice, please talk to your vet first, and if you decide to switch over, closely watch your pet for any signs of deteriorating health.

Better options may be to use sustainable animal protein products or choose a naturally vegan pet, like a guinea pig or a rabbit!

#6. Look after your environment

Pets are super cute to you, but not so much to their prey! Your dog or cat may have hunting instincts, and that’s natural. Unfortunately, the thrill of the chase comes at a cost. Wild bird populations and other pets are at risk when you allow your pet to roam wild and hunt at will.

Keep your dog on a leash when out for walks, and if your cat is an avid hunter, keep them inside and make sure they have tons of stimulation and affection.

#7. Sustainable pet toys

Many pet owners love splurging on toys to keep their furry friends entertained, and a lot of these toys are mass-produced products made with non-biodegradable plastic. Some pet stores sell bio-degradable toys. Or, better yet, make your own with scraps of materials! Cats love boxes, empty toilet rolls, and anything with a sprinkle of catnip on!

It’s up to you to reduce your pet’s impact on the planet

Pets make our lives better in so many ways and deserve to be cared for and loved. It’s difficult to imagine that a creature that brings so much joy can be bad for the earth, but it’s a sad reality.

Pets can’t make these changes themselves, it’s up to you. Try these tips to reduce your furry friend’s negative impact on the environment and enjoy every minute of your time with your faithful companion.



Gilles Berdugo

Eco-friendly globetrotter seeking to make the world a greener place and creator of