Our Love for Pets has a Real Impact on the Environment
We humans have created a strong relationship with cats and dogs by domesticating them. Pets provide people with companionship, improve health, reduce stress and even provide a reason to exercise and go outdoors more often.
But there is a downside: with the amount of resources required (in terms of nutrition, veterinary attention, and so on) in addition to wildlife disturbance, some argue that pet ownership needs a drastic rethink.
Smiling Dog (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Modern domestic cats and dogs interact extensively with people and the environment, whether they are owned by humans or living feral. The negative interactions between these domesticated animals and their detrimental effects on wildlife have been studied extensively. Links to displacement in addition to mortality (attacks) is indisputable.The iconic Koala is a stark example (more on this below).
The diverse issues associated with pets and wildlife includes predation, competition, pathogen transmission, hybridisation, behavioural modification, harvest of wild animals for pet food and - not to forget - the creation of human vs wildlife conflict.
Tabby Cat (Credit Wikimedia Commons)
It is with no doubt most important to harmonise the human relationship with pets and wildlife conservation efforts. Shaping social values towards all animals and establishing an appreciation for nature may lead to responsible pet ownership.
The following is only one of many examples of irresponsible dog ownership. Unwanted canines are released into nature, they cross-breed and become wild dogs roaming for food.
“A new study has revealed koalas may be far more vulnerable to wild dog attacks than previously thought. The largest and most comprehensive koala tracking program ever undertaken has discovered a disturbing number of koalas were killed by wild dogs in bushland on Brisbane's (Australia) northern fringe.” (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-18/koalas-more-vulnerable-to-wild-dog-attacks-than-thought/6330014)
Koala with Baby (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Another sad story is the recorded dramatic decline in Quoll populations. These marsupials were once relatively abundant across most of Australia, but are now on the highly endangered species list. Cats prey on quolls and directly compete with them for food.
Eastern Quoll (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Information and education regarding the impacts of these animals on wildlife and potential solutions have to be implemented (for example: voluntarily keeping cats and dogs inside or use of “pet curfews”, use of bells to alert wildlife to cats). In addition, some experts have proposed the implementation of a “pet tax”, adopted by veterinary clinics and pet stores to be used for wildlife conservation to assist in balancing the inevitable ecological footprint of pet ownership with the need to protect intact natural systems.
These issues beg the question of broad sustainability. Is pet ownership at current levels consistent with a balanced future (domesticated vs wild) or is conflict in the need for resources inevitable. Can we protect both? It would appear not.
Pet food is an industry worth nearly US$25 billion in the United States. Owners make decisions about what to feed their pets based on marketing, personal beliefs and pet preference. Similar to human nutrition it is often not easy to sort out truth from fads and marketing from science. Trends are set to encourage owners to feed their pets much the same foods that humans eat: high-quality “human grade” meat and organic produce, even “superfoods”. While this approach is emotionally appealing, it is not necessary for the health of the pet, nor is it environmentally sustainable.
One study shows that pets have the same environmental impact as 13.6 Million cars. It is time for us pet owners to consider our carbon “paw” print and reduce the impact as much as possible.
Some helpful hints and tips for pet lovers:
Adopt your pet, don’t shop
Donate before you throw things away
Use biodegradable litter and pet waste bags
Utilise environmentally friendly flea and tick products
Look for eco-friendly pet care products
Learn to cook and serve a raw food diet
Walk often to save money and reduce fuel consumption
Make or buy eco-friendly pet toys
Buy in bulk to reduce waste
Pets are amazing companions. It feels good to have a living creature depend on you and love you unconditionally. They don’t care what job you have or how famous you are. And...what is even better...you can love the environment just as much as you love your fury baby.
There’s nothing quite like the connection between a dog and its owner
Canadian Science Publishing, 2018 (viewed 30.5.2018)
The Conversation, 2018 (viewed 30.5.2018)
Greentumble, 2018 (viewed 30.5.2018)