4 min read

Why Adopting Your Next Pet is Good for the Planet


We’ve all heard the phrase “Adopt, don’t shop.” And we’re all aware that adopting a dog or cat means you could potentially be saving that animal’s life, which is a truly wonderful thing in anyone’s book.

But there’s another reason why you should think about adopting your next pet: it’s good for the environment. That’s right — when you adopt a pet, you’re doing your bit to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and help the planet. Keep reading to find out why.

Why adopting a pet is good for the environment

When you adopt a pet, you’re doing much more than just giving a homeless animal a second chance at happiness. You’re also helping to prevent overpopulation. Adopting a dog or cat discourages the breeding of unwanted litters, which in turn can have a real impact on carbon dioxide emissions.

Don’t believe us? You might be surprised to learn just how much of an impact our dogs and cats actually have on the environment.

The average car emits around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. In his book How Bad Are Bananas?, carbon consultant Mike Berners-Lee reveals that an average-sized cat generates the “carbon dioxide equivalent” (CO2e) of 310 kilograms per year, with the average-sized dog producing 770 kilograms per year.

In a 2017 paper, a UCLA researcher named Gregory Okin calculated that meat consumption by dogs and cats in the USA creates the equivalent of approximately 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That’s roughly the same amount produced per year by 13.6 million cars.

Then there’s the matter of pet waste to consider. In the same paper, Okin calculated that the nation’s dogs and cats produce a whopping 5.1 million tons of feces in a year. If all that dog and cat poop were to be thrown in the trash, it’d be roughly the same amount of garbage as that produced by the entire population of Massachusetts (around 6.6 million people).

tabby cat sitting in a cardboard box that reads "adopt me" in black ink

The impact of pet adoptions

According to the ASPCA, around 6.3 million companion animals end up in animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, 810,000 are reunited with their pet parents, but approximately 920,000 shelter animals are euthanized (390,000 dogs and 530,000 cats) each year. While this number is significantly smaller than the 2.6 million dogs and cats euthanized in 2011, it’s still a devastating statistic.

The good news is that approximately 4.1 million pets (2 million dogs and 2.1 million cats) are adopted from shelters each year. Not only does this mean 4.1 million pets get a chance at finding a “furever” home, but it also represents a significant reduction in the number of people looking to buy pets.

Then it becomes a matter of supply and demand. If there are fewer people looking to buy a dog or cat, this should result in a reduction in the amount of dogs and cats being bred by puppy mills and backyard breeders. Rather than encouraging the breeding of unnecessary litters, adopting a pet means giving a home to an animal already in existence — and the impact of that could be substantial.

Now imagine that the rise in pet adoptions means that there are 4.1 million fewer unwanted pets (2 million dogs and 2.1 million cats) being bred each year. We’ll let you do the math, but it’s safe to say that tackling pet overpopulation could have a big environmental impact.

So if you’re thinking of welcoming a new furry family member and you’re looking for ways to reduce your carbon pawprint, there are lots of great reasons why you should consider adopting a pet.

green dog waste bags on table next to dog leash and treats

How to be an eco-friendly pet parent

Regardless of whether you adopt or buy your pet, there’s still plenty you can do to reduce their environmental impact. These simple tips can help ensure that you and your dog or cat live an eco-friendly lifestyle. 

  • Get your pet spayed/neutered. When you adopt a shelter animal, in most cases, they will have already been spayed or neutered. If you buy a puppy, getting them desexed will prevent unwanted litters, which is better for the environment and also provides a number of health and behavioral benefits.

  • Buy sustainable pet food. Look for pet food with recyclable packaging, and consider buying in bulk to cut down on the amount of packaging you throw away. You may also want to consider food made with a protein source other than red meat, as red meat production has a higher environmental impact.

  • Don’t overfeed your pet. Pet obesity is a big problem in the United States, and the more we feed our pets, the greater their carbon footprint. Overfeeding your pet won’t do them or the planet any favors, so make sure to keep them in a healthy weight range.

  • Use biodegradable dog poop bags. Cut down on plastic pollution by choosing biodegradable poop bags — just make sure to check the instructions so you know how to dispose of them correctly. Check out our guide to zero-waste dog poop disposal for more information. You can also reduce your plastic use by buying ceramic or stainless-steel pet bowls. 

  • Choose eco-friendly toys. Instead of regularly buying cheap plastic toys for your pet, put your DIY skills into action and make your own pet toys from unwanted household items. Other zero-waste dog toy ideas include setting up a toy swap or repairing damaged toys.

  • Choose kitty litter carefully. Switch to biodegradable cat litter and look for products that come in recycled packaging to minimize your cat’s environmental impact.

  • Keep your cat indoors. Outdoor cats pose a threat to native wildlife, plus can be exposed to a wide range of dangers, so the safest option is to keep your kitty indoors.

  • Make your own treats. Save on packaging (and save money) by making your dog or cat’s treats at home. Check out some of our favorite dog treat recipes and cat treat recipes for some baking inspo, and read our guide on zero-waste dog treats for lots more useful advice.

You’ll find plenty of other useful tips in our guide to living zero waste with a dog, so why not start thinking about how the small changes you and your pet make could end up making a big difference?

Need reliable health care advice for your new furry family member? Chat with a veterinary professional online now to get the answers you need.

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