Dog Vs Cat – Which has the Better Eco Paw-Print? [And Why it Doesn’t Matter]

Whether you love a pooch or a moggie [or both in which case you’re very mixed up], there is no escaping their ecological footprint. So how do we reconcile our deep need for dogs & cats with their impact on the environment?

We have two young children and we’ve started the conversation about whether we should get a dog or a cat – naturally one’s a dog lover and the other cats. So I started trying to investigate which animal would typically have the smaller ecological impact.

Not far into the research I was overcome by the all-too-common biased ‘research’ findings from both camps – some say dogs have a lesser environmental impact, others say cats. Some say we should get rid of both [Hmmm…].

So, rather than try to make sense of the huge body of inter-web data, I’ve come up with my own index which should sort the dogs from the cats;

dogs and cats

And here’s the punchline; we could analyse this until the cows come home… [hey wait…], but in the end I think none of this matters. There is undeniable proof that having a pet makes us happy and has significant health benefits [trust me, it’s all over the internet].

What we really should be focussing on is the utility of owning a pet – that’s an economist’s term for ‘the total value that we derive from something’. We have pets in schools, in hospitals and retirement villages. In Japan they have robotic pet dogs in aged care centres. We can unload our worldly concerns on our dog and they’ll still love us. We can do the same with our cats, and they’ll look at us sideways, take the car keys and tell us they’ll be back after midnight.

To do away with dogs and cats on ‘ecological’ grounds would be a great tragedy, for them and for us. They could even be our last tenuous link with ‘nature’ that stops us from giving up on it altogether. When we look at the bigger picture on sustainability grounds, which also considers human and societal values, the dogs and cats need to stay. Could we really consider a world without dogs & cats? What would become of us?

Instead we need to be back-casting from the utility of having a dog or a cat in our life and working out how we can reduce their ecological paw-prints, and there are many ways in which this can be done [which you can go off and research yourself]. And this approach applies everywhere; cars aren’t causing global warming; the oil is – so focus on the oil. Energy consumption isn’t causing global warming; using fossil fuels is – so focus on the fuel source.

We don’t necessarily have to give away the utility of the things we have, but we do need to focus on the impacts of how the utility is derived.

And if you really want to know which animal has the better eco paw-print? Well, it depends… ; >

Now that that’s settled, all we need is a fence…


6 responses to “Dog Vs Cat – Which has the Better Eco Paw-Print? [And Why it Doesn’t Matter]

  1. Go the dog! I can vouch for all the benefits you mention in terms of health & wellbeing of kids. Watching them care for a dog & adopt it as a member of the family is very special. Enjoy the new arrival 😉 Look forward to an update blog on your pet selection and on which method of excrement disposal you adopt!

  2. chris buntine

    I would prefer to go with Tim Flannery’s suggestion that we domesticate native animals instead. Greatest pet I had was a brush tailed possum which our family reared until it was old enough to release. Any takers for a Quoll?

    • Yes it’s not a bad suggestion. I’d like a bunyip and a drop bear… We already have pet possums and fruit rats [well we feed them at least, unwillingly].

  3. Ronda Rutherford

    Should we evaluate humans by the same logic? Certainly wouldn’t want to do away with humans on ‘ecological’ grounds – we’d lose every time. Best to think of us all in terms of sustainability!

    • Yes we tend to get carried away with knee-jerk reactions rather than the clever [but more challenging] solutions… think I might post about ‘anti-populationists’ as a follow-up! Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. Couldn’t agree more Digby! We will NEVER get dog and cat lovers to abandon the love and keeping of these animals. I think what I call ‘carbon reductionism’ is a corrosive way to go about addressing climate change. Here’s my take on ‘eco pawprints’.

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