Pets versus Jets in respect of global warming?

It’s quite a catchy title, isn’t it? Pets versus jets. The Paw Post coined it. It encapsulates the discussion about whether keeping dogs is more damaging to the environment than the average private jet customer who apparently is responsible for 3.3 tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the environment per year. In contrast, the average dog creates 770 kg (0.85 tons) of carbon dioxide per year. The average domestic cat creates 310 kg (0.34 tons) of carbon dioxide per year. Both the statistics are from Mike Berners-Lee, a carbon footprint expert.

Pets versus Jets in respect of global warming?
Pets versus Jets in respect of global warming? Image: MikeB using Canva.

I’ve not checked these statistics. But let’s take it that they are accurate. If a person looks after three large dogs you might come to the conclusion that they produce 2.55 tons of carbon dioxide per year which is approaching the contribution to climate change by the average private jet customer.

Be aware

So, what’s the point? I guess the point is that pet owners should be aware that they contribute to climate change perhaps more than they had thought. Of course, everything we do has a cost to the planet. Some things cost more particularly with the focus on global warming and emitting carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

Hypocritical?

The argument is that a person who walks in the park with their three dogs discussing climate change with their partner is on shaky ground if they complain about rich fat-cats unjustifiably contributing to global warming because of their use of private jets. They are being hypocritical it could be argued because they, too, are contributing to climate change to the same extent.

The Guardian newspaper gives us a clue as to where that 770 kg of carbon dioxide from one dog comes from. Apparently, the chief executive of Luxaviation, Patrick Hansen, mentioned the statistic when he was giving a speech at the Business of Luxury summit in Monaco in early 2023. He must have been making a comparison between one of his company’s customers producing 2.1 tons of carbon dioxide annually which as mentioned is the equivalent of about three dogs.

Reducing the pet footprint

This is where the discussion turns to suggestions about reducing the carbon footprint of your companion dog or cat.

It is a difficult topic: discussing how pets contribute to global warming because we love our pets. We don’t want to think about how they can damage the planet but we can do things to help.

Dr. Elise Anderson, a project lead with Vets for Climate Action, in speaking to The Guardian newspaper said: “Just about everything we do in life has an environmental footprint so we need to be conscious of the impact pet ownership can have. [It] will vary depending on the type and number of pets people have [but] it’s certainly something we need to take into consideration.”

Size and numbers

Size matters in this instance; the bigger the dog the bigger the carbon footprint. That’s because they eat more and if they eat high quality food with premium livestock meats rather than waste products from the farming industry, they will be contributing more to climate change.

Having a large dog is like having a large car in terms of contribution to damaging the planet. Unless the car is an EV but then most EVs are enormous and they damage the roads!

Anderson suggests that people should adopt a small dog. She said that she made a “deliberate choice to choose a pet that had a low carbon footprint.”

Food and feeding

She adopted a budgerigar called Sunny 😊. In looking after a cat or dog, the biggest contribution towards global warming is the food that they eat. UCLA geography professor, Gregory Okin, discovered in 2017 that dogs and cats were responsible for up to 30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in America.

If there was an imaginary country of only cats and dogs from America, and no humans, they would rank fifth in global meat consumption behind only China, America, Brazil and Russia.

One way dog owners can help is to not overfeed their dogs. I mention this because there is a well-known dog and cat obesity epidemic in the West particularly the UK and America.

Vegan and vegetarian

A lot of food is being eaten by dogs that shouldn’t be. As dogs are omnivores, they can enjoy a couple or three vegetarian or vegan meals weekly. This would help to cut back on their carbon footprint as meat production is damaging to the planet as cows emit methane and farmers in Brazil and burning the Amazon jungle to make room for beef farming.

You can even buy a vegan cat food nowadays which might surprise some people. Cat owners might think that a vegan cat diet is entirely impossible but it’s not because the right nutrients and constituents are added in. It’s just that the protein is plant protein rather than animal protein and it is almost as good.

RELATED: Are plant proteins as good as animal proteins for cats?

Nowadays you can buy insect-based pet foods which can be a great substitute for meat-based foods. This can help to reduce the meat intake of cats and dogs which once again helps minimise carbon footprint.

Dealing with waste food is important too. Rather than just chucking it into landfill it might be possible to recycle it by composting. Even throwing away and use cat or dog food should be done in a biodegradable compostable bag.

Nowadays I put out waste cat food for the foxes and they eat it happily and quickly. The added benefit here is that you are helping wildlife, reducing the fiddle and fuss of getting rid of waste cat food and helping the environment.

It comes down to spending wisely and adopting wisely. I guess it comes down to being aware of pets’ carbon footprint and building that thought into cat and dog caregiving.

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Cat brings chained dog food

This is a story told in a picture. I don’t have more information. It is charming and I believe that it is probably true but I can’t vouch for it. The picture of the cat and dog is posted on the Quora.com website. I’ve turned it into an infographic image as it is very suitable for that form of publication. It is not that rare for cats to help dogs and vice versa. It is also cruel to chain dogs all their lives. Terribly cruel actually. It is done by people who are insensitive to the sentience of animals. It is the way they were raised, I guess. They don’t know better. It all comes down to education at the end of the day.

In some states of America permanently chaining dogs like this is banned. It is banned in the UK and it would be illegal to do this in the UK under more than one animal welfare law, the primary one being the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Any country with decent animal welfare laws that are properly enforced would not permit permanently chained dogs. Although most countries have animals welfare laws which would make dog chaining illegal, they do not enforce their laws with enough commitment and so it happens.

Below are some more articles on cats and dogs.

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Are cats pickier with food than dogs and if so, why?

The answer is a confident yes and it is mainly to do with their sweet and bitter taste receptors. Humans have over 9,000 taste receptors, dogs have 1,700, while cats have only 473. Dogs taste sweetness much better than cats. Another difference is that dogs are scavengers and cats are not. In round terms feline taste, sense of smell and sharp predatory instincts contrive to make the domestic cat seem to be a picky eater sometimes.

Feline taste, sense of smell and predatory instincts contrive to make the domestic cat seem to be a picky eater sometimes.
Feline taste, sense of smell and predatory instincts contrive to make the domestic cat seem to be a picky eater sometimes. Image: MikeB

Background information on feline taste

The sense of taste is weak in cats, compared with humans. We have 9000 taste buds, while they have only 473. But they make up for this with a much better sense of smell – 30 times better than ours. For this reason, cats much prefer warm food to cold food, because when it is heated up, its aroma intensifies.

Dr Desmond Morris in Cat World

The reason why cats do not have a sweet tooth (they have a weak response to sweet tastes) is because there are strict carnivores. Humans evolved a sweet tooth because fruits are part of our natural diet. It was important for humans to respond positively to ripened fruits but this was not the case for the predatory cat.

There was a time when the experts thought that cats could not detect any sweet taste but this is untrue. Tests have proved that cats can appreciate the presence of sweet tastes but it is not a powerful reaction. Cats do respond to milk laced with sucrose compared to milk without any sweetening.

A cat’s strongest reaction is to sour tastes, next in line is a bitter taste then salt and finally sweet tastes. There are no taste buds in the center of the tongue as that area is entirely devoted to rasping meat from bones or with cleaning fur.

Temperature

Cats are also sensitive to the food’s temperature. This is because, as mentioned above, the cat is not a scavenger. They like to eat freshly killed prey in inheriting their wildcat ancestor’s character. The ideal preferred temperature for feline food is 30°C (86°F) which is the same temperature as the cat’s tongue.

Food taken straight from the refrigerator is anathema to the cat unless they’re very hungry. Comment: I give my cat prawns straight from the refrigerator and he loves them because he loves prawns so much that this overrides the barrier the chilling presents.

Taste less important than smell

The argument is that cats are less incentivised to eat by the taste of food. I’m not sure that’s correct however but it is pretty clear that domestic cats gauge the quality and the palatability of food with their noses.

You will notice them sniffing food before they start eating. I guess humans do that as well but humans are more visual and more involved with taste whereas cats rely heavily on the smell of food.

Cats lack sweet taste receptors and have little taste buds, compensated by their nose and vomeronasal organ

THE STUDY OF THE ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY OF THE DIGESTIVE TRACT IN THE DOMESTIC CAT

It’s a reason why caregivers provide odorous (smelly) food when a sick cat has lost their appetite.

Bitter taste receptors

Another possibility as to why cats have got a reputation as picky eaters is because although they have bitter receptors as do dogs it may be that some of the cat’s taste receptors are especially sensitive to bitter compounds.

They may be more sensitive to bitter chemicals than dogs or they may detect a greater number of bitter compounds in their diet.

Scientists have suggested that wild cats can detect whether a food is palatable or not by how bitter it is because a bitter taste can indicate that the flesh might be harmful as it is rancid. But they also suggest that domestic cats might taste bitter flavours in their commercially prepared food (and in their medicines) because plant extracts are mixed in which may taste bitter to them.

We know that cats, as mentioned, can detect bitterness but we don’t know exactly how their taste for bitterness varies from humans.

Cats are discerning eaters compared to dogs

It’s been suggested that foods that taste bland to us or a dog might be unpleasant to a cat. The better description might be that they are discerning eaters whereas dogs, to an outsider like me, seem to eat anything and everything.

Dogs are scavengers while cats are not

There are a number of reasons why the domestic dog appears to eat almost anything. One of them is that they are scavengers whereas cats are not. Although, of course, we turn them into scavengers in the home when we provide them with their daily food in a bowl.

Dogs will also explore the world with their powerful sense of smell and taste which encourages them to chew and potentially swallow the things that they pick up in their mouths. Boredom, stress and loneliness might be another reason. Less common reasons would be a compulsion to eat non-food items or excessive hunger might be a side effect of certain medications and finally as malnutrition due to poor caregiving.

My bet would be that the scavenging instinct of dogs is a powerful driver compared to the non-scavenging instinct of domestic cats who, as you know, inherit all their behavioural characteristics from the wildcat ancestor.

Some guidelines on feeding cats

Infographic on some guidelines on feedings cats
Infographic on some guidelines on feedings cats prepared by MikeB at PoC
Infographic on some guidelines on feedings cats
Infographic on some guidelines on feedings cats prepared by MikeB at PoC

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Resource guarding by dogs and cats. Food guarding used to assess adoptability of dogs.

In this article I’m going to discuss resource guarding in cats and dogs. It is a much more important topic for dogs because it can lead to injury but this is very rarely the case for cats. Therefore, the dog section is much bigger than the cat section! One dog behaviorist assesses a dog’s adoptability on their resource guarding. On my interpretation of her technique, she’s in danger of consigning some dogs to euthanasia if they resource guard by biting.

Resource guarding by dogs as a way to test for adoptability
Resource guarding by dogs as a way to test for adoptability. Screenshot.

Gia Savocchi is a New York-based dog behaviourist who uses TikTok to explain to her followers useful aspects of dog behaviour in order to improve the dog-to-human relationship. In one video she very directly shows us how she assesses whether a dog is adoptable or not. It is as black-and-white as that.

The test is simple. She shows us the difference between two dogs and how they react when food guarding. She uses a fake arm as a means to intervene in the dog’s feeding by simulating another animal trying to grab their food.

The black dog reacts angrily in guarding his food and bites. The brown dog shrugs it off and reacts more placidly and does not bite. She declares this dog to be adoptable and the black dog to be unadoptable – euthanasia beckons?

 
Also, with respect to the black dog she said that he failed his “day to day guarding assessment as well, even with unlimited food 24/7”. I guess what she is saying is that there was no need for this dog to guard his food so aggressively when food was so abundant.

In another video she explained that it is perfectly normal for a dog to guard possessions like food but it depends how aggressive that guarding is and whether the dog bites or not. If a dog is going to bite a person when guarding resources, they are unadoptable it seems to me in her assessment.

She says that “in real life, people will try to take things from their dogs. So, it’s important that we know that if somebody tries to take something from a dog, it may growl, it may snap. But it shouldn’t really injure them.”.

Rectifiable?

The big question which is left unanswered and which is noticed by people commenting on the video is how to address the behavioural problem in the black dog. Can it be addressed? Can it be rectified to allow the dog to become adoptable? Surely it is possible. In the video Savocchi does not address this issue.

Cats, dogs, horses and cattle are able to crossbreed but birds, fish and reptiles seemingly cannot. Why?

So, I went in search of an answer. Resource guarding is also called “possessive aggression”. It can happen between dogs and people and dogs and other dogs. When a dog demonstrates resource guarding which is milder in nature they might eat faster, freeze, brace their body position over the item or pin their ears back against their head. These are some examples of resource guarding which does not result in biting.

You desensitise a dog to the anxiety that they feel in potentially losing their resource. You can do this by standing just outside their reaction zone while they are, for example, eating. This will teach them that you are not going to take their food and that you are a friend.

Secondly, you can stand just outside the dog’s reaction zone and toss them a treat. You can then approach them and drop the treats directly in front of them. This trains the dog to understand that you don’t want to take their ‘resource’.

A third step to desensitise a dog as to slowly approach the “reaction zone” i.e. they zone at which they become aggressive and then stop when they become aggressive. Do this a number of times and it should desensitise them to the point where it does not trigger aggression.

You can live with a dog who aggressively resource guards by not provoking the reaction. The problem is that if there is a child in a home they might get hurt. It seems to me that Savocchi believes that dogs cannot unlearn aggressive possession behavior.

Reason why dogs have facial expressions and cats hardly do

Cat resource guarding

And so, to cats! Cats also resource guard sometimes. My cat has in the past on a few occasions if the circumstances are right such as when eating a favourite food and he is very hungry. On one occasion he growled at me and carried the food off the bowl away from me.

On every occasion that my cat brings in a mouse alive in his jaws he will resource guard that prize. If I go to him, he runs off and growls at me. And if I approach him with the mouse on the floor, he will grab it in his jaws and run off. He may growl at me at the same time. But he never bites or attacks me. This is the difference between cats and dogs. Dogs can be dangerous and harmful if they resource guard aggressively whereas cats won’t be.

Cat chasing a mouse – the paradigm ‘prey item’

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