Manufacturing kibble and canned food produces a lot of carbon dioxide.

By Jillian Kramer
August 04, 2017
Gustavo Frindt / EyeEm / Getty Images

Eating beef may be tasty, but it's not exactly good for the environment. After all, producing steaks, roasts, and burger patties leaves a large carbon footprint. Luckily for the environment, we humans are cutting back our beef consumption. But new research shows there is another group of meat-eaters that are increasingly contributing to climate change: our adorable, kibble-noshing pets.

According to research by University of California, Los Angeles geography professor Gregory Okin, our nation's 163 million dogs and cats are responsible for up to a whopping 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the U.S. Their bags of kibble and cans of wet meat "create the equivalent of 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year," according to the research, which, for comparison's sake, is about the "same climate impact as a year's worth of driving from 13.6 million cars," it says.

Consider this: Okin says if dogs and cats made their own country—aside from being the most adorable place on the planet—it would rank fifth in meat consumption behind Russia, Brazil, the U.S., and China.

To come up with his numbers, Okin used previous research that found 321 million Americans' diets produce the equivalent of 260 million tons of carbon dioxide from livestock production. Greenhouse gases are also tied to the production of pet food. And because pet foods typically have more meat in them than the average human eats, Okin determined our pets consume about 25 percent of all the calories derived from animals in the U.S., even though our pets eat a lot fewer calories than we do.

Okin isn't recommending we get rid of our fluffy friends to fight this problem. "I like dogs and cats, and I'm definitely not recommending that people get rid of their pets or put them on a vegetarian diet, which would be unhealthy," Okin said in a release.

Instead, Okin encourages pet food producers to explore kibble compositions that would include protein alternatives in place of meat, while humans should commit to snout-to-tail consumption, eating less appetizing meat cuts that are perfectly edible but often thrown in the trash. If just a quarter of the meat that's used in pet foods was instead consumed by humans, Okin says, we'd have enough meat to feed 26 million Americans—all without having to increase the number of cattle.