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20 Oct 2019 11:59
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  •   Home > News > International

    How do you take care of your dog and the environment?

    Dogs enrich our lives, but pet ownership has an impact on the planet. Here's how to ease the environmental burden of your furry friend in what you feed them, where you walk them and how they interact with native animals and their habitats.

    When you bring a puppy home, or adopt a lovable mutt, your new fur baby's environmental "pawprint" might not be front of mind.

    But while pets enrich our lives, Australia's dogs have a big impact on the environment.

    "A medium-sized dog has a similar environmental impact to running an SUV," said Marina Antoniozzi, who has done research into pets and sustainability.

    A lot of this impact comes from their diet, Ms Antoniozzi said.

    The environmental impact of dogs' meaty dinners is about a quarter of the environmental cost of humans eating animals in the United States.

    In Australia, dogs can also cause trouble by hunting and harassing wildlife — with native species such as the Tasmanian devil, koala and hooded plover all being vulnerable to dog attacks.

    So, what are some ways that you can reduce your best mate's environmental impact while still giving them a great life?

    Dogs are like wolves, shouldn't they be eating raw meat?

    There has been a recent trend among dog owners to start feeding pooches like wild wolves — that is, raw meat and lots of it.

    This can be dangerous for dogs and the planet, warned Aaron Herndon, a veterinary scientist at the University of Queensland.

    People want the best for their pet, but Dr Herndon says this food fad comes from a misconception that dogs have the same needs as their ancient ancestors.

    Dogs and people have lived side by side for 10,000 years. This long relationship has changed their bodies and dietary needs.

    "A Yorkshire terrier is not a wolf, they're just two completely different things," Dr Herndon said.

    Dogs are now omnivores and are most healthy when eating both plants and animals.

    All-meat diets can be particularly dangerous for puppies, Dr Herndon said, and can lead to growth problems.

    Since the raw meat diet fad took off, Dr Herndon has seen an increase of dogs with parasites turning up at the vet.

    What's more, meat is costly for the planet, so if you reduce your dog's meat consumption that is also a win for the environment.

    So, should my dog go vegetarian?

    Going vegetarian or vegan is often seen as a simple way for people to reduce their environmental impact.

    But if you are vegetarian, should your fur baby go vego as well?

    It is possible to put a dog on a vegan or vegetarian diet, but it's not recommended by most vets, said Ms Antoniozzi.

    Vegan dogs can struggle to digest their meals and they risk becoming nutrient deficient.

    If you are thinking of putting your dog on a meat-free diet, talk to your vet first.

    What should I be feeding my dog then?

    Don't be afraid of buying commercial dry or wet dog food, said Dr Herndon.

    Buying dog food made in Australia with lots of local ingredients is likely to have a lower environmental impact than imported products, so Dr Herndon suggested looking for local brands.

    Another bonus of many commercial dog foods is that the meat products in them are often offcuts or by-products of the meat destined for human plates that may otherwise go to waste.

    "High-quality food may include ingredients like chicken digest [concentrated chicken meat and fat] or chicken by-products, which sound really awful but they're not," Dr Herndon said.

    Humans have different cultural, taste and health needs when it comes to eating meat than dogs, he said.

    "Wild dogs eat prey from the butthole forward, they eat all the nasty stuff first. So, in fact they don't want the same parts that we want."

    To make sure your dog is getting all their nutritional needs from their food, check that their food is described as "complete and balanced" under the Australian Pet Food Standard.

    If you want to treat your pooch to some fresh meat, most butchers and some abattoirs will sell offcuts specifically for pets.

    Again, this is a green option as your dog is eating meat that would otherwise go to waste.

    Hunting instincts

    Your perfect pup may not be a wolf, but it probably still knows how to hunt.

    Dogs, especially when left to their own devices, can do a lot of damage to native wildlife, said veterinary scientist Rachel Allavena of the University of Queensland.

    "In south-east Queensland, koala populations are under really serious threat at the moment and quite a few of them are killed by dogs," Dr Allavena said.

    Keeping dogs and wildlife separate is key to preventing your dog attacking native animals.

    If you have a large property, Dr Allavera recommends growing native plants to create habitat for wildlife and keeping a separate space for your pets.

    If you get koalas in your area, you can lean "escape branches" on your fence — so if a koala falls into your yard it can escape, she said.

    "Keeping your dog happy, exercised and well trained will make it less likely to harass wild animals around your home."

    At the beach

    Where you take your dog walking can also contribute to its environmental impact.

    Many of the birds who call Australian beaches home are endangered or critically endangered, said Renee Mead, coordinator of Birdlife Australia's beach nesting program.

    Shore birds, such as the hooded plover or "hoodie" often nest and feed on sandy beaches, so can be very vulnerable to dog attack, especially when dogs are off lead.

    "It's important for people to follow the rules, and make sure that they only take their dog off lead where and when it is permitted," Ms Mead said.

    "Even if your dog doesn't hunt they can crush the eggs and chicks."

    Adult birds will try and lead dogs away from their chicks, so if dogs are on the beach for a long time this can lead to the chicks starving or overheating.

    Sometimes dog beaches will have areas that are fenced or signed to protect nesting birds. Ms Mead encouraged dog owners to keep their pets on the lead in those areas.

    "Hoodies on nest, on-leash is best."

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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