All That Meat in Pet Food Has a Big Environmental Impact

iStock
iStock

There’s no doubt that our furry friends are good for us. Studies have shown that living with a dog or cat can reduce stress, boost our immune systems, and increase our overall happiness. But what’s good for humans is not always good for the planet. A study published in the journal PLOS One finds that meat consumption by pet dogs and cats creates 64 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Meat production requires more energy and resources than plant-based foods. It also produces more waste.

Gregory Okin of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability is a geographer by trade. He studies the way weather events and climate patterns can affect ecosystems, and vice versa. One day he found himself puzzling over the ecological ramifications of the current craze for backyard chickens.

"I was thinking about how cool it is that chickens are vegetarian and make protein for us to eat, whereas many other pets eat a lot of protein from meat," he said in a study. "And that got me thinking—how much meat do our pets eat?"

Okin started by considering the number of dogs and cats in the country—approximately 163 million. He then analyzed the amount of meat in the most popular pet food brands, and compared this to the amount of meat American humans consume each year.

The results suggest that our pets represent a huge portion of the meat we produce, eat, and excrete every year. Okin’s calculations show that American dogs and cats consume 19 percent as many calories as the country’s 321 million humans—an intake comparable to the population of France.

But pound for pound, pet food also contains more meat than human food. When Okin adjusted for this fact, he found that dogs and cats gobble up 25 percent of our annual meat-based calorie intake. That results in the production of 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year—about the same output as 13.6 million humans driving their cars for a year.

If our dogs and cats constituted their own country, they'd rank fifth in global meat consumption, behind only Russia, Brazil, China, and the United States.

"I'm not a vegetarian, but eating meat does come at a cost," Okin said in a statement. "Those of us in favor of eating or serving meat need to be able to have an informed conversation about our choices, and that includes the choices we make for our pets."

100 Dachshunds Competed in Cincinnati’s Annual ‘Running of the Wieners’

NORRIE3699/iStock via Getty Images
NORRIE3699/iStock via Getty Images

Every year, to kick off Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, 100 dachshunds compete in heats to decide who the fastest dachshund in the Midwest is. This year marks the 43rd annual Oktoberfest—one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations outside of Germany (more than 500,000 people attend the three-day event).

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 19, 100 wiener dogs (and their owners and handlers) gathered in downtown Cincinnati for the 2019 "Running of the Wieners." The dogs, dressed in hot dog costumes, ran 10 heats, which lasted 75 feet or five seconds each. The winner of each heat advanced to the final round, where the top three finishers were decided.

Maple, a long-haired, one-year-old dachshund, ran his way into first place—and into our hearts.

Maple’s owner, Jake Sander, told WCPO that Maple is one of five dachshunds in the family, and that he learned to run fast by chasing his brother around. Leo and Bucky, two other doxies, placed second and third, respectively.

Besides the Running of the Wieners, Zinzinnati also hosts the World’s Largest Chicken Dance. However, the wiener dogs are more fun to watch.

Photographer Captures Polka-Dotted Zebra Foal in Kenya

Frank Liu
Frank Liu

Zebras are known for their eye-catching patterns, but this polka-dotted foal recently photographed in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve really stands out from the herd. As National Geographic reports, the zebra baby likely has pseudomelanism, a rare pigment condition that's been observed in the wild just a handful of times.

Nature photographer Frank Liu saw the zebra foal while looking for rhinos in the savannah wilderness preserve. After initially confusing the specimen for a different type of animal, he realized upon closer inspection that it was actually a plains zebra born with spots instead of stripes. The newborn foal was named Tira after the Maasai guide Antony Tira who first pointed him out.

Zebra foal with spots walking with mother.
Frank Liu

Zebra foal with spots.
Frank Liu

A typical zebra pattern is the result of pigment cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for the black base coat, and melanin, which gives the animal its white stripes. (So if you've ever wondered if zebras are white with black stripes or black with white stripes, the answer is the latter). In Tira and other zebras with pseudomelanism, the melanocytes are fully expressed, but a genetic mutation causes the melanin to appear as dots rather than unbroken stripes.


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Though rare, this isn't the only time a zebra with pseudomelanism has been documented in nature. Pseudomelanistic zebras have also been spotted in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, but Liu believes this could be the first time one was found in the Masai Mara preserve.

Zebra stripes aren't just for decoration. The distinct pattern may act as camouflage, bug repellant, and a built-in temperature regulation system. Without these evolutionary benefits, Tira has a lower chance of making it to adulthood: Pseudomelanistic zebra adults are rarely observed for this reason. But as Liu's photographs show, the foal has the protection and acceptance of his herd on his side.

[h/t National Geographic]

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