Will going green affect your pets?

This dog has a bigger carbon footprint than this car, but don't worry, Fido -- there are lots of ways to offset a pet's energy use.
This dog has a bigger carbon footprint than this car, but don't worry, Fido -- there are lots of ways to offset a pet's energy use.

Each spring, I plant rows of peas and potatoes and place cucumber, cantaloupe and watermelon seeds into tiny mountains of dirt. And then I free ladybugs onto the whole of it as a way to naturally control predators.

With all this work to provide my brood with organic vegetables, it only makes sense that I give the same attention to my house pets, right? Truthfully, it hasn't always been on my mind. I don't read cat food labels or buy frozen, organic meats to cook for my dog. And until recently, I hadn't considered the carbon footprint (or in this case, pawprint) my furry housemates create throughout the course of a typical day. A carbon footprint measures the effects a person's (or pet's) actions have on the environment, including the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gasses produced by their diets or activities.

Two New Zealand researchers claim the average dog creates twice the carbon footprint of a hulking SUV, about 2.1 acres. This figure is based, in part, on the fact that the average dog eats about 361 pounds (163.7 kilograms) of meat per year. And, with 71 percent of American households including at least one pet -- and 45 percent of those households at least one dog -- the environmental impact can add up over time [source: Netter].

Like many people, I'm not ready to give up my pets. So, in addition to considering the ways that greening my household will affect my pets, it may be time to ponder some carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting could include, for example, planting trees to remove greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It could also mean financially supporting alternative energy research or funding existing energy-saving projects through clearinghouse organizations like Native Energy, Terrapass or Carbon Fund.

If you're not currently a pet owner but are considering becoming one, going green may affect your pet selection. Rabbits, for example, have one of the smallest carbon footprints of all house pets. Thanks to a simple diet of leafy greens, fresh vegetables and hay, they have little environmental impact. Generally, the smaller the animal, the smaller its footprint [source: Thompson].

Running a green household offers some very real benefits, and certain aspects of going green can directly affect your pet's life. "I don't think putting solar panels on your roof will necessarily help your pet, but if the overall steps you take to make your household more green improve the indoor environment, your pet will benefit greatly," says Sean Canning, a licensed architect and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)—accredited professional, whose San Diego-based architecture firm, Ten Seventy Architecture, specializes in green design. So what might some of those benefits be, and where can you look to make improvements?