Three Pekingese and one chihuahuaMan’s best friend may also be man’s best accomplice in degrading our natural environment. Don’t let Fido fool you with those puppy-dog eyes — behind that furry facade is a cold-blooded carbon emitter.

OK, that might be stretching it, but your pet’s carbon pawprint is probably larger than you think. We’re not barking mad — take a look at the stats. A medium-sized dog eats about 360 pounds of meat annually — more than the average American human, who consumes about 200 pounds (and that’s still a lot). “Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat,” says John Barrett of the Stockholm Environment Institute in the U.K. Meat, as we all know by now, has a huge environmental impact.

“Two German shepherds kept as pets in Europe or the U.S. use more resources in a year than the average person living in Bangladesh,” writes David Biello in a recent article published by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. 

From the yearly amount of meat and grain your dog consumes to the rancid runoff produced by doggy doo-doo, you might almost be convinced to jettison the pooch, as Brenda and Robert Vale suggest in their book Time to Eat the Dog?: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living, which takes a hard look at the ecological footprints of pets.

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But we think that’s extreme.  Instead, how about downsizing from a Bernese to a beagle?  If the thought of owning a Chihuahua gives you pause (paws?), let us make a case for these underdogs:  Owning a small dog means less hair to clean up, less food to buy, and let’s just say that doggy duty becomes less of a … handful. So punt your preconceived notions about seemingly puntable pooches and solve your environmental pet peeves with a small dog.

We offer some suggestions: 

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The Chihuahua

ChihuahuaPhoto courtesy of heather via flickr

Though their claim to fame may be those old Taco Bell commercials, don’t rule Chihuahuas out yet.

The French bulldog

French bulldogPhoto courtesy of solutionsoap via flickr

A French bulldog in repose. French bulldogs are generally thought to be a good choice for apartment dwellers, and bark less than their small dog friends.

The King Charles spaniel

King Charles SpanielPhoto courtesy of Cyril Plapied via flickr

The King Charles spaniel is supposed to be friendly and affectionate. Not to mention this eco-dog looks extra cuddly.

The miniature dachshund

Mini DachshundPhoto courtesy of Shames Privacy via flickr

Although dachshunds were originally bred to hunt badgers (not the most environmentally friendly practice), they are popular pets today.

The miniature pinscher

Mini PinscherPhoto courtesy of Jason Riedy via flickr

Need a guard dog, but don’t want to compromise your green inclinations? Say hello to the miniature pinscher, a smaller but equally protective version of its larger pinscher cousin.

The papillon

PapillonPhoto courtesy of furby chan via flickr

Small dogs like to go on hikes with you too! Just ask this papillon.

The Pekingese

PekingnesePhoto courtesy of Sharon Tyler Photography of Kettering via flickr

Ancient Chinese emperors would carry their Pekingese dogs in their sleeves. Well, it beats buying a dog carrier.

The pug

PugPhoto courtesy of Dunechaser via flickr

The pug is small, good tempered, and great with kids. He’ll even play on the swingset with them if you ask nicely.

The Welsh corgi

Welsh CorgiPhoto courtesy of sindy via flickr

According to Welsh folklore, Welsh corgis are the preferred mount of fairy warriors. If you’ve seen Fern Gully, you know that means they’ve got to be green-approved.

The shih tzu

Shih TzusPhoto courtesy of Luiz Felipe Castro via flickr

Could a shih tzu be for you?

… or a cat

Shih Tzus

If you want to cut down your pet impact even more, how about a cat?