Plant-Based Dog Diets And The Planet
by Alice Oven
So, you’re a dog person but you’re also a planet person. You want to keep the climate healthy for your puppies, your puppies’ puppies and your puppies’ puppies’ puppies. After all, what self-respecting mutt wants to live in a world without trees to wee on? But it turns out that the food we’re currently feeding our pups is giving our planet indigestion.
Your dog can’t fetch you another planet
In 2017, research revealed that roughly a quarter of calories from all animal meat consumed in the United States are now eaten by pets. Given our love for furry companions here in the UK too, the picture is likely to be similar. It’s a common assumption that dogs just eat ‘by-products’ – the rubbishy bits of meat that humans don’t want – but today, more and more of us want to feed our dogs premium ‘human grade’ or raw meat diets. That means cows, pigs, chickens and other animals are being bred and killed specifically for dog food. Let’s put this into perspective: if American dogs and cats alone had their own country, it would rank fifth in terms of global animal meat consumption.
Given that animal farming is responsible for roughly half of the world’s harmful greenhouse gas emissions, meaty dog foods are now a major player in climate change. In winter 2020, ground-breaking research from the University of Edinburgh found that the pet food industry produces almost 3% of the total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from farming. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the same amount of CO2 produced by a sixth of global flights.
In fact, feeding dogs and cats in America alone has been calculated to be as environmentally damaging as pumping the exhaust of nearly 14 million cars into the atmosphere for a year. If we keep feeding meat to our pets, how will we reduce emissions enough to slow climate change?
Don’t make us sit up and beg
That’s just greenhouse gases. Don’t get us started on the environmental impacts from the additional land, water, fossil fuels, phosphates and biocides needed to feed and farm the animals that go into our pup’s gourmet human-grade meaty chunks. The Edinburgh research tells us that making meat-based food for cats and dogs uses up a land mass twice the size of the UK, every year. All this means that the environmental pawprint of a 70-pound golden retriever eating a raw meat diet is almost twice that of an average meat-eating human. After all, unlike humans, most dogs eat meat at least twice a day, every day.
Many pawrents assume salmon or other seafood is a healthier and more sustainable choice for pups. But what about the toxic chemicals seeping into the ocean from fish farms, or the antibiotics and hormones used to grow farmed fish? Then there’s the impact of feeding fish caught in the wild: don’t forget that it takes many more fish than cows to feed the average dog. Demand from pet food companies is starving wild ocean animals of their dinner and disrupting ecosystems. The more fish we feed to our dogs, the closer we inch towards fishless oceans.
Even though many of us are worried about the future of our planet, wildlife and climate, most of us are still feeding our pets meat, day in, day out. Spoiler: it doesn’t have to be this way.
What do we want? Plant-based chow. When do we want it? SQUIRREL!
Plant-sourced alternatives to meat need far fewer natural resources and create lower greenhouse gas emissions. A third of all calories in the crops we grow are fed to animals we farm, with only 12% of those calories being ‘recycled’ by humans when we eat meat, eggs and dairy. That’s an enormous waste! Put it this way: if we stop growing plants to feed farm animals and instead grow pulses, fruits and vegetables for humans and pets, we could feed an extra 350 million people (and a whole lot of dogs too).
If we want to feed our dogs sustainable pet food, that food needs to be as low as possible on the food chain. Going straight to the calorie source – plants – improves health at the same time as reducing environmental damage. According to the calculations of animal nutritionists, if you switched your 70-pound retriever to a plant-based diet you could save, every day, 2,200 gallons of water, about 60 square feet of rainforest, about 90 pounds of grain and two farmed animals’ lives.
By feeding your dog plants instead of meat, you can literally help save the world. Pawrents, the future is at the bottom of the dog bowl!
Don’t take our word for it. Read the research first-hand, below:
- Gregory Okin’s game-changing paper on the environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats in PLOS ONE (2017)
- The recent Edinburgh paper on the environmental paw print of pet food in Global Environmental Change (2020)
- The staggering impact of farming animals on the planet here (Environmental Research Letters, 2013), here (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018) and here (The Lancet, 2016)
- Why growing plants is more sustainable than growing animals in Climate Policy (2018) and here in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003)
- Read about the footprint of a golden retriever in Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats (2017).