Quantcast

What You Need to Know About Cat and Dog Food

Popular
Matúš Benian / Flickr

By Marlene Cimons

It's enough to make an animal-loving eco-warrior cringe.

A new study that calculates the carbon footprint of cats and dogs brings troubling news for pet owners. It turns out their environmental impact of our four-legged friends is considerable, and not in a good way.


"I like dogs and cats, and I'm definitely not recommending that people get rid of their pets," said Gregory Okin, a UCLA geography professor and study author, who points out that pets provide us with friendship and other social, health and emotional benefits that cannot be dismissed. "This paper is not about telling people what to do or what not to do. It's about providing information that should hopefully stimulate conversations with pet food producers and consumers.

"I do think we should consider all the impacts that pets have so we can have an honest conversation about them," he added. "Just as consumers make decisions about reusable bags, getting solar on their homes, what cars to drive and what food to eat, the decision about what kind of pet to get—or whether to get a pet—could be informed by peoples' convictions about environment impact, [and help them] make choices in line with their values."

Okin estimates that meat for dog and cat food is responsible for greenhouse emissions equivalent to those of 13.6 million cars. Meat production requires more energy, land and water compared to growing crops, and generates more emissions, contributing to global warming. When cows and other large livestock burp and fart, they release huge sums of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Scientists have long studied the impact of food production on climate change. For example, one recent study found that substituting beans for beef could slash greenhouse gas emissions. Another recommended substituting meat with edible insects, such as crickets and mealworms.

But those were focused only on humans.

Okin's computations were based on the number of pets in the U.S., and the ingredients in market-leading pet foods. He found that the nation's dogs and cats eat about 25 percent of the total calories derived from animals in this country. If the nation's 163 million pooches and kitties formed their own nation, it would rank fifth in global meat consumption, behind Russia, Brazil, the U.S. and China, Okin said.

"Looking at the ingredients in the pet foods, I could roughly calculate which animal and non-animal products were in there," he said. Since the energy components of fat, carbohydrate and protein are relatively constant, "I could then figure out how much energy was in each and what proportion of that energy was from animals," he said.

Okin's paper, which appears in the journal PLOS One, has captured the attention of experts who study the interaction between humans and other species.

"What we do as we look at our relationship with animals is a microcosm of the human condition," said Harold Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University. "We live with pets because they weasel their way into our lives, and we love them. We all keep pets, but there are ethical issues associated with pet-keeping."

The study's message "is that there is a non-trivial environmental cost to pet ownership, and it's vastly larger than I would have thought," said Herzog, who owns Tilly, a cat. "It's good for us to recognize this and to be thinking about it. Does it mean you should get rid of your pet? No. But you might want to trade in your SUV, or get a smaller dog next time."

Marc Bekoff, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado Boulder, believes studies such as these are important because "they ask people to reflect upon the human-companion animal relationship," he said.

They also raise provocative questions that pet owners should consider. "Do dogs have to have meat? No, I don't think they have to have meat," he said. "I don't think people have to have meat."

Bekoff said he has raised several vegetarian dogs who "all lived long, healthy lives and were not overweight, like many pets are today," he said. "My last dog was vegan. Whatever I ate, he ate, and he did well. I think much of this has to do with peoples' attitudes about their dietary choices. Companion animals take on the traits of their humans. One of them will be the food they consume."

But some evidence suggests commercial non-meat pet food products are inadequate, and there are questions about whether cats can stay healthy without meat. Cats require taurine, an amino acid found only in animal-based proteins. Taurine is essential for their vision, heart function and immune system function. "Dogs can be turned into vegetarians. Cats cannot," Herzog said.

Okin proposes a "snout-to-tail" approach where humans—but not pets—eat high quality cuts of meat found in premium pet foods. "A dog doesn't need to eat steak," Okin said. "A dog can eat things a human sincerely can't. So, what if we could turn some of that pet food into people chow?"

Some might argue that food that isn't fit for humans shouldn't be given to pets either. "It's an ethical decision, and one I cannot make for people, but which papers like this can raise questions about," Okin said.

Okin, who usually studies dust bowls, deserts and wind erosion, decided to look at this issue after noticing the trend of people raising backyard chickens. "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. "It got me thinking: how much meat do our pets eat?"

Herzog says pet owners should think about these issues, but they should not stress over them. "Getting rid of your pets is not going to solve the global warming crisis," he said. "I'm not getting rid of my cat because I read this paper. There are lots of things that give us happiness that come with a cost. We just have to try to do our best in a morally complicated world."

Okin, it should be said, is not a cat or dog owner. He is allergic to them.

"I like animals, but my immune system has problems with the furry ones," he said. "My critters are fish."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Luis Alfonso de Alba Gongora, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the climate summit speaks at The World Economic Forum holds the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2018 in New York on Sept. 24, 2018. Ben Hider / World Economic Forum

By Howard LaFranchi

When United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decided to hold a high-level climate summit in conjunction with this year's General Assembly kicking off next week, he was well aware of the paradox of his initiative.

Read More Show Less
Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan meets with Guatemalan farmers on May 29 in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. John Moore / Getty Images

The Trump administration ignored its own evidence on how climate change is impacting migration and food security when setting new policies for cutting aid to Central America, NBC reports.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mike Pence brought the first motorcade to Mackinac Island on Saturday. Cars have been banned on the island since 1898. 13 ON YOUR SIDE / YouTube screenshot

Vice President Mike Pence sparked outrage on social media Saturday when he traveled in the first-ever motorcade to drive down the streets of Michigan's car-free Mackinac Island, HuffPost reported.

Read More Show Less
Inhaling from an electronic cigarette. 6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Shawn Radcliffe

  • As illnesses and deaths linked to vaping continue to rise, health officials urge people to stop using e-cigarettes.
  • Officials report 8 deaths have been linked to lung illnesses related to vaping.
  • Vitamin E acetate is one compound officials are investigating as a potential cause for the outbreak.
The number of vaping-related illnesses has grown to 530 cases in 38 states and 1 U.S. territory, federal health officials reported.
Read More Show Less
Activist Greta Thunberg leads the Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in New York City. Roy Rochlin / WireImage / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

As organizers behind Friday's Global Climate Strike reported that four million children and adults attended marches and rallies all over the world — making it the biggest climate protest ever — they assured leaders who have been reticent to take bold climate action that the campaigners' work is far from over.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Summer has officially come to an end. Luckily, EcoWatch is here to keep its memory alive by sharing the winners of our "Best of Summer" photo contest.

Read More Show Less
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news conference at UN headquarters on Sept. 18. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Today is the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a gathering called by UN Secretary General António Guterres to encourage climate action ahead of 2020, the year when countries are due to up their pledges under the Paris agreement.

Read More Show Less
A vegan diet can improve your health, but experts say it's important to keep track of nutrients and protein. Getty Images

By Dan Gray

  • Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
  • A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
  • It isn't necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it's beneficial to limit meat intake.

New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

Read More Show Less