Can dogs be vegans? How to cut your pet’s carbon paw-print

There are myriad ways to reduce the environmental impact of owning a dog or cat

While dogs can survive on a well-balanced vegan diet, cats are obligate carnivores. Photograph: iStock

While dogs can survive on a well-balanced vegan diet, cats are obligate carnivores. Photograph: iStock

 

Pets are responsible for around one-third of the US’s consumption of meat and fish, a statistic which is set to grow due to the global trend for feeding human-grade meat to cats and dogs. Pet food is also estimated to be responsible for a quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production, in terms of use of land, water, fossil fuels, phosphates and pesticides.

What they eat makes the ecological toll of a pet surprisingly heavy. Four-fifths of the deforestation across the Amazon rainforest is linked to cattle ranching, and while the argument for humans eating meat is one thing, defending the production of meat for cat food or dog biscuits is another.

While dogs can survive on a well-balanced vegan diet, cats are obligate carnivores; they need roughly 50g of meat per day, or 20kg per year. Snakes, by comparison, only consume 2kg per year – should we switch to pet snakes, perhaps?

Perhaps the greatest small change one can make is to have your animals spayed or neutered

This column doesn’t have the courage to suggest that we replace our pets with reptiles, but we ought to look at ways of mitigating their environmental impact. Both cats and dogs are natural hunters. Approximately 2.4 billion birds are killed annually by domestic cats in the United States, according to the American Bird Conservancy. While feral cats are responsible for about 69 per cent, pet cats are responsible for the remainder. This can be easily curtailed by fitting a bell to a cat’s collar.

Perhaps the greatest small change one can make is to have your animals spayed or neutered. Not only will this help the environment by limiting reproduction, but it can also protect them from diseases like testicular cancer, prostate issues, uterus infections and malignant breast tumours.

Another change is to consider how you dispose of their faeces. The toxins from faeces can contaminate surrounding springs and wells. Some brands of cat litter use silica dust and other toxins that can be harmful to humans and animals, and if it washes into local waterways it can alter the aquatic environment by increasing nitrogen and depleting oxygen levels. There is no excuse not to use biodegradable pet waste bags for scooping poop as they are now so widely available, as is ecological cat litter that is biodegradable; though it can be more expensive than the more chemically-laden litters.

One of the more innovative new products is Yora (yorapetfoods.com), a dog food that replaces meat with insect larvae. The grubs are reared in the Netherlands on recycled waste vegetable matter, in a process that generates 96 per cent less greenhouse emissions than beef production, according to the manufacturer. What your dog will think of eating insect larvae mushed up with spuds and oats is anyone’s guess, but the fact that grubs use just 2 per cent of the land and 4 per cent of the water needed to produce the same amount of protein as beef means they may come to play a vital role in how we feed our pets (and ourselves) in the future.

One Change is a weekly column about the changes, big and small, that we can make in our daily lives for the good of the planet.

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