The pet food industry now rakes in nearly $25 billion in the U.S. annually. That’s a lot of scratch that we don’t seem to mind spending on our furry family members. And why should we, if we have it? After all, our pets bring us immeasurable joy and pleasure, so why not give them the very best that we can? Well, it doesn’t seem as if cost is a factor now as much as what producing the food may be doing to the environment.
So, just what is the cost in connection to the sustainability of feeding our pets? Is there a hidden downside to the production of pet food? We’ll explore those questions here.
Pet Food & the Environment
Recently, I ran across a book entitled Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living written by Robert and Brenda Vale. In it the authors delve into the question of the impact pet food has on the world around us and suggest that feeding just one medium-sized dog could have the same or similar outcome as the eco footprint of driving an SUV. So, what does that mean for our pets and the environment?
Eco Footprint of the Pet Food Industry
I doubt many of us have ever pondered whether feeding our dogs or cats could be harmful to the planet, but it seems the Vales aren’t alone in their concerns. The international review journal, Advances in Nutrition, have explored the concept as well. Pet food trends right now emphasize high protein diets low in grain or even grain free. Diets based on meat carry with them a much bigger eco footprint than diets based on plants. But why?
The Toll of Meat-Based Diets
The answer is simple: the production of meat takes an enormous amount of land, food and water to maintain the animals that will eventually provide us with our food. They comprise countless cows, sheep, chickens and farm-raised fish that consume huge quantities of feed and water while they’re waiting for slaughter. Plants, on the other hand, can be grown hydroponically without soil and with artificial sunlight. These are things most of us never think about.
Which Foods are Best for Pets?
If you believe marketing tactics, by-products and grains are to be shunned by consumers looking to feed their pets. But what are by-products? Usually, they comprise animal organs, which can be excellent sources of nutrition for both humans and animals. So, why are they shunned? It’s all about appeal. There was a time when we, as humans, ate or made use of every bit of an animal and gave the scraps to our dogs, cats and pigs, if we kept them.
Now, we predominantly eat only the choicest cuts of meat, or so we think, and buy our pets foods that we’re led to believe are comparable in quality to our own. The thing is, the diets we need are vastly different from our pets’ needs. Sure, everywhere you turn nowadays there’s an article on the downside of just about everything we eat — one minute it’s good, the next it’s not — but how do we know it’s not a marketing ploy or a short-sighted study without controls in place?
The point is that there is a cost to the trends we follow, and they’re not always the wisest course of action. Yes, there is validity to the pointed question of a high protein meat-based diet and sustainability. It’s already been raised concerning our own foods, much less our pets'. So, who do you listen to? Your pets. You are the person who knows these animals and sees them on a daily basis. If they seem to be flourishing on their current pet food, and not just surviving, then maybe you should just leave well enough alone.