Pets are a widespread feature of modern American life. Most people have either owned a pet, or at least have interacted with one. Unfortunately, pets can have significant environmental impact due to their diets.
Nutritional aspects of pet food affect the financial and environmental costs of its carbon footprint. The pet food industry is highly connected with livestock production and the human food system. Since people have high standards for what their pet consumes, the food has to be culturally acceptable to the owner and beneficial for the pet, as well as affordable. Animal based protein is expensive, both financially and environmentally, so the choice of that protein’s source and the amount in the diet are important.
Thousands of pet foods on the market often contain human grade ingredients. Since they are made to appeal to owners, who think their pets need a very high level of protein and other nutrients, they directly compete with the human food system. These qualities are not necessary, especially since the food system will need to feed an ever rising human population.
Despite the emphasis on human grade ingredients, the nutrients required by dogs and cats can be obtained from a variety of ingredients. For example, animal protein can be substituted by plant protein, especially soy. Plants require less water and energy to produce, and their production is about 6 to 20 times more efficient in terms of fossil fuel requirements.
Pet food manufacturers can also make use of the secondary products from the human food chain. These products would otherwise not be used, and when handled properly would not hurt the pet.
Strategies are available to make pet food manufacturing more sustainable while keeping pets healthy and products affordable. Consider supporting these initiatives by purchasing plant based food the next time you shop for your pet. Sustainable pet ownership is important in maintaining the beneficial role pets play in our lives and society.
By Alanna Scheinerman, Class of 2013