Reality Check: Your Dog Is Terrible For The Environment

Lyla is a pug, a very popular type of dog. She’s also a vegan. Her owner has stopped feeding her meat, a decision becoming more common among pet owneds in the U.S. as people’s rising interest in meatless diets spreads to their pets.

Lyla belongs to Myron Lyskanycz, CEO of the pet food company Halo. The business “ve sold” both meat and vegan scopes of pet food for six years, and its meat-free products now account for 20 percentage of puppy food marketings. Lyskanycz predicts vegan marketings will grow rapidly over the next decade.

Around 8 percent of Americans describe themselves as vegetarian or vegan, according to one poll, and an additional 31 percentage say they actively reduce their meat intake, in terms of another. As people move away from meat, said Lyskanycz, “they are going to begin to see it is suitable for their pets too. It’s inevitable.”

Halo Pet
Lyla the vegan pug.

A plant-based diet for dogs is not as ridiculous as it might seem. In the U.S ., the 70 million dogs maintained as companions largely eat meat-based diets. If you set all the American dogs, the bag of cats and other pets on their own island, they would rank fifth in global meat intake, behind Russia, Brazil, the U.S. and China.

This has started worrying environmentalists, with global meat and dairy production representing 14.5 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions — slightly more than the emissions produced by every automobile, train, aircraft and ship on the planet. Pet puppies and cats are responsible for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact of animal agriculture in the U.S.

Without cutting the overconsumption of meat — in pets, as well as humen — it will be almost impossible to prevent global warming from passing the danger level of a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise( 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit ).

Free-ranging puppies in non-eu countries that survive by scavenging have been found to eat a diet rich in carbohydrates( biscuits, bread, rice) and relatively low in protein( scraps of meat or remains of carcass ).

Domestic puppies are reported to be better adapted to a diet that is higher in carbohydrates than their wolf-like ancestors because of changes in foraging behaviour and a better ability to digest starch. This is supported by a Swedish study that procure dogs were five times better at digesting starch — found in grains, beans and potatoes — than wolves, and had a digestive enzyme similar to one found in herbivores such as cows and rabbits.

While puppies like the smell and savour of meat, the study says, the diet given to them as puppies is likely to strongly influence their taste predilections as an adult dog.

“Most people who own a dog have never supposed a puppy could survive on a plant-based diet. As more information comes out, that will change, ” said Lyskanycz.

Much of the pet food available today includes bone snack and other leftovers of animals less popular in human diets. But Greg Okin, a professor at the University of California and writer of a study on the environmental impact of pet food, said there is a move by some pet food companies to persuade pet owners to buy food made from higher quality meat.

“Marketers are attempting to convince consumers that their dogs are wolves and that their cats are lions and, therefore, must have high-animal content diets, ” Okin said. “Dogs aren’t wolves and cats aren’t lions. But people are suckers. In my opinion, they’re being deceived into spending more fund on products their animal doesn’t need and that, from an environmental perspective, is worse than the cheaper grain-filled brands.”

That said, there are limits to switching pets away from a meat-based diet. While puppies can live on a diet of vegetables, cats are carnivores and need certain nutrients within meat in their diet.

OlyaSolodenko via Getty Images
Cats are carnivores and need nutrients in their diet which they get from meat.

Dogs “are omnivores and even their wild ancestors had veggies in their diet. They have since become more suited with evolution for a plant-based diet, ” said Dr. Sarah Dodd, a veterinary consultant to companies including Halo who is studying plant-based pet diets. ”With cats, it’s different. On paper you can get all the nutrients in a plant-based diet with formulation, but we do not yet have enough evidence to know if the products currently on offer meet those needs.”

Dodd said large pet food companies should support further research about products for cats. One such company, Mars Petcare, whose brands include Pedigree, Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba, has doubts about consumer interest in vegan pet food.

“While a vegan diet for cats and dogs is possible, it can be difficult to develop, ” Dr. Tiffany Bierer, scientific affairs director at Mars Petcare, said. “For example, dogs and cats require Vitamin D in their diets to maintain proper calcium levels in their body. Unlike humans, they can’t produce it on their own, and Vitamin D is only found in animal-based foods. There are also some nutrients that have restriction vegetable or grain sources, like amino acids.”

Another pet food company is addressing the cat problem with slaughter-free meat. California-based Wild Earth, whose backers include billionaire Peter Thiel, says it wants to reinvent pet food with slaughter-free or lab-grown meat, as well as plant-based food.

“We’re using plants and fungu, which is very high in protein, as a first step in replacing meat, ” said CEO Ryan Bethencourt. But we don’t advertise ourselves as a vegan company. Our purpose is to create sustainable protein, which could include slaughter-free.”

Wild Earth has already made a slaughter-free mouse meat for cats, though it’s not yet available for sale. Bethencourt said a commercial meat product for humen is likely to come first, to avoid creating an image of lab-grown meat as a substandard human food alternative.

“We could do it today or within a few months, but it’s a regulatory and cost question, ” Bethencourt said, adding that Wild Earth hopes to begin selling a lab meat product by 2020.

For the time being, Okin said pet proprietors shouldn’t change companion’s diet without guidance.

“Much as we make decisions about what automobile to drive — some of us based on considerations of carbon emissions — we alsomight choose what kind of animal to keep based on its need for animal-derived products, ” Okin said. “For people who have animals, I encourage them to talk to their vet about this if they have questions.”

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