Should pets go vegan to save the planet?

Is it time to tackle your furry friend's carbon pawprint?

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Is it time to tackle your furry friend's carbon pawprint?

By Megan Wallace09 Jan 2023
4 mins read time
4 mins read time

Pets: there's a reason everyone loves them so much. Whether it's taking your dog on a hot girl walk or watching your cat get the zoomies after a long, hard day of napping, our fluffy friends can provide some much-needed relief from the capitalist grind and encourage us to get off our laptops and into the real world. There's also the bonus that you don't need to worry so much about maintaining a dozen Hinge conversations that are drier than the Sahara Desert - if you've got a pet, you're always going to have a little loving friend to come home to (especially if it's a tortoise, given that it's probably going to outlive you).

Research shows that interacting with friendly animals comes with plenty of mental and physical health benefits: from lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol to reduced blood pressure. But while having an animal pal can have a pretty positive impact on your wellbeing, more and more pet owners are worried about their furry friends' impact on the planet. Research from market research company Mintel has even suggested that 61% of people with pets want to know about the environmental impact of the food they buy for them.

And this makes sense when you look at the research: pet food is responsible for a quarter of the negative environmental impacts in the meat production industry, such as the use of land, water and the release of greenhouse gases. It's also estimated that meat-eating by dogs and cats creates 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year - which is equivalent to driving 13.6 million cars.

But is there an alternative? Well, maybe so. Recent research has shown that dogs don't seem to find vegan alternatives any less appetising than meat-based pet food and that a vegan diet could even be healthier for dogs than a carnivorous one.

Supporting this emerging trend in pet nutrition are a growing number of vegetarian and vegan pet food brands. This means that it's easier than ever to get your hands on an eco-friendly substitute for your pet - but would experts recommend? We decided to find out.

Claire Bass is the senior director of campaigns and public affairs at Humane Society International/UK and makes the point that vegan and vegetarian pet food may be a positive solution to pet owners who are also concerned about the ethical implications of feeding their animals meat.

“Millions of animals endure miserable lives on factory farms to meet the demands of the pet food industry," she says. "Our four-legged friends can have a positive difference on other animals and the climate by chowing down on one of the many plant-based pet food brands that contain all the nutrients they need, and which studies show our companion animals can thrive on.”

But Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, isn't convinced. “All dogs need a balanced diet to lead a healthy and happy life. Every dog is an individual, so their specific needs will depend on many factors, including their breed, age, sex, lifestyle and health status," she says. "Any diet change should be discussed with your vet, to make sure it’s right for your dog."

She's also concerned about the fact that studies showing the safety of vegan or vegetarian food for dogs don't necessarily investigate the longer-term picture. “There isn’t currently robust evidence to be confident that feeding an exclusively vegan diet is safe for dogs over the longer term. So right now, we cannot recommend this."

Similarly, The British Veterinary Association also isn't convinced. In a blog post on the matter of vegan food for pets, the organisation concluded with the following; "While it is theoretically possible, the British Veterinary Association does not recommend giving a dog a vegetarian or a vegan diet as it is much easier to get the balance of essential nutrients wrong than to get it right."

Looking towards the future, there is hope for all the eco-warrior doggos out there. Just as lab-grown meat has become a solution for environmentally aware human omnivores (the product is already being sold for human consumption in Singapore) the company Good Dog Food promises to make that a reality for our furry pals. "By creating sustainable, ethical meat from cells we are able to replace the 20% of meat and fish globally used in pet food," reads the mission statement on their website.

Currently none of their products appear to be available for purchase yet (sigh) but the company does have some pretty reliable credentials: it's a joint venture between meat investor Agronomics and food biotech company Roslin Technologies. Watch this space!