3. Feed Your Pet Thoughtfully
Believe it or not, although cats and dogs eat a LOT of meat, it doesn’t have that big of an environmental impact. That’s because most pet food is made from meat byproducts.
About 50% of every food-producing animal does not get used in human foods. The bones, blood, organs, ligaments, and almost all the other parts not generally consumed by humans are used in pet food, animal feed, and other products. In other words, pets eat the protein that humans will not eat.
Even the grains and vegetables that our pets and livestock eat are not fit for grocery store sales (like blemished produce, broken-grain rice and field/dent corn). Because our pets gladly eat things that humans won’t, the idea that the environmental impact of pet food is additional to the impact of human food is largely incorrect.
Pet food production greatly reduces waste in our industrial agricultural system, keeping valuable food resources out of the landfill. Anyone who has run a homestead knows the value of closing the nutrient loop by feeding animals human scraps.
Of course, that’s not to say that pet food has no environmental impact. Dog and cat food, and meat byproducts generally, provide about 15% of profits to the meat industry, and contribute to the overall planetary impact of industrial meat production.
Most cereals that pets eat are GMO corn and soy, which contributes to the amount of carcinogenic glyphosate (Roundup) and other pesticides in our environment.
Pet food also requires a lot oil, energy and water for processing, packaging, and transportation.
So, to keep your pet’s environmental “pawprint” small, buy pet food in bulk quantities whenever possible.
Choose food made from food-grade meat byproducts, not “prime cuts.” Animals do not get any special benefit from eating the cuts of muscle meat that humans eat. In fact, the steaks and chicken breasts that humans prefer are far less nutritious than organ meats, so giving them to your pets only adds to the burden of industrial meat production—and your budget.
Avoid canned food as it is often laden with toxins that can sicken your pet. The 2017 Ecology Center study called Pets Beware: Toxic Chemicals in Pet Food Can Linings found:
- Almost all cat food cans tested (95%) had a polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based coating
- Most dog food cans (81%) had a bisphenol A (BPA)-based coating
- Pet food cans overall had a higher frequency of both BPA-based and PVC-based coatings than human food cans.
BPA and PVC are hormone-disrupting chemicals that migrate into food and have been linked to health problems in humans and animals.
Most dog food cans contained coatings made from the endocrine disruptor BPA, recently linked to metabolic and gut microbiome changes in dogs consuming canned dog food.
If you can afford it, buy pet food that is made from organic, sustainably-raised or grass-fed animals (not from industrial CAFOs), and non-GMO grains. Here are some greener pet food brands on Amazon for dogsand for cats.
Perhaps the most sustainable solution is to enlist your pet in your food recycling efforts. We Americans waste a lot of food—around 40 percent, according to recent estimates—which means we also waste all the resources that went into producing that food. So, if you have more meat or vegetables than you can use before they spoil, or if you have scraps like vegetable cuttings, fish heads, organs or bones leftover from preparing your food, consider turning your excess food into some pet chow.
Here are some great recipe books for homemade cat and dog food:
- The Healthy Homemade Pet Food Cookbook: 75 Whole-Food Recipes and Tasty Treats for Dogs and Cats of All Ages
- Dinner PAWsible: A Cookbook of Nutritious, Homemade Meals for Cats and Dogs
Lastly, feed your pet only what it needs to be healthy. More than one-third of U.S. cats and dogs are overweight. Complications of pet obesity, such as diabetes and asthma, cost veterinary insurance companies $34 million in claims last year.
If your dog or cat is overweight, it’s time to reduce their food intake, which will save resources, improve their health, and trim your budget, too.