Today is World Animal Day. As a pet nutritionist, the obvious take on this is to celebrate how we can contribute to the improved welfare of animals through feeding them fresh, healthy, species appropriate foods. And we should celebrate this!
But in the case of dogs and cats, this must come at the expense of another animal’s life. It is an unfortunate but undeniable reality that many moons ago, with the best of intentions and no capacity to see this far into the future and know then what we know now about the impact of meat consumption, we domesticated carnivores.
As a loving dog owner, but also a loving citizen of the Earth and a bleeding heart greenie, I struggle with this. How can I not?
In 2006 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concluded that farming animals for food contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than cars and trucks combined¹. All of the cars and trucks IN THE WORLD. Raising livestock also presents the not insignificant issue (particularly in drought prone Australia) of using a large amount of water, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the animal welfare horrors of factory farming.
So how do we feed our pets in a way that meets their nutritional needs, while minimising harm upon other creatures and the Earth? I don’t purport to have a definitive answer to this question, but I can tell you some approaches I personally employ to reduce our impact.
Make more sustainable choices. Derr. No but really. I completely appreciate that feeding your pooch organic, local, grass fed beef is not financially sustainable for everyone. But if you are able to do it, do it. I think people in a position of privilege have a responsibility to consume ethically, for the greater benefit of everyone. The more people who consume in this way, the more achievable it becomes for everyone.
And in the same vein: feed kangaroo. If you live in Australia, roo is about as sustainable as meat production is going to get. They produce minimal methane, they have evolved to require very little water, they are not farmed and their wild harvest is conducted under a Code of Practice². It’s also a very high protein, lean meat with enormous nutritional benefits (both human, feline and canine, if you’re that way inclined).
Utilise waste. I’m not suggesting you feed your pets trash, but there are certainly a lot of things you can feed them that may otherwise end up wasted. Dogs and cats don’t need to eat prime cuts of meat, and in fact, often the less favoured cuts are the most nutritious. Liver kidney heart tripe feet hooves tails heads necks ears…hell, you can get whole faces if you know the right people. These are all highly nutritious in the right quantities, cheap and often collateral damage, particularly in a Western diet. Speak to your butcher, ask them to keep this stuff for you. The grosser the better.
You can do the same with veggies – ask for the scraps of suitable veggies from your grocer and keep yours (or even better, grow them!). Get stuff that’s reduced to clear and almost at the end of its life. Someone told me recently that she asks her local juice bar to keep their veggie juice pulp so she can feed it to her dog. Genius.
Reduce your meat consumption. If you’re passionate about green ethics then you probably already consume in a way that’s kind to animals and the Earth, but if it’s a matter of choosing who gets to dine on swine, always choose your dog. He needs to, you don’t. There is so much wonderful, colourful, delicious and plant based food at our disposal (see above), it’s just not necessary to make meat a dietary staple.
Finally, this is going to sound harsh and possibly face a little backlash but: don’t get a dog or cat. If you really can’t reconcile that in order to healthfully nourish your pet with the fact that this requires they eat meat, then quite simply perhaps this is not the best pet for you. I know from my studies in animal nutrition that a plant based diet is unsuitable for a carnivore, and I am never going to endorse this approach (I explain why in this post). Besides, there are plenty of herbivore animals who need homes too!
Hopefully some or all of these tips might prove somewhat useful to you raw feeders out there and have a tip-top World Animal Day, y’all.
Food and Agriculture Organizatuon of the United Nations (2006) Livestock’s Long Shadow. United Nations, Rome.