These days, dog owners are more conscientious about the impact that they and their pets might have on the environment. The majority of people want to learn to live more sustainably, and that starts with making small changes at home.
Switching to a more sustainable dog food brand can help reduce your carbon footprint and is often a better choice for your four-legged friend. Here, we’re going to go over how to find a dog food that’s both healthy and eco-friendly.
The Environmental Impact of Dog Food
When most of us consider our impact on the environment, we think of things such as our daily commute or our nightly energy usage. It’s easy to assume that we’re the only ones with a carbon footprint, but this isn’t the case for pet owners. It can take over two acres of land to feed a medium-sized dog, using over twice the amount of land that it would take to run the average SUV.
A large part of why pet food is so unsustainable is the high protein content. Typically, dog food contains around 20% to 40% protein, while cat food has around 30% to 60%. High-quality pet foods often advertise that they use human-grade meat, which means that it meets federal manufacturing and packaging standards used in human foods.
Following a meat-based diet means a high carbon footprint for both humans and their pets. It takes much more energy and many more resources to raise livestock than it does plants and other foods. As a result, pet foods with high protein content, particularly those marked as “human-grade,” tend to be the least sustainable option when it comes to pet food.
Unfortunately, major pet food corporations’ marketing efforts have muddled the truth about what’s healthy for pets and what’s not. Myths abound about what people should be feeding their dogs in terms of protein and grain content.
Big brands often use the emotionally appealing approach of feeding pets like family members. However, dogs have very different nutritional needs than humans. Just because “human grade” meat and organic “superfoods” might be best for us doesn’t always mean that they make an ideal meal for our four-legged friends. What’s more, it isn’t what’s best for the environment.
Understanding what your pet truly needs from its diet can help you to choose a food that’s not only healthy but also sustainable. You should know what to look for on the label and select brands that cater to your pup’s nutritional needs.
Ingredients to Look For
Nutrition is a complicated science to navigate. We don’t know much more about our pets’ nutritional needs than we do our own. However, there are certain vitamins, minerals, and more that we know domestic dogs need to stay healthy.
As most pet owners know, dogs are carnivores who require plenty of protein in their diet. However, they often don’t need as much as major pet food brands advertise. Dogs only need healthy portions of around 18% to 25% protein in their food to stay in peak physical condition.
Instead of looking for expensive human-grade meat, look for pet brands that use byproducts such as organs. These are just as healthy, if not healthier, than the cuts of meat that we’re used to eating. What’s more, using meat byproducts ensures that we use every part of an animal without any unnecessary waste. This helps to improve sustainability in the meat processing industry.
Whole, cooked grains are another ingredient to look for in sustainable pet food. Contrary to popular belief, grains and other plant ingredients are most often completely healthy for dogs. In fact, one of the main differences between wild wolves and domesticated dogs is that our four-legged friends are better adapted to digesting plants.
According to the FDA, adding grain to a pet’s diet won’t usually cause indigestion or disease. The current grain-free trend is more of a marketing ploy than anything else. Food with a higher protein content sells at a higher price, and so big brands are willing to push grain-free products regardless of the actual health implications.
Using high-quality grain in dog food is perfectly safe, and it can help reduce the protein content to healthy, sustainable levels. It’s best to choose a high-quality, sustainable dog food containing grain filler over a high-protein, grain-free option.
Ingredients to Avoid
While human-grade meat may sound appealing on the surface, it’s not always the best choice for your pet. It uses high-grade cuts of meat, wasting healthy byproducts such as liver and kidney. Not only is this an unsustainable practice, but it can significantly increase the cost of a bag of food. Try to avoid pet foods that advertise themselves as human-grade.
On the other end of the scale, don’t opt for pet foods that contain only plant-based proteins. Plant and animal proteins have very different nutritional properties thanks to their chemical makeup.
Dogs are adapted to eat and digest animal proteins better than plant proteins, and a strictly vegetarian diet may lead to severe health problems. While you don’t want to opt for unsustainable, high-protein food, you also want to avoid anything that leaves out meat altogether.
It’s always a good idea to avoid food with too many unrecognizable ingredients. Chemicals, preservatives, artificial colors, and more can all have a negative impact on your dog’s health. They can also run off into the environment and natural water sources, which can cause catastrophic damage to local ecosystems. Try to stick to dog foods with limited, whole ingredients and as few chemicals as possible.
Don’t Forget the Packaging
When you’re looking for sustainable dog food, it can be easy to get caught up on the ingredients. However, the packaging can have just as much of an impact on the environment. Many plastic bags and containers take no small amount of energy to make, and the process can spew toxins into the air.
It’s a good idea to look for companies that are conscientious about how they package their food. Many sustainable pet food brands are making the move towards recycled, biodegradable packaging. You can even find brands that use materials such as heavyweight paper or cardboard.
Some brands take the extra step to ensure their manufacturing and shipping processes are as green as possible. Try to look for pet food manufacturers with eco-friendly policies in place, such as using renewable energy or having an electric shipping fleet.
Making Dog Food at Home
If you don’t like any of the options available at your local supermarket, you can make your own pet food from scratch. This is a healthy and sustainable way to make sure your pup gets all of the nutrients it needs, but it’s not always easy.
You need to include a variety of essential nutrients, including protein and fat, preferably from a meat source, as well as carbohydrates from whole grains or vegetables. You should also include calcium and essential fatty acids from certain healthy oils, egg yolks, or oatmeal. If your dog has special needs, you may need to include additional vitamins and minerals. It’s best to follow a recipe developed by a veterinary expert with special training in dog nutrition.
As most dog owners know, not all pet food is created equal. However, there are many common misconceptions about what comprises healthy dog food. While the biggest brands might lead you to believe protein content is everything, this isn’t the case. High-protein dog foods are unhealthy and unsustainable, leading to a larger carbon footprint for both you and your pooch.
You need to know what you’re looking for if you want to find high-quality, eco-friendly food for your pup. By looking for foods that use meat byproducts and healthy grains for a lower protein content, you and your four-legged friend can both do your part to protect the environment.