The US has the largest population of dogs and cats globally, with an estimated 77.8 million dogs and 85.6 million cats (2015).
And those dogs and cats eat a lot of meat—25–30% of the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides, comes from feeding our pets. And these numbers are growing with the increase in pet ownership and the trend towards human-grade and higher protein (more meat!) pet food.
You can also look at it this way: US dogs and cats consume as much dietary energy as 62 million Americans, which is approximately one-fifth of the US population. And, although there are fewer dogs and cats in the US than people, they derive more of their energy from animal-derived products (33% vs.19% for people).
Or like this: The U.S. yearly carbon footprint of pet food = driving 13 million cars!
Whichever way you slice it, this makes pet food responsible for the release of up to approximately 64 million tons CO2-equivalent methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gasses (GHGs).
And, as mentioned, the premium trend is making matters worse—premium cat food is estimated to have 3.3 times higher GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions than market-premium food. This means that a family with multiple dogs or multiple cats who are fed human-grade, commercially-bought beef may present the most unsustainable pet ownership practices.
Ultimately, there is no such thing as sustainable pet food because there is no such thing as sustainably produced meat.
Here’s a little refresher on meat production facts:
What's the solution?
A plant-based or omnivore diet for dogs is one idea. Dogs evolved into omnivores thousands of years ago and do very well on nutritionally-complete, plant-based diets.
Even just replacing meat-based dog treats with plant-based dog treats will help. Did you know that 6.5 pounds of greenhouse gases are released into our environment to produce just three ounces of meat— the amount of meat that typically fills a bag of dog treats?
And, embracing and supporting the idea of cultured meat for pets. Cultured meat is not a meat alternative, it is meat that is produced in an alternative way, but without the negative impacts of traditional meat such as harm to the planet and farmed animals.