Should You Switch Your Pets to a Vegan Diet?

Nevena Nacic
by Nevena Nacic
MPH Photos/Shutterstock

It’s true, cats and dogs don’t drive gas guzzlers or use fancy energy-sucking appliances, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an environmental impact. As it turns out, our four-legged companions play a big role in the global climate crisis. 

You may wonder, but what do Fido and Whiskers have to do with climate change?! It’s not our pets we should blame, but the products we buy for them. 

Researchers have shown that the meat-based pet diet is the biggest contributor to cats' and dogs’ carbon pawprint as its production requires plenty of energy, land, and water. On top of that, the production of pet food emits obscene amounts of CO2. 

A new study, led by Andrew Knight from Griffith University, Australia, estimated the potential environmental benefits of pawrents switching their cats' and dogs' meat-based diet to a vegan diet. Knight published his findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE

The livestock industry has huge environmental impacts, including land and freshwater consumption and gas emissions. Many studies have investigated livestock impacts in relation to human diets, but only a few have considered the impact on cat and dog diets. 

According to recent research, nutritionally sound vegan cat and dog diets, that lack eggs, dairy, and meat, are safe and may be equally healthy as meat-based diets. 

Curious about the potential benefits of vegan-based pet diets, Knight calculated a series of estimates of what would happen if all dogs and cats in the United States or worldwide were switched to nutritious vegan diets. For his estimates, Knight used pet population data from 2020 for the United States and 2018 data for the rest of the world along with governmental data and input from a variety of prior studies. 

Results showed that cats and dogs in the U.S. consume one-fifth of the livestock that is consumed by Americans and about one-tenth globally. Knight's model estimated that nearly two billion land-based livestock could be spared from slaughter yearly if all cats and dogs living in the U.S. switched to vegan diets. 

Billions of aquatic animals and nearly seven billion livestock animals could be spared around the world if all cats and dogs stopped eating meat-based diets. 

In addition to billions of lives saved, these estimates also suggest a huge potential reduction in the use of land, water, and biocides, greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions of other pollutants. 

To put this into perspective, transitioning all dogs in the world to a vegan diet could free up an area of land larger than Saudi Arabia and for cats larger than Germany. Transitioning all dogs to vegan diets could lead to an estimated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions greater than the amount of all emissions from the UK, or Israel for cats. 

However, Knight noted that the data he used is several years old and might underestimate exact numbers, so the real environmental benefits of vegan diets may be even greater than he estimated. He also admitted that the calculations required him to make some assumptions and that further research is needed to support these estimates. 

This study shows environmental benefits when vegan diets are used to feed not just people, but dogs and cats as well. However, to safeguard health, it’s important that people feed only vegan pet food labeled as nutritionally complete, produced by reputable companies with good standards,” said Knight according to Phys.Org

Switching to a vegan diet might be good for the planet, but it may not be so great for your furry companion’s health. A number of commercial vegan diets for dogs exist on the market, but not all of them are equal in quality. 

If you decide to go the vegan route, look for an experienced veterinary nutritionist to discuss your pet’s dietary needs and create a dietary plan that reduces health risks.

Nevena Nacic
Nevena Nacic

Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!

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