How sustainable can pet food be? – dogs and cats:

Ok.  Feeding pets is a very complex and emotive area with many passionate opinions, for example, to feed raw or cooked, home prepared, carbohydrates, no carbohydrates, vegetarian or vegan!  Cats are more manipulative and the chances are you feed your cat what they will eat not what you would choose to feed them.  I feel trepidaceous just stepping into the melee, but my aim is not to tell people what to do, rather to present feeding facts as I see them, through the lens of what is least damaging for the planet, whilst maintaining optimum welfare for pets, people and livestock.  There are ways for people to make choices within this frame work without compromising their principles.  Of course, there are many other factors entailed in our choices including convenience and price dependency.  I hope to give you, dear reader, some tools to make decisions about how you can modify your choices whether you feed raw, vegetarian, homemade cooked or kibble within the constraints of what’s good for the pocket of both pet owners and the planet. 

As I explain later, living off human waste is a dog’s ecological niche and living off ‘vermin’ human settlements attract, is that of cats .  Although not ‘scavenged’, the food that goes into the petfood stream is ‘waste’ that people aren’t currently eating, meaning, in effect, dogs are still living off our waste and fulfilling their niche (not so much cats).  Only we have so much waste!  Food is going to become scarcer and as we reassess what we are prepared to eat, some of us are going to be eating the parts of animals that we used to eat.  I can’t help but think of Frank McCourts’s ‘Angela’s ashes’, where the poor family ate a pigs head for their Christmas dinner.  This will inevitably leave less for the dogs and cats and this does need thinking about.  The scope of this article is to determine what waste would look like in a sustainable society and what would likely be available to feed to our pets.  With 3.5 billion dogs and cats worldwide in 2014 (1), pet food is as sustainable – or unsustainable as we are. 

Dogs and cats used to eat our left overs, dogs supplemented with bones and cats with rats and mice until the advent of commercial pet foods in 1860 when James Spratt mixed meat and bone meal with grain.  Bobs your uncle, the pet food industry was born.  From here, petfood has become a licence to print money.  It is a vast industry!  The US market for pet foods and treats was valued at USD 36.9 billion in 2019, and the UK pet food market was expected to reach a value of £2.8 billion by the end of 2021, having risen 17% over the last five years (2).

Clearly, greenhouse gas emissions generated by the production of dog and cat food are significant, not least because dogs run hotter than us and need more calories as a result.  In their 2009 book ‘Time to eat the dog? the real guide to sustainable living’ Vale, B and R estimated that a medium size dog such as a border collie had an ‘ecological’ pawprint of 0.27 ha and an average sized cat 0.13/ha, thus determining that this is the amount of land it takes produce the food to feed this size dog or cat (3).  The book doesn’t give any hints as to what exactly the animals were eating, making it more limited in it’s usefulness than it might be.  A person needs 0.4 Ha on average.

We find annual global dry pet food production is associated with 56–151 Mt CO2 equivalent emissions (1.1%−2.9% of global agricultural emissions), 41–58 Mha agricultural land-use (0.8–1.2% of global agricultural land use) and 5–11 km3 freshwater use (0.2–0.4% of water extraction of agriculture). These impacts are equivalent to an environmental footprint of around twice the UK land area, and would make greenhouse gas emission from pet food around the 60th highest emitting country, or equivalent to total emissions from countries such as Mozambique or the Philippines. These results indicate that rising pet food demand should be included in the broader global debate about food system sustainability (4).

We had better change our behaviour before it’s the dog we are prepared to eat:

I’m not going to go into the myriad, peer reviewed evidence of pets benefitting human health, the evidence is clear and beyond question – people need dogs and cats.  However, we need to find sustainable ways to feed both ourselves and our pets.

There are a few things I think we need to look at first:

What are cats and dogs?

Farming methods

  • Intensive conventional
  • Organic farming
  • Grass fed vs fodder fed meat
  • Livestock including Cows farting
  • Animal welfare

Understanding the label

Ingredients used in commercial dog and cat foods

  • Meat
  • Ingredients of vegetable origin


  • Homemade
  • Commercial foods
  • Vegetarian and vegan foods
  • Raw
  • Kibble
  • wet
  • Left-overs
  • Local

New and interesting developments

Example brands


Cats: are ‘obligate carnivores’.  They are predators designed to eat meat. 

As obligate carnivores, naturally cats would only eat meat.  Their small intestine is small!  They would need a longer small intestine to digest foods other than meat.  Cats need taurine, vit A and arachidonic acid in their diet and these are most easily derived from meat.

Even if they don’t hunt themselves, cats are much closer to their ‘wild type’ than are dogs and it is thought that cats are ‘fussy feeders’ because their preference is for live prey.  The socialisation period for cats, falls between 2-7 weeks of age, or in other words, when they are still with the breeder, if kittens are fed a wide variety of foods during this time, they will be likely to be more adventurous feeders when they are older.

Although cats don’t need other cats as they are able to exist as ‘solitary hunters’, where there is a concentrated food source, cats will live socially.  The history of cats corroborates this, cats became domesticated preying on the rats and mice that congregate around human grain stores at the advent of farming – live prey.  Cat’s also colonised harbours, learning to live off fish scraps – dead prey. 

I wonder if cats aren’t still a ‘working’ animals?  We had a rat problem between Smog dying and the advent of Prince – neither cats have been active ratters but the rats have gone.

Dogs: are classified as ‘carnivores’ but they can digest carbohydrates making them effectively omnivores.  Dogs have evolved from the wolf, domesticating themselves by hanging around human settlements and eating our left overs.  Whilst wolves are primarily predators, dogs are primarily scavengers. 

Dogs are accurately described as ‘social scavengers’ and scavenging on human leftovers presaged genetic changes.  Research in 2013 (5) explored the genetic basis of starch metabolism in dogs.  The study found dogs to have 7x more copies of the amy2B gene than wolves.  Amy2B codes for production of pancreatic amylase to digest carbohydrates.  Essentially,  because we eat carbohydrates, so do dogs.

People, too, vary in our ability to digest carbohydrates dependent upon how many genes we carry for digesting starches.  This is thought to be a major factor in an individual’s pre disposition to obesity, relating to how our ancestors derived their nutrition.  It is likely that in colder and wetter climes there was more dependency on meat and fish and in warmer wetter climates more dependency on crops and carbohydrates.  Inevitably, some dogs will be better able to digest carbohydrates whilst others might do better on a primarily meat diet.

However, do dogs need carbohydrates?  No.  Anything they would take directly from carbohydrates can be synthesised in the body from protein.  If not getting carbohydrates, dogs need adequate levels of dietary protein, especially when pregnant and lactating.  This is where quality and digestibility of the protein source comes in, if the protein is of low quality, they will need more of it.  Essentially, carbohydrates are cheaper (for a scavenger and your pocket) and their addition to the diet (if they can be digested effectively) allows protein to ‘go further’.  Dogs can digest upto 90% of cooked starch but can’t digest raw starch.  Cooking weakens cell walls and allows the amylase in, whereas raw starch can cause fermentation.

Taurine is less important for dogs than cats.  Dogs have a lower need for this amino acid because provided there are sufficient sulphur containing amino acids (cysteine and methionine) present in their diet they should be able to synthesise it.  However, obtaining taurine can be an issue for vegetarian dogs, giant breeds, obese dogs and during certain life stages.  Additionally, dogs can derive essential nutrients from plants, vit A from carotene and arachidonic acid from linoleic acid.

It is better for the dog if energy from carbohydrates is released slowly.  Some carbs release energy faster than other, for example, the ‘glycaemic index’ of white rice is high and white rice releases energy very quickly whereas barley has a low glycaemic index, releasing energy more slowly.   In addition to providing energy, if not super refined, dogs can also absorb vitamins and minerals from carbohydrates.  

In a recent study where dogs were allowed to self select from foods provided, once the study dogs settled (after an initial ‘pork out’!) they chose:

30% of calories from protein

60% of calories from fat

And 7% of calories from carbohydrates

Wolves in same study chose only 1% carbs (6,7).

Farming methods: In order to grasp the issues, we need to look at farming methods pretty early on in this discussion.  Whatever you are feeding, the raw materials will have been produced by farming. 

I’m not a farming expert but I have a keen amateur interest and it’s clear that how this farming is carried out has a massive impact on the environment.  Understanding this better can help us make better choices.

We have already ascertained that both cats and dogs have evolved to eat meat.   Meat protein is highly accessible but energy intensive to produce.  Essentially, we grow crops (grass, grain, hay and silage) to feed livestock which go on to convert this food into meat.  The animal is then slaughtered and their carcass enters the food supply chain.  Only a ¼ (at best) of the energy contained in the food retained in this transition (8).  There would be no comparable loss of energy if  the plants were fed direct to the pets rather than converted to meat first. 

The vegetable component of the diet (whether that be a meat and carbohydrate based diet or one that is vegetarian or totally vegan) could be better for the planet than a meat component because of this economical transfer of energy when compared to feeding vegetable matter to livestock to grow meat.  Whether fed direct to the dogs and cats or whether it goes through a livestock vector, how the vegetable matter is grown will have a massive impact on how good this food is for the planet.

Here I’m going to going to discuss grass fed meat, fodder fed meat and foods of plant origin, and talk about organic and conventional production to give a very rough assessment of their relative environmental impacts.

Intensive conventional farming: even if your dog or cat is eating 100% meat, arable cropping will still be part of the process.  Grass is a crop and even (the relatively small amount of) livestock that is kept out all year will still be fed fodder crops in winter.  It has to be borne in mind that whilst there are ways of growing crops in harmony with nature, most of our food isn’t produced this way.  

Intensive arable farming utilises fossil fuels and synthetic agricultural chemicals as both fertilizers and pesticides.

  • NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) is not all that is needed to produce nutritionally complete food
  • Agricultural chemicals are destroying life in the soil
  • Insecticides are destroying pollinators amongst other insects and the losses are really quite frightening
  • How the cocktail of agricultural chemicals interact is unknown but undoubtedly they concentrate up the food chain, affecting us and our pets
  • intensive arable agriculture exposes the soil to the elements (by ploughing) for large parts of the year, resulting in losses of carbon and soil.
  • Heavy machines are put on the land damaging soil structure
  • Unless arable crops are grown as part of a mixed farming rotation there is no manure within the system requiring increased inputs of synthetic fertilizers or brought in manures.
  • Antibiotics and other veterinary medicine residues can be present in meat
  • Growing crops other than grass in much of Britain can be an uphill struggle requiring more inputs.

Intensive arable farming doesn’t sequester carbon, rather through damaging the soil with machinery and exposing soil to the air, the carbon thus released makes a significant contribution to global warming.  In addition, the food produced reflects the health of the soil it is grown in.  Poor, degraded soil will produce food with nutritional deficits.

  • There is a simple technique being researched to assess the quality of nutrition in food (the Brix test (9)) and as this information is more available, hopefully, people will become more demanding of nutritious food.

Organic farming: meat, carbohydrate, vegetarian and vegan pet foods can be organic. 

I guess we need to look at types of organic farming first.  There is what I call ‘conventional organic farming’ which has evolved over the last 30-40 years by brave, pioneering individuals who knew we were doing something wrong.  This type of ‘conventional organic farming’ is certified through professional bodies such as the soil association.  Much of this ‘conventional organic farming’ is intensive.  Intensive organic, arable agriculture, like ‘intensive conventional farming’ uses heavy machines and involves leaving soil bare for periods of the year with the same damaging effect on climate.  That said, undoubtedly, in ‘conventional organic farming’ more attention is focused on improving and maintaining the soil and everything that lives in it because organic farming is more dependent on the functioning of this soil than is intensive conventional farming, since inputs of nutrients are limited to vegetable matter and animal manure.  

Undoubtedly, organic farming has higher welfare standards for livestock (and wild life) than ‘intensive conventional farming’.  These certification bodies can demand higher welfare, above and beyond the legal minimum.  The food produced by organic agriculture is free of chemical contaminants and residues of medicines used on livestock. 

Overall, whilst ‘conventional organic farming’ is much better than ‘intensive conventional farming’ in terms of climate change and biodiversity loss but it’s likely not a net sequesterer of carbon, and any carbon lost will be contributing towards climate change.

In recent years, it has become apparent that it is perfectly possible to produce food whilst building soil and sequestering carbon.  Under the umbrella term ‘regenerative agriculture’ even more environmentally friendly forms of organic agriculture have been developing.  ‘Regenerative agriculture’, including ‘permaculture’, is committed to producing food balanced within the ecosystem.  Regeneration of the soil is a primary objective.  This type of farming produces food whilst sequestering carbon.  Farming in harmony with nature is beginning to show itself as a viable form of food production whereby everything benefits but unfortunately, there is unlikely to be much pet food produced in this way – yet!  ‘Regenerative agriculture’ can produce high yields with non-existent or very low inputs making it potentially cost effective, however, it is more labour intensive than either conventional or conventional organic agriculture.  It’s time to marry up people who need gainful occupation and a means of earning a living and who want to get their hands dirty with land.  We did this after the last world war with the land settlements.  Working regeneratively with the land can also regenerate people.

Until food produced regeneratively starts to filter down the food chain to pet food, conventional organic is certainly better for the planet in terms of inputs, welfare and uncontaminated food.  If your pet is going to eat meat, then the bones and gristle end of the food chain ‘waste’, ideally produced organically from grass fed livestock reared and living out all year (see below), has to pretty good for the welfare of the livestock, the planet and your dog or cat.  

‘Regenerative agriculture’ is certainly a net sequesterer of carbon.

Grass fed vs fodder fed meat: meat grows well on grass and grass grows well in some climates, especially cooler, wetter climates like Britain.  Being grass fed confers better welfare for livestock straight away because the animals are free range and outside more of the time.

  • Where there is permanent pasture, grass covers the ground all year preventing carbon leeching from exposed soil.
    • Grassland systems can be complex or simple depending upon how often they are ploughed and seeded and how many inputs are added.
    • Complex, permanent grassland management systems can resist the livestock feet ‘poaching’ the land by using mixtures of many grass species to create a strong root mat. This allows for livestock to live out all year thereby reducing the need for cultivation of fodder crops resulting in less carbon loss.
    • In addition to keeping the soil protected and stopping carbon leeching into the atmosphere, keeping soil covered supports micro-organisms in the soil preserving health, fertility and structure of the soil which (along with other ‘magic’) increasing the capacity of the soil to store carbon.
    • Well managed grasslands will sequester carbon during the transition back to grassland from another use because grass takes CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and the root mat stops carbon being rereleased. This useful attribute of grassland tails off after about 40 years.  The carbon thus sequestered will be rereleased back into the atmosphere if the grassland is later ploughed (10).
  • Any manure produced by livestock goes back into the land preserving fertility and life.
  • Grassland and woodland naturally thrive in Britain naturally supporting grazing.
  • Grass fed meat is higher in omega 3 fatty acids when compared to grain fed meat which is high in omega 6 fatty acids. The average western diet is heavy on omega 6.  We evolved on a diet with a ration of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1 whereas a typical modern diet  the ratio is more like 15 or 16:1.  This imbalance in omega 3 and 6 is thought to be responsible for many chronic diseases.  Additional omega 3 will reduce inflammation (11). 

As stated before, the nutritional value of the food can only ever be as good as the soil that produced it.

Increasingly livestock is kept inside all year and fed fodder crops.  Of course, this has an impact on the welfare of livestock and they have less freedom to undertake normal behaviour.

If not kept out all year, livestock is brought inside in winter and fed silage. There has been a move over the last 30-40 years to switch from feeding hay to feeding silage.  Silage is less weather dependent than hay, faster growing and cheaper.  Silage is produced intensively with all the features of ‘intensive conventional farming’ mentioned above applying. 

  • Silage is cropped earlier in the year than hay, before the wildflowers flower and seed resulting in bio diversity loss. Hay meadows are better for wildflowers and wildlife than silage
  • Silage used to be kept in pits with the leachate escaping into ground water and rivers causing pollution and biodiversity loss. As a result, these days silage is wrapped in plastic to prevent this.  Unfortunately, not all of this plastic is disposed of properly.
  • Increasingly, maize silage is replacing or supplementing grass silage. Maize silage monoculture is intensive to produce requiring more cultivation and inputs than grass silage or hay, ripping more goodness out of the soil and arguably less healthy for livestock
  • When being ‘fattened’, livestock is fed grain. This is not an efficient way to convert energy or produce the healthiest meat to eat.

Livestock, Including cows farting: I feel the need to mention methane and cows. Whilst ruminants do emit significant amounts of methane, the methane impact of ruminants such as cattle over inflated.

Because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, it is measured in units known as ‘CO2 equivalent’ which assume 1 tonne of methane = 25 tonnes of CO2.  This is unfortunate as although methane has a magnified negative effect on planet heating in comparison to CO2, methane has a short half-life (12 years) relative to CO2.  Whilst methane dissipates from the atmosphere, CO2 lingers indefinitely causing warming. 

There have always been ruminants and but for human interference there would be massive herds of buffalo, bison, wildebeest and auroch (from which domestic cattle have descended).  We simply can’t blame the cow ruminant digestive systems for climate change!  Methane produced by livestock make up about a third of anthropogenic methane emissions with a significant proportion of the other two thirds made up of methane emissions from fossil fuels.  If we had a stable livestock sector and no other anthropogenic sources of methane emissions, we would have stable atmospheric methane and like for most of the planet’s history, it wouldn’t be a problem.  Of course, people (and pets) need to consume less meat and dairy products and look after the livestock we have properly to achieve this stable state, but the real villain in climate change is CO2 and methane from fossil fuels.  In a nutshell, methane from livestock was always atmospheric methane, whereas methane (and carbon) from fossil fuels was safely locked underground and is ADDITIONAL to atmospheric methane (12).

Runaway climate change is being caused by people, let’s not scape goat cows!

Sheep are largely kept outside all year and probably have the best welfare of all farmed meat.  Much of Britain’s upland areas are grazed by sheep.  George Monbiot calls this ‘sheepwreck’ as consistent grazing with sheep prevents regrowth of trees and understory plants thereby degrading the ecosystem.  Sheep are fed a range of hay, silage and turnips in winter (13).

Chickens  ‘conventional’ chicken sheds not nice.  Apart from anything else, chickens can only form social bonds with a limited number of other birds and living in a shed with so many birds in a small space is overwhelming.  It has to be remembered that chickens were originally forest birds and keeping them in open fields can be stressful too. Chickens are fed a lot of grain, free range chickens kept on grass produce eggs higher in omega 3 than grain fed birds. Chickens are killed young – both egg and meat birds.  An organic life is kinder and longer.  In the Netherlands, non-organic meat chickens are killed after 6 weeks, organic meat chickens after 11 weeks and organic laying chickens are killed after 1 and a half years.

Pigs: most pigs are reared indoors unless premium priced outdoor reared pigs.  Feeding pigs food waste or ‘swill’ was banned in 2002 after the terrible mass slaughter of livestock during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001.  The ban was aimed at avoiding the mass slaughter of pigs on large pig farms in the event of swill transmitting disease.  Unfortunately, this disproportionally dis-benefited the small scale pig sector which is less at risk when it comes to mass slaughter.  Industrial food production can’t separate pork waste from the rest of the waste stream and feeding pork back to pigs is very risky, as we know to our cost with bse and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.  The Land Magazine states that feeding European pigs swill would save 20% of land currently growing pig feed (14).   However, catering waste can separate pork waste, making this less risky although this is currently not permitted there may be an opportunity here. 

Animal welfare: If we are going to produce livestock for meat both for people and for pets then it’s imperative that we do this as humanely as possible.  Although it might not seem like it with our plethora of factory farms, overall farm animal welfare in Britain (and Europe) is better than in the majority other countries. 

The 2006 animal welfare act enshrined the 5 freedoms. 

Freedom from:

  • hunger and thirst,
  • discomfort,
  • pain, injury and disease,
  • to express normal behaviour
  • and fear and distress

The act has the capacity to evolve and improve as and when new science emerges – although it’s hard to see how chicken sheds and pig units can be justified by the 2006 welfare act (15).  It remains to be seen what effect on animal welfare brexit will bring.

Welfare of livestock in organic production is likely to be higher, as the organic certification schemes enforce welfare standards above simply the legal minimum required.

However, there is plenty of room for opportunities to improve welfare right along the line. 

  • There could certainly be improvements in welfare at the abattoir – small, local abattoirs are increasing in number which has to be good. It may be that mobile slaughter houses, allowing slaughter as humanely as possible on the farm might be the best option.  Huge slaughter houses which can be the main employers in a whole town can’t be good for human or animal welfare.
  • in addition to being more detrimental to the environment, if livestock is kept indoors, the animals will have less freedom to undertake normal behaviour which has a negative impact on welfare.
  • Calf at foot dairies are springing up where the cow is able to nurse her calf and give milk, rather than having the calf taken away after the colostrum stage and fed dried milk.
  • Chicken sheds are not nice.

The welfare of livestock farmers also needs to be considered.  It has to be remembered that some people like farming and fully take on caring compassionately for the animals they are responsible for.  Their welfare is tied up with the welfare of the animals in their care.  

As you can see, dear reader, it is a very complicated picture! Having explored these fundamental questions it seems sensible to look at the ingredients that go to make up the bulk of commercial pet foods and how labelling works. 

Understanding the label: understanding the pet food labels can be difficult, apart from anything else, the writing is really tiny.  Although often purposefully obfuscated for marketing reasons by petfood manufacturers, looking at the ingredients should help you source better for the planet foods. 

If described as ‘complete’, a food must comply to eu standards FEDIAF (the European Pet Food Industry Federation) guidelines

FEDIAF state that: “Pet food manufacturers follow two ways of declaring ingredients used in the recipe: Either by category names as defined in EU legislation (e.g. meat and animal derivatives, vegetables, cereals, minerals, etc.) or by single ingredient names (e.g. dehydrated chicken protein, wheat, soybean meal, corn starch, chicken fat, etc.).

The Fediaf guidance means that if a food advertises itself as containing beef, for example, the manufacturer has to state the percentage of the meat used that is beef.

Although some foods stating ‘meat and animal derivatives’ on the label will be good foods, some foods stating ‘meat and animal derivatives’ will be very low-grade, including some that are nutritionally very poor.  Also, because the species isn’t specified, manufacturers are able to change their meat source between batches depending on what is available/cheapest at the time (14).  This label effectively allows zero traceability.

At first glance, tinned/wet food might appear low in protein if compare to the protein content written on the side of a bag of kibble, however, you need to calculate the dry weight of the protein present in the food by subtracting the weight of the water first, and in fact wet food isn’t necessarily low protein.  The maths is beyond me but I’m sure, dear reader, this is not beyond you.

Ash: is essentially bone.  If there is a lot of ash on the label then there was probably a lot of bone in the meat source.

There is a test that can easily be done (the pepsin test) to assess how digestible a food might be for a dog or cat but pet food manufacturers are resisting pressure to publish this ‘digestibility quotient’ on the packet.  If they did it would give dog owners information about the quality of the ingredients used and the quality of the manufacturing process and allow them to choose appropriately.  This would put pressure on manufacturers to do better. 

Ingredients used in commercial dog and cat foods:

Meat: Whilst pet foods use meat from human grade carcasses, they don’t usually include parts of the carcass that humans routinely eat.  ‘Waste’ from abattoirs and food factories goes to pet food and becomes ‘category 3’ as in ‘not intended for human consumption’. 

Category 3 meats include anything from trimmings that the supermarkets reject when a meat portion is too big to fit the proscribed tray, through offal, right down to the head, lungs, bones, claws, hooves and the feathers – all of which can still be made into dog and cat food.

Parts of a carcass can also be downgraded to category 3 for other reasons, for example, lamb legs from New Zealand being of a colour unacceptable to a supermarket, it may be a contract that’s fallen through or been over produced or wild venison that has incorrectly shot. 

As you can see this covers a vast range from meat of a high quality through to the not so nice to eat.  Of course much of this is very good food, for example, offal.  We used to eat most offal but these days, fewer and fewer of us are choosing to eat it.  This offal ranges from ‘1st world’ palatable for humans like liver and kidney to ‘1st world’ less palatable, including tripe, lungs, viscera etc.  Offal is used particularly in cat food because it is high in protein and offal can be rich in taurine. 

As discussed above, some dog foods have a ‘named animal source’ on the label, for example, 28% lamb.  Whilst this may not be the best cuts of lamb these named protein source foods are higher up the food chain and will likely have come from less separate sources than petfood containing unnamed animal ingredients.  Pet food thus described will probably arise from only one abattoir or food processing plant.  If named, the food will have to contain the stated % bits and bobs from this species (e.g. ‘lamb’).  Alternatively, if a food states ‘meat and animal derivatives’ on the label, whilst this may be of very high quality and from a limited number of sources (and labelled ‘meat and animal derivatives’ to protect their special recipe), it is more likely that the animal protein has come from many individual animals of different species off many abattoir or food processing lines and is not of such high quality.  The term ‘meat and animal derivatives’ is a labelling term governed by FEDIAF (15).  This phrase turns up regularly  on dog and cat food packets and can be any part of a category 3 carcass i.e fit for human consumption at the point of slaughter. 

A product with a ‘named animal source’ will be more traceable and allows the pet food manufacturer to encourage good welfare standards from their suppliers.  Protein from a named animal source would also likely be of a better quality and more digestible.  A product stating ‘meat and animal derivatives’ is effectively untraceable.

However, in terms of terms of waste products, it could be argued that the poorer quality ‘meat and animal derivatives’, whilst not ideal in many ways, are perhaps more sustainable in terms of what people will be less likely to eat as the times get harder. 

Although the hooves, feathers hides etc can be (and still are) rendered into protein meal and fed to pets as ‘meat and animal derivatives’, the industry has grown more cautious since rendered animal protein from mixed livestock species was implicated in bse.  Currently in the UK, most of this scrag end of waste from category 3 carcasses is ‘digested’ to generate electricity. 

There are segregation issues when it comes to these materials, which is how animals ended up being fed back to animals of the same species resulting in bse in the first place.  Currently in the UK it’s not deemed possible for the species to be segregated.  It’s crossed my mind as a result of writing this article that if industry were to make efforts to segregate line wastes by species, then this protein could potentially be safer, more sustainable and useful. 

Ingredients of vegetable origin? Plant products are mixed with meat and dehydrated to make wet food and kibble (or without any animal products to produce vegetarian or vegan foods).  These plant products are produced by farming and their benefits or dis benefits to the environment are dependent on the farming techniques used to produce them. Currently vegetables rejected by the supermarkets go to pet foods.  Carbohydrates (potato and grains) used in dog and cat food are also likely be a bi-product of processing for people or grown especially for pet food.

Choices: with this background in mind, lets look at some choices.

Homemade diet: Home cooked diets can be a good option and if carefully researched and shopped for could be very green.  Of course proper formulation and monitoring are crucial.  For example, diets with an imbalance in Calcium and Phosphorous can cause the bones to become so weak they fracture and bend.  If an owner does have the time, money and the will to produce a home-cooked diet for their pet, it is vital they make sure to produce a balanced and nutritionally complete one.  Be aware there are a great deal of misinformation on the web regarding home cooked diets

It should be possible to have personalised nutritional consultations via referral from an owner’s regular vet and there also are websites where you can go to get suggestions: – this website provides an interactive online tool to create and download homemade diets for dogs or cats. The website houses a nutrition library containing a useful collection of articles specifically designed for pet owners. 

Also this website allows owners to generate some recipes for free although for others there is a charge.  Both these websites are run by board-certified veterinary nutritionists.

Commercial foods: commercial pet foods can be served up raw, as kibble or ‘wet’ in tins or pouches amongst other ways.

Raw: most raw feeders feed only raw meat and bones with perhaps some pulped vegetable matter but not much else in the way of carbohydrates.  There are so many raw food companies these days.  It used to be that you had to order a lot at once and keep in your freezer.  There seemed to be a lot of plastic involved and together with the cost of running the freezer, ‘raw’ didn’t always seem to be a green choice (although, to be fair, I could always get ‘natures menu’ in whatever quantity I wanted in simple plastic bag from the pet shop so it never needed to take up much freezer space).  Recently a raw dog food shop opened close to my house so now I have more choice and I can buy as little or much as I want whenever I want.  Some is packaged in cardboard too, thus it becomes a greener choice – there is a wide choice too, from the best cuts to the cheaper cuts.  The cheaper cuts are less likely to displace human food.  Nothing is wasted.  Seemingly everything can dried to use as a treat, from the hooves to the antlers to the ears to the penis!

Kibble: ‘meal’ is the term used for the dehydrated form of an ingredient.  Meat meal is easier to work with than raw meat when making dry food.  The Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association (PFMA)’s definition of meal is “animal by-products that have been heat treated and dried with most of the moisture and the fat removed.  Thus meal provides a concentrated protein source.  This meal is mixed with ingredients of vegetable origin to make dog food kibble or dried cat food.  Fat is added back in after cooking so not damaged by the heat of cooking. 

Burns tell me that it is far better to use a high-quality meal rather than poor quality fresh meat.  Burns also say that whilst there is no reliable information around to show that meal is more digestible than fresh, there is also no information to prove the opposite.  When looking at a pepsin digestion test, which is the standard method to determine protein digestibility, meal and fresh are virtually identical.  Although not mandatory within the petfood industry, Burns carried pepsin digestibility tests of their Burn’s diets and the results suggest that their diets are highly digestible.

Wet: wet food can be just meat or meat and vegetables and meat, carbohydrate and vegetable.  They are usually cooked in the tin, plastic tray or ‘pouch’.  Quality spans the best to the worst.  In terms of packaging, tins are best, as they are the easiest to recycle to make more tins.  Plastic can now be PP5 ‘recyclable’ so there is no longer any need for the unrecyclable pouch!

Vegetarian and vegan foods of course many people understandably can’t bear the exploitation and suffering caused by farming livestock for ‘meat and dairy’ and prefer to be vegetarian or vegan themselves and to feed their pets in this way too.  As already mentioned, the energy conversions of eating a vegetarian or vegan diet are much better than feeding the plant matter to animals and then eating them, potentially making vegetarian and vegan pet foods good options for the environment. 

The first branded vegetarian food for dogs was happidog which came onto the scene in 1980.  Vegetarian and vegan dog and cat foods are made from a combination of grains and legumes, nuts and seeds with soya as a staple.  These plant products are produced by farming and their benefits or dis benefits to the environment are dependent on the farming techniques used to produce them. These foods can be palatable with the likes of nutritional yeast, nori seaweed, vegetable oils and spirulina added for taste.  Although not meat based these diets can be nutritionally bio available for your obligate carnivore cat.

Vegetarian and vegan diets are nutritionally formulated to an ideal, although AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) report that 25% of vegetarian/vegan diets don’t hit this.  The protein used is derived from plants but made bio available for cats and dogs.  There is an issue with taurine as this isn’t present in a vegan diet, however, as we saw earlier, dogs can synthesise this, provided the building blocks are in their diet.  Cats can’t synthesise taurine and taurine taurine in vegetarian and vegan cat foods is synthetic.

Vitamin D is proving to be a challenging nutrient in vegan dog food complete diets. The only approved for pets form of vitamin D as an additive is D3 (cholecalciferol) which is derived from the lanolin of sheep fleeces, and therefore is not vegan. D2 (ergocalciferol) which is derived from plants and was formerly approved for animals (and is still approved for people) was withdrawn and couldn’t be used for pets after July 2019 (16).  At this point, Yarrah withdrew their vegan dog food as they could no longer legally produce it.  The question of where vegan pet food manufacturers are getting their vitamin D needs answering.

Clearly plant-based pet foods are gaining rapid popularity and new brands are developing, A behaviourist colleague of mine, Natalie Light has been involved in some ‘hot off the press’ spring 2021 ‘open access’ pet food manufacturing research explored steps taken by pet food manufacturers to ensure the nutritional soundness and quality of vegetarian and vegan pet foods. It is positive to know that they found good standards overall (17).  It’s heartening  that there are dedicated folk putting the sector under scrutiny.

Although two of the vets I have spoken to describe feeding cats a vegetarian or vegan diet a crime against nature, I believe that vegetarian and vegan pet foods are part of the solution.  In terms of climate change, the favourable energy conversions could make this work.  Vegetarian and vegan foods are unlikely to be the whole answer, partly because the farming that currently produces these are currently mostly bad (of course this could change), but also because a quick assessment of the viability of all humans having a vegan diet (15) suggests that for a world population of 7 billion (like now), a vegan diet (with the rest of the world rewilded) could work for people and nature.  A vegan diet takes a lot of land but with 7 billion people there should be enough land for enough green manure grown in rotation to make this work.  However, if world population increases to 9 billion as projected, we would either go hungry on this diet or wipe out wildlife as there is simply not enough cultivable land. 

‘The Land’ suggests that in order to feed everyone (and probably not our pets at this stage) we need to look at ‘default’ milk and meat – i.e. meat and milk produced around the edge of other cropping.  This default meat and dairy could provide 21gs of protein/day for every human. 

  • One person’s vegan diet generates 129kgs of processing waste/year which could be fed to livestock
  • ruminants grazing on steep slopes where crops can’t grow
  • ruminants grazing on marginal land (18)

There is also potential ‘default’ meat embodied by common species that feed off human crops such as pigeons or for cats – rats!

Left-overs: Traditionally, this would have been how dogs were fed – table scraps. Feeding left-overs has to be one of the least damaging for the environment ways to feed a dog – not so much cats.  Ideally, these left-overs  would be from a healthy human diet. 

It makes sense for people to feed our dogs our waste as we seem to have so much waste food (no reliable statistics but global food waste (food loss and waste FLW) is thought to be roughly 30 percent of all food globally or 1.3 billion tonnes per year (19).  We have always fed our dogs a high proportion of our leftovers.  We eat a mainly vegetarian diet and I’d say it’s pretty healthy.  The dogs get the scraping of the porridge pan most mornings.  I can see that we would eat this if it were necessary but for now the dogs are welcome to it.  Our porridge is freshly prepared and whole grain and it’s transport and packaging have already effectively been ‘paid for’ as the porridge scrapings are ‘waste’ already.  Although this chimes with Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown Holistic guide to a healthy dog it doesn’t chime with Connor Brady – feeding dogs.  Porridge is carbohydrate after all.  Our dogs also get any left-overs from meals and when the fridge gets cleared.  Other than that, they have Burn’s kibble and natures menu tinned meat and plenty of raw meaty bones.  They seem pretty healthy.  Bones are so great.  Total waste product, nutritious, delicious keeps dogs occupied for hours and cleans their teeth.  What’s not to like? 

In the vet the walls often have displays of things that are dangerous for dogs and cats to eat whilst at the same time, the unspoken message is that we should feed our pets commercial dog and cat food.  I can’t help but wonder if the vets are conjuring up business for and supporting commercial dog food as these displays put people off feeding leftovers.  I asked holistic vet, Nick Thompson (who is a very busy man but was really helpful).  He said he has seen real problems in dogs eating grapes and chocolate but that onions are toxic only if consumed in very large quantities in dogs – so yes you can feed that left over bolognaise sauce – in limited quantities. 

An EU funded study “Food for Feed” (N. Passlack, Freie Universitat Berlin) (20) looked making a commercial dog food out left overs to assess the ecological and economic benefits.  The study used dried food residues (dfr) from hotel catering.  Whilst proportions are variable, DFR are relatively high in protein and fat.

No adverse reactions were observed but some dogs failed to maintain weight.  It was thought that the ‘dried food residues’ were essentially too rich, causing some fermentation by the intestinal microbiota.  It was concluded that dried food residues could be used as a potential component of dog food, but would need to be at low inclusion levels (5% or less).

The above study was based on restaurant food, which is unlikely to be as healthy as healthy home cooked diet.  Feeding left-overs has to be a good way to go if your dog tolerates carbs.  Be careful about richness and composition, study the homemade diet sites.  What about eating wholegrains yourselves so that your left overs are better for your dog and thereby improve your own health too!

Burns say while using left-overs could be quite tricky when making a commercial petfood because of the nutritional guidelines we have to meet, treats using leftovers could be a really good idea because they don’t need to be ‘nutritionally complete’.

Local: I couldn’t find much evidence of localism.  My local independent raw food shop hadn’t anything local.  You can sometimes get local bones from local farm shops.  Strikes me that ‘raw’ food could go local quite easily with obvious benefits to the environment.  The local abattoir would be an obvious starting point although, perhaps understandably, abattoirs are unlisted!

New and interesting innovations: there is quite a lot going on!

Insect protein: there are interesting developments in insect based foods both for people and pets.  Insects are efficient converters of plant matter into protein.  Grass hoppers are 20X as efficient at generating protein as cattle because they use less land and food.  They eat 6X less food than cattle, 4X less than sheep and ½ as much as pigs.  They have a good nutritional profile with 100gs of cricket containing 68gms of protein.  They are easy to feed and will eat left overs (whether allowed to feed left overs commercially?)  Easy to kill humanely – freeze and they hibernate and then die (22). 

There are several brands available these days Insectdog, Entomapetfood, Chippin and Wilderharrier.

GreenPetfood of the Netherlands who make ‘insectdog’ told me that they feed the insect larvae with left over food from the local food industry, e.g. sections of canned fruit.  They try to use local suppliers.  This is good.

Nick Thompson keen on grubs larva stage rather than insect stage – more natural for dogs (and cats)

Random thought, if insects are a good source of phosphate, might dog poo complete with concentration of phosphate become more useful?

Someone I spoke to suggested that pet food made from insects wasn’t a waste product and that insects were/should be primarily a human food.

From here going to illustrate using some example brands….I asked several dog and cat food companies for help with this article.  Burns, Yarrah and Natures menu have been super, super helpful.  I asked Waltham if they would help me with their ‘pedigree chum’ brand but they declined.  I asked Tesco and they were happy to relay a couple of questions back to their technical department but it is company policy to not allow direct contact with actual manufacturers and the information I was able to glean was limited.  Green pet foods, manufacturer of insect dog failed to respond to my request for help but they answered my question when I asked as a potential customer through their website.

Burns Natural pet foods: have been really, really helpful!  I have spoken to Emily Boardman over the phone and we’ve been exchanging emails too!  Founded in 1993 by vet John Burns.  Designed as simple foods which are intended to allow the body to function naturally and prevent premature deterioration of the organs.

Sample product: Burns Original Chicken & Brown Rice (kibble). We feed our dogs this.

Brown Rice (67%), Chicken Meal (20%), Oats, Peas, Chicken Oil, Sunflower Oil, Seaweed, Minerals.

Digestibility Although not necessary (yet) within the petfood industry, Burns carried pepsin digestibility tests of their Burn’s diets and the results suggested that the protein they use is highly digestible.

Sourcing and Welfare: Burns source all of their meat, where possible, from UK and Irish farms and promote adherence to farm assurance schemes that achieve good practices in animal welfare. Occasionally, to ensure continuity of supply and consistency in product quality, they will source form EU countries with the equivalent welfare standards.

on top of British/EU animal welfare legislation, Burn’s expect:

  • There will be no genetic engineering or cloning of animals used
  • Live transport of animals should be kept to a minimum. We specify a maximum transport time of 8 hours with a target of less than 4 hours
  • Our suppliers must avoid the close confinement of animals such as the use of cages, sow stalls, farrowing crates, veal crates, and the tethering of animals
  • Our suppliers must avoid routine mutilations wherever possible and in line with animal welfare needs
  • Inhumane slaughter of animals should be avoided
  • Barren living environments should be avoided. For example, we do not source eggs from caged production systems
  • Suppliers should not be reliant on the routine use of antibiotics
  • Substances such as growth promoter hormones will never be used

Burns use super market reject fruit and veg – stockfeed carrots etc  in their recipes.  They use maize grown especially for pet food and potato that is a bi product of human food production.

Other foods: wet and dry dog foods, dry cat food also rabbit guinea pig and chinchilla food

Other environmental innovations of company? Burns chicken supplier runs off 100% renewable energy. The water they remove from the chicken is made into steam that they use for energy!

Packaging: Burns are (just this minute April 2021) abandoning the horrible, unrecyclable ‘pouch’ and changing over to recyclable wet food trays. The wet food factory has had the new equipment installed over the past couple of weeks and is now up and running making new trays. The trays are fully recyclable PP5 plastic and of course, the cardboard sleeves recyclable as well. Unfortunately the film lids are not yet recyclable .

Burns dry food bags are also PP5 plastic and fully recyclable (put out with your hard plastic recycling for kerbside collection).

Natures menu: Were also really, really helpful and I had a long chat with technical manager Richard Hindley.  In East Anglia since 1981.  Owned by Craig Taylor the founders son.

Natures menu were always committed to natural feeding and were early adopters of raw feeding, simultaneously making this way of feeding accessible to pet owners.

Natures menu wet food (in tin): chicken with vegetables: chicken 60% potato 6% carrots 4% peas 2% sunflower oil <1%.  We feed our dogs natures menu tins.

Sourcing and welfare: natures menu take welfare and sources of their ingredients very seriously, although I’m not aware that have welfare standards higher than British and EU legislation?.  They try to source locally where possible.

Natures menu believe that because the animals have lived wild, this represents optimal welfare.  They get wild meat for dog food from managed estates mostly in Europe.  Vets and meat inspectors have to be present at shoots on managed estates making using this source legal.  Interestingly, on these estates where animals are shot, they are gutted where they fall and the guts are left where they fall in the tradition of giving back to the land.  It remains to be seen what will see what happens now with Brexit. 

Natures menu source their rabbits ethically, buying only from specific rabbit farms in Belgium ‘park farmed’ fenced in enriched environment

Natures menu use super market reject fruit and veg – stockfeed carrots etc

Other foods: They make raw and tinned dog food and cat raw cat food and cooked cat food in pouches.  They sell frozen bones.  The frozen bones come loose in a plastic bag.  Not much packaging.  Keep dogs occupied for hours.  These bags of bones are a great resource….

Other environmental innovations of company?

Making a really good effort (and not just superficial) to green their whole operation.  They have installed solar panels on site.

They looked into using ‘line waste’ to generate electricity but it was too expensive.  So it’s passed on to a bio plant to produce energy.  Either way, it goes to generate electricity.

Packaging: They are seriously looking at how best to manage transport and packaging.  As one of the first raw dog food company’s, nature’s menu’s packaging was always quite minimal.  Because it is packed frozen it can go loose in a plastic bag.

They currently use polythene for raw food and tins for wet dog food.  They use pouches for cat food but they are committed to change.  They know cat pouches are a problem and looking into moving away from this. They are thinking about tins for cat food.

Natures variety – pepe mono rather than dual material packaging

Dpd deliveries completely cardboard and recyclable except ice packs but can be drained and recycled as polythene

Yarrah organic and vegetarian dog food: founded in 1992 as the first ever organic dog food.  Based in the Netherlands, all their foods are organic.  Yarrah too have been really, really helpful and I had a meeting with Arthur Hartman (QA manager) and email exchanges.

The vegetarian food is cheap because doesn’t contain pricey meat.  The vegetarian food is Yarrah’s biggest selling product as it is very low in purine (found in meat) and dogs that can’t tolerate purine can manage it.  Other manufacturers sell a vegetarian food as a specialist food for dogs that can’t tolerate purine but they don’t advertise it as vegetarian so that they can charge more for it!

Shelf life of organic food shorter as can’t add chemical preservatives.

Yarrah are accredited as an ethical producer by the good shopper guide. 

Yarrah Vega Organic Baobab & Organic Coconut Oil: Yarrah don’t seem to have actual ingredients by % rather – ‘at a glance’:

  • Free from animal components: vegetarian and vegan recipe without any meat and animal by-products, ideal for allergy sufferers and those with intolerance
  • 100% organic ingredients: exclusively using high-quality, organically-produced ingredients
  • Pure: free from pesticides, chemical additives and GMOs
  • Ideal protein-fat ratio: contains 21% valuable plant proteins and 13% fat
  • Highly digestible protein: from soya beans, maize, seaweed and white lupin
  • Organic Coconut oil: provides additional energy, rich in lauric acid, and great for supporting the immune system and stimulating metabolism
  • Organic Baobab: naturally high in vitamin C, calcium and potassium
  • Organic Seaweed: contains iodine and can improve the immune system, promote gut flora, boost cell metabolism and reduce allergic reactions
  • Balanced nutritional profile: provides all-round support for an active, energetic lifestyle
  • Environmental protection: produced in harmony with nature, free from artificial ingredients and made without animal testing in a way that is kind to the forests

Digestibility: before they stopped making the vegan dog food because could no longer legally source D2, the food had a 93% digestibility using the pepsin test described above.  They sampled Lilies organic meat foods and other brands but nothing beat this level of digestibility.

Sourcing and welfare: Yarrah source all the materials and make up recipe but they get a 3rd party to make actual food.

Arthur Hartman (QA manager) visits supplier, slaughterhouse, farm.  He samples the food himself. It should be good enough to eat.  Yarrah don’t take welfare or quality on face value.  Also being organic and European Yarrah are aware that organic standards (as maintained by national bodies) may vary from country to country.  They visit and adjust accordingly.

They can only make organic chicken kibble and dry cat food as it is only possible to obtain organic chicken meal in Europe.  Pork meal, beef meal etc not available in organic.

Sourcing ethically very important.  Try to source humanely, locally, ecologically and fair trade where this applies. Most of supplies come from within Europe so fair trade doesn’t really apply as Europe has robust employment law etc..    They like to repurpose waste products that don’t currently have a use for example, using the Baobab husk left over from cosmetics production as fibre and vitamin source in the vegetarian kibble.

Use seaweed ecologically gathered on Irish coast.

Other foods: all organic, all cooked, dog and cat, wet and dry.  Wet food in 14oz tins and little aluminium tubs assorted flavours, dry chicken flavour food, vegetarian grain free and with grain.  No vegetarian cat food.  Wet cat food in 14oz tins and little aluminium tubs assorted flavours, chicken flavour dry food, litter, treats

Other environmental innovations of company: Buy green energy, have ground source heat pump and automatic lighting.  The majority of company cars are  electric car.  The company are involved in eco project to have sheep eat an invasive plant relatively near their offices and they donate dog food to feed the herding and flock guarding dogs.  The flocks need guarding because there are wolves prowl the Netherlands again! 

Packaging: I love that Yarrah do big tins of cat food rather than just single cat, single meal un recyclable pouches.  Well done Yarrah! Packaging went fully recyclable in March 2021.

Tesco complete dry food (adult dog with chicken and added vegetables) came into my possession randomly

Composition: Cereals, Meat and Animal Derivatives (21% including 4% chicken in the red kibble*), Derivatives of Vegetable Origin, Oils and Fats, Vegetable Protein Extracts, Minerals, Vegetables (4% peas in the brown kibble**), Various Sugars, Yeasts.

*Red kibble: typically 20% of product

**Brown kibble: typically 20% of product

I contacted the Tesco customer services line and they were very helpful but very limited in the amount of information they were able to give me.  I asked ‘What does the ‘meat and animal derivatives’ mean and the derivatives of vegetable origin’? 

Ross from Tesco rang back to say that ‘meat and animal derivatives’ are legally defined feeding stuff under regulations 2005 animal biproducts (20) and that the %age of named meat was legally binding so as it says 4% chicken on the label the food must contain 4% chicken.

The Feeding Stuffs (England) Regulations 2005 (22) determines what can be made into meal as in the meat and animal derivatives used in the rest which, so long as it’s category 3, anything goes.

Conclusion: one word.  Soil.  We have to stop burning fossil fuels -immediately.  We also need to sequester large amounts of carbon – immediately.  Lots of research (23) has shown that sequestering in soil is the most effective way to safely store carbon.  It also allows us to grow more, better and more nutrient rich food. 

The human species need to share food equally which will involve eating less meat and dairy products.  We also need to produce these products in ways that help the soil live and flourish so that it will sequester carbon.  Whether your pet is vegetarian, vegan or eats a mix of meat and vegetables, the most important thing is how this food is grown.  There’s less point feeding yourself and your dog a vegan diet if the way the food is grown means the soil is being destroyed and leaking carbon out everywhere.  Regenerative agriculture produces yield favourably comparable to conventional farming whilst sequestering soil.  There are people currently looking at the nutrient density of food grown regeneratively and the initial findings are promising (8). Regeneratively grown food can be labour intensive to produce but I believe that are loads of people out there who want to earn their living producing food in this way. Because there is no need to buy inputs, and because this food could be sold locally without the need for much transport and packaging it needn’t be more expensive than what we buy from the supermarket.

If, like people, some dogs digest carbohydrates better than others then it will be better for the environment for these dogs to eat some carbs so long as these carbs have been grown regeneratively.  Carbs make protein go further and it’s clear from what Yarrah found with their digestibility tests, foods of vegetable origin can have very good digestibility.

  • There is certainly a case for smaller dogs (bred for a good temperament) or even as Nick Thompson (holistic vet) suggested, a dog per village/community…
  • Localism – local abattoirs could be providing local ingredients. There could be local raw dog food shops and cooked food shops.
  • Push brands to do environmentally friendly meat range made up from the bits of the carcass that people are less likely to want to compete for such as tripe, brains, viscera etc.
  • Cat food need taurine offal richest source liver – full of taurine high % meat 95-96% meat. Cats need the best bits of the animal.  This could be a problem in a post plenty 1st  Fish guts are probably the most likely waste product that cats could eat in the post plenty 1st world. Cats can be fed a bioavailable vegetarian diet and maybe this is preferential to not having a cat.  I’m still confused.  Go back to hunting?  Rear rats and mice for them to have live prey?  Who knows?
  • Pressure to elucidate labels. ‘digestibility quotient’?
  • Dog food companies publish ‘carbon pawprint’
  • Shouldn’t be over feeding our dogs. People need to be aware of how much they should be feeding and try to reduce overbuying.  It can be a false economy to buy a big bag for example as if you have a small dog it may go off and be wasted. dogs could work again and earn their own food this way
  • Dogs really can eat waste – their stomach acidity is 1.5. I have had dogs who have eaten placenta left in the fields after calves and sheep have been born.  This is highly nutritious food best not wasted.
  • Although we ourselves need to not be buying, cooking and eating too much, inevitably there will be left overs. Feed as much as is healthy and possible to our dogs
  • Further on from this, one could easily make a homemade diet of locally sourced ingredients, but apart from bones, it would be hard to locally source the cuts of meat people don’t routinely eat

I am aware that the companies I spoke to and who helped me are in no way representative of the whole industry and they are probably quite pricey brands but I was very impressed with Natures menu, Yarrah and Burns.  They are all very ethical companies who want to do better.  They all gave me lots of help and support.  They wanted this article to be written to help inform them, pet owners, etc.   They appeared to be businesses that are listening and who care about dogs, cats, their owners the planet not their shareholders and it made me feel hopeful.

Maybe feeding our pets is a 1st world problem and we really will end up eating the dog.  If we end up chewing on hooves and eating pigs heads for Christmas we are the lucky ones and will only have ourselves to blame.

As a result of writing this article I’m already feeding our dogs more raw bones, more left overs, less kibble and I’ll put my name down for ‘scrag end’ tinned meat.


  2. Mintel Group (2019). Pet Food – UK – September 2019., accessed 08 Feb. 2020
  3. 2009 book ‘time to eat the dog? The real guide to sustainable living’ Vale, B and R Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown Holistic guide to a healthy dog
  4. Alexander, P., Berri, A., Moran, D., Reay, D., & Rounsevell, M. D. (2020). The global environmental paw print of pet food. Global Environmental Change,65, 102153.[3]. American Pet Products Association (APPA) (20
  5. Axelsson, E., Ratnakumar, A., Arendt, M.L et al (2013). The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to starch rich diet. Nature 495(7441) 360-364
  6. Freedman, A.H., Gronau, i., Scheizer, R.M et al (2014) genome sequencing highlights the dynamic early history of dogs PLOS genetics 10(8)
  7. Hewson-Hughes, A.k., Hewson-Hughes, V.L., Colyera, A. et al (2013) geometric analysis of macronutrient selection in breeds of domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris Behavioural ecology 24(1) 293- 304
  9. The Land Magazine issue 22 2018
  10. Linda Case, Dr Conor Brady, ‘feeding dogs’ 2021
  11. The Land Magazine issues 22 2018, 24 2019 and 26 2020
  12. The Land Magazine issues 24 2019
  13. George Monbiot ‘Feral’ 2013
  14. The Land Magazine issues 22 2018
  17. Study presented at the Companion Animal Nutrition Conference 2020
  18. The Nutritional Soundness of Meat -Based and Plant -Based Pet Foods Andrew Knight and Natalie Light REDVET Revista electrónica de Veterinaria ISSN 1695 – 7504 Vol 22, No. 1 (2021)
  19. The Land Magazine issues 24 2019
  21. Food for Feed – N. Passlack, Freie Universitat Berlin
  22. The Land Magazine issues 28 2021
  24. Naomi Klein this changes everything


Dr Ian Billinghurst – give a dog a bone

Connor Brady – feeding dogs

Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown Holistic guide to a healthy dog