It has to be said that quite a bit has changed in the way we feed our dogs since writing the sustainable petfood article. Apart from anything else, Rover died in the summer of 2021. He had cancer and he was only 10. There has been increasing evidence that that vegan/vegetarian complete diets (1) promote better health and longevity than the meat versions. Whilst I fully believe that vegetarian and vegan diets have their place, I remain unconvinced that this is the whole story and that feeding vegetarian or vegan rather than a meat based diet is healthier per se. I completed ‘the Science Dog’ nutrition course (2) in 2021 and had it confirmed that meat proteins are damaged in the production of complete meat diets. I believe that damaged meat proteins in complete foods are likely to be a considerable contributing factor in the reduced life expectancy of dogs in recent years. It is oft cited that Golden Retrievers used to live up to 17 years whereas now the average life expectancy of a Retriever is 10!
Although Rover had a very varied diet, complete meat kibble was a major part of it. Now we no longer feed a complete meat kibble.
When it comes to the grain and vegetable portion of diet, whether it be vegan, veggie or part of a meat based kibble, as per my pet food article, how sustainable it is all depends upon how the food is grown. I’m getting increasingly annoyed with the papers, radio programmes and articles that I am reading about how vegan and vegetarian is always better for the environment than meat (3). Most of these articles are very shallow and they only look at meat produced by intensive, modern agriculture which is inhumane, energy intensive and environmentally damaging. These articles also seem to dwell on the fact that pet foods are made from human grade meat, all meat used in pet foods is human grade in Europe (and currently still in the UK) and but tends to use the parts of the animal that humans don’t currently eat – although I agree that any trend towards feeding pets the better cuts is not good. Many animals reared for meat are kept indoors and fed on grain which is in turn produced using unsustainable methods. Undoubtedly, a vegetarian diet produced regeneratively (i.e. grown with no chemicals and with the soil covered) would be better for the planet than an intensively farmed meat diet because the energy conversions are more efficient – energy is lost turning plants into meat rather than eating the plants direct. Unfortunately, industrial arable agriculture is based around ploughing, bare soil, pesticides and artificial fertiliser (which are oil based) and although organic arable farming is much better, it still involves intensive inputs of manure from livestock (or large areas of land under green manures) to maintain fertility making it inherently tied into livestock farming (or requiring large amounts of land devoted to maintaining fertility if manure isn’t used). In addition, it generally requires bare soil to sow into and carbon oxidises from bare soil and contributes to climate change. Meanwhile, the UK is very well suited to grazing, especially in upland areas as we have high rainfall and grow grass very well indeed, whereas not all arable crops, such as wheat, are easy to grow in most of the UK without high levels of inputs. I can hear myself sounding like a committed carnivore but I have been vegetarian for much of my life and mostly still eat vegetarian, but as discussed in the previous article, there is plenty of parts of the animal that humans don’t (currently) eat and at this point in history it seems pragmatic that waste meat from the human food stream (ideally regeneratively farmed) make up at least some of the diet.
So what do we feed our dogs? Whilst I’m not a committed raw feeder and unlike many committed raw feeders, I believe dogs to be quite capable of digesting carbohydrate (they are not wolves and have 7X the genes that produce amylase enzymes than the wolf), we currently feed our dogs ‘paleoridge’ raw dog food produced from waste from the human food stream. Although not exclusively organic, it claims to be outdoor reared making for good welfare and where beef or lamb based, grass fed. It is also totally packaged in paper which is fully compostable – and that’s what we do. If you read my recycling article you will see that paper packaging isn’t necessarily the best for the environment, if recycled in a fully circular system then plastic might be better. Although as you will also see, recycling in these islands isn’t fully circular if indeed it even happens at all, and anyway, I can’t cope with even more plastic waste! I get the paleoridge from a local small business where Spot goes for her hydrotherapy. In this way, we support a local business and I’m already travelling there. I only get a small amount at a time so it doesn’t take up too much freezer space and therefore use so much electricity. We also feed the dogs nature’s menu raw bones which we get from a local pet shop. Bones are definitely part of the waste stream still (although people could be using them to make broth and soup).
We also feed left overs, this has to be the best for the environment. Whether or not left overs are best for dogs depends on what you eat! Most of we eat is vegetarian and organic including our (4 grain all organic la di da) porridge which makes up a substantial part of our dogs’ diet. It’s occured to me just now whilst writing this that collecting food waste from some of our neighbours could be another way to go – we had a neighbour who dropped her veg peelings on our doorstep for the guineapigs for years until sadly they moved away! When we don’t have many left overs (especially since our daughter started uni last year), where I used to feed a meat based complete, I now feed ‘mixer’. This is what we used to feed dogs in the 1970’s and 80’s (when Golden retrievers lived til they were 17), before ‘completes’ became the ‘thing’. Mixer isn’t a complete food and whilst it is a processed food, it’s essentially vegetarian and doesn’t contain meat proteins damaged by the production process. We’re feeding Burns mixer which isn’t organic. It’s made of brown rice, oats, peas. This is a different composition to the wheat based ‘Winalot’ and ‘Bonio’ types which are similar to the mixers we fed in the 70’s and 80’s. The Burns packaging is also recyclable, although, as per my packaging article, not in a fully circular economy. I’m tending to alternate the Burns mixer with the Yarrah organic vegetarian complete kibble. My concern here is that it’s more highly processed than the Burns mixer and I have to buy it on-line (which I tend not to enjoy). It’s imported from the Netherlands. It is packaged in polythene which I can recycle by dropping it off at my local coop.
We all have to make choices based on the best information that we have available – which is why I’m writing these articles. This is the current choice we are making. I’m aware that it’s quite a pricey choice (both in financial and planetary terms) but unfortunately eating well is pricey. We try not to waste food and therefore don’t generate that much in the way of leftovers, apart from the porridge which is healthy and cheap and in our case, plentiful because my husband is a bit of a ‘goldilocks’ and rejects it fairly frequently!
I would happily feed a good quality tinned meat (‘Natures Menu’ for example or even ‘Butchers Tripe’) as the tins are easy to recycle and the meat relatively unprocessed – tinned meats being simply cooked in the tin. Although it’s not fashionable to feed wheat, old fashioned mixer biscuits like Winalot would suit plenty of dogs and are cheaper than what I feed. If I were to feed exclusively vegetarian then I would choose an organic complete like the Yarrah. The main benefit that I can see of feeding raw meat is that it provides enzymes that the dogs wouldn’t otherwise be getting.
I’ve not experimented myself but think that feeding insects and also constituting foods from fungi such as koji fungi (wild earth) are potentially interesting (4) for the future…
- Gregory S. Okin Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats 2017 http://doi.org/10 1371/ journal.pone.0181301 2017
- Pet food is an environmental disaster – are vegan dogs the answer? Guardian? BST holly ganz