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Switching dogs and cats to vegan diets would help the Earth tremendously

While several studies have highlighted the ramifications of livestock farming for human consumption, a new study brings attention to a less-discussed realm. What are the environmental implications of meat-based foods that we feed our beloved pets, and how would the Earth benefit if our dogs and cats switched to vegan diets?

As the urgency for sustainability grows, consumers are becoming more conscious of their dietary choices and the environmental footprints they leave behind. The livestock industry, notoriously linked with large-scale land usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and overconsumption of freshwater, has long been scrutinized for its adverse environmental impact. New research brings attention to this issue, but from a slightly different perspective.

Eye-opening findings

The study, led by Andrew Knight from Griffith University, Australia, breaks new ground in the sustainability discourse. Knight’s analysis suggests that converting all cats and dogs, either in the US or globally, to a vegan diet – one without meat, dairy, or eggs – could have profound positive environmental outcomes.

The immediate question that arises is whether vegan diets are safe for pets. Recent research affirms that nutritionally sound vegan diets for cats and dogs not only are safe, but may also be healthier when compared to conventional meat-based diets.

Potential positive impact: By the numbers

Using pet population data from 2020 (for the US) and 2018 (for global estimates), along with insights from a myriad of prior studies and governmental databases, Knight painted a hypothetical yet illuminating picture:

  1. The livestock consumed by US dogs and cats stands at about one fifth of the consumption by humans. Globally, this figure drops to one tenth.
  2. The hypothetical adoption of vegan diets by all US dogs and cats could prevent the slaughter of close to 2 billion land-based livestock animals every year. On a global scale, this number could shoot up to almost 7 billion. Furthermore, billions of aquatic animals could also be spared.
  3. Significant conservation of resources could be achieved. For example, the global shift of all dogs to vegan diets might free up land equivalent to the size of Saudi Arabia. Cats, if they were to follow suit, could save a land area as vast as Germany. For context, if humanity at large adopted veganism, land larger than Russia and India combined could potentially be conserved.
  4. The shift could also yield drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. To draw a parallel, a global shift in dog diets could reduce emissions equivalent to the total emissions of the UK. For cats, the equivalent is that of Israel.

Assumptions and caveats

As promising as these numbers seem, Knight brings a balanced perspective by pointing out potential underestimations and assumptions. The pet population and energy requirements used in the study may actually be conservative. This implies that the real-world environmental benefits could be even more substantial.

However, the study does ride on certain assumptions. For one, the global calculations were predominantly based on US dietary ingredient data, neglecting potential variations in ingredients between nations.

Moreover, the environmental impact data hails from between 2009 to 2011. More recent data might paint a different (possibly more accurate) picture. Knight also highlighted the need for future research to focus on the specific energy density of various animal-sourced ingredients. He used the broad averages in this study.

Switching your dogs and cats to vegan diets

While Knight’s research unequivocally underlines the environmental merits of vegan diets, he cautions pet owners about the health implications. For those considering this route, he stresses the importance of choosing vegan pet food that is labeled as nutritionally complete. It should also be sourced from trustworthy companies with high standards.

In an era where sustainability is not just a buzzword but a dire necessity, such studies carve pathways for more conscious living. The ripple effect of our dietary choices, whether for us or our pets, is vast. Knight’s analysis offers food for thought in our collective journey towards a greener planet.

The full study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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