Cats and the Environment – What’s the Most Climate-friendly Cat Food?
Cats have a significant impact on the environment, namely, hunting native birds and wildlife populations in startling numbers. However, there may be an even more significant way in which cats are affecting the environment, and it’s due to their food.
Most experts agree that while wet food has long been touted as the best option for felines, it turns out that wet food results in eight times more climate-heating emissions than dry food. As cats are obligate carnivores, their meals must be made up of mostly meat, and according to stats, meat has one of the most significant environmental footprints of all foods.
According to some estimates, animal agriculture accounts for up to 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and dogs and cats together are said to be responsible for 25%¬–30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States.
Since wet food is made up primarily of meat, it’s easy to see why its impact would be so much more devastating.
In a recent study, the environmental impact of the ingredients of wet, homemade, and dry food diets was analyzed, including factors such as emissions of greenhouse gases, land, and water use, and pollution resulting from production. Wet foods had the biggest environmental impact, homemade foods were somewhere in between, and dry foods the least—by a significant margin. And of course, none of this considers factory production, packaging, and transportation.
So, as a cat owner, how does one avoid this?
More and more companies are turning toward “ethical” or “sustainable” cat food, meaning the food production process and the product itself causes little to no harm to the environment. This includes meat ingredient sources that are labeled as free-range, naturally fed, dolphin safe, or sustainably fished and grown. The carbon footprint of production also needs to be taken into account, including transportation and packaging (recyclable materials like tin being ideal).
Excitedcats.com veterinarian Dr. Lorna Whittemore BVMS, recommends other ways to help make your cat climate-friendly: “There are many ways we can incorporate environmentally conscious decisions into caring for cats. Food choice does play a large part, but cat litter, toys, bedding, and cat trees are all available in environmentally responsible options now.”
Of course—and thankfully—many of the products used in cat food are products that humans would be unlikely to eat, often referred to as “offal”. While even organic foods still contain this ingredient, they are still a great option as they are typically organ meats, which contain high amounts of nutrients and minerals. Meat-based proteins from lower in the food chain are also good options. Poultry and fish (especially sustainably caught wild fish) have a far lower carbon footprint than beef or lamb.
Another veterinarian at Excited Cats, Dr. Paola Cuevas, says that alternative protein options are also becoming more and more of a reality. “Fly larvae, crickets, and other insects are promising sustainable protein alternatives, both for human and pet foods. Insects have a fast time to maturity and a high reproduction rate; they require less food, less water, and less landscape for their production compared to any of the conventional farm animals.”
She also mentions issues with food consumption by livestock. “Cattle require 12 times more food than cricket to produce a pound of product. Chicken and pork require at least double the amount of food than crickets. While alternative insect proteins are yet to be studied as a long-term feeding basis for cats, this is definitively a much more sustainable food source that we should be considering as a promising solution to this big problem.”
Lastly, making food at home for cats may be an option, as owners can choose the best, locally-produced meats possible. However, this gets very tricky nutrition-wise, and it’s recommended to get a veterinary nutritionist to formulate a diet plan for you. This is especially true for cats with special dietary needs.
While pets may play a significant role in negatively affecting the environment, there are things owners can do to play their part. Purchasing sustainable cat foods wherever possible is a great start, and the more customers show a desire for these kinds of products, the more manufacturers will answer the call.