Reducing the “Paw-Print” of Cats and Dogs

As the effects of humans and our systems become more apparent on their impact of the environments around us (climate change, pollution, extinction, etc.), individuals have taken the initiative to hold themselves accountable and live more sustainable lives. The UCLA Sustainability Committee includes in their definition of sustainability “Sustainable practices support ecological, human, and economic health and vitality”. Whether a person tries to live sustainably by reducing their carbon emissions, living waste free, or shopping organically, there is one factor that impacts our environment greatly that is often overlooked: The environmental impact of our beloved cats and dogs.

Cat’s and Dog’s “Paw-Print”
The United States is the leading country of pet ownership, and according to Gregory S. Okin’s study on cat and dog food consumption Dog and cat animal product consumption is responsible for release of up to 64 ± 16 million tons CO2-equivalent methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gasses (GHGs). This large impact is mostly due to the high meat consumption in cats and dogs. A great way to try and reduce our animal’s impact is to look at their diet and source sustainable pet foods that strive for environmental, social and economic health.

What is the Solution?
There are many diets that owners may choose to feed their pets. On one side of the spectrum you can choose a raw food diet, and on the other end you can choose a vegetarian. There are dry foods, wet foods, and combinations of both. Make sure you always consult with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is healthy. Whatever diet you choose to feed your pet, there are steps everyone can take to reduce the environmental impact of their pet food.

Amount of Pet Food
According to Kelly S. Swanson in her article Nutritional Sustainability of Pet Foods, as of 2013, an estimated of 34% of dogs and 35% of cats in the United States were labeled as overweight or obese. Not only does an animal being overweight and overfed lead to serious health problems, but it also impacts the environment. Maintaining your pet’s weight and feeding them the proper amount for their size cuts back on food waste and reduces your pet’s negative impact. Swanson says that if the percentage of cats/dogs that are overweight/obese were fed the proper amount, it would have a significant impact of the footprint animals contribute to our food systems.

The data at the Association of Pet Obesity and Prevention (APOP) shows that as of 2018, an estimated of 59.5% of cats are overweight/obese and 55.8% of dogs are overweight/obese, showing levels have increased drastically. Reducing these numbers may also reduce their environmental impact. The website also offers guides and calculators to help pet owners determine what is the proper amount to feed their pet.

Where you source pet food
Debbie Phillips-Donaldson in her article on says “According to documented reports received by USDA, more than 57 common pet food ingredients are sourced from supply chains using child labor, while more than 16 have sources using modern forms of slavery.” Paying attention to not only the environmental impacts of pet food but the social impacts as well is just as important in buying sustainable pet food.

Fortunately, there are certifications and labels you can look out for on your pet food that show the consumer the product is not only reducing its impact on the environment but is also sourcing their ingredients ethically.

The USDA offers an organic certification. This certification allows consumers to know mostly about the farming practices that were used when producing ingredients. It focuses on soil health, crops, pest management and even animal and human welfare. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a certification based upon three aspects: Sustainable fish stocks; minimizing environmental impact; and effective management. You can read in more detail about each certification here.



Another great certification to look out for are companies labeled B corporations. B Corporations are “business that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability…”. The first pet food brand to be B Corp certified is Only Natural Pet located in Boulder, Colorado.

Paying attention to labels and other certifications on the packaging on pet food brands can give you insight to their practices and whether the pet food is sustainable or not. Certifications let the consumer know that there are requirements being met by the brands towards sustainability.

In Summary
Pet food is a large contributor in our food systems and to the impact our food systems have on the environment. It is important we bring awareness to this issue to allow us to be aware of our choices and their impact. Not only should individual pet owners strive towards making sure they are purchasing sustainable pet foods, but the pet food industry as a whole should be striving towards the goal of environmental, social and economic health, as they play a huge role in our food systems. Always staying informed and making smart choices as consumers can be first steps to having sustainable systems.

-Posted by Hannah

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