Pets should be fed vegan diets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the meat industry, a study has suggested.
The production of meat-based dog food generates more greenhouse gases than the UK’s total output, while emissions from cat food are on a par with the amount created by Israel, according to scientists from Griffith University in Australia.
Globally, nearly 10 per cent of livestock consumption goes into pet food, contributing emissions from methane, as well as water use and deforestation, researchers said.
“This study shows environmental benefits when vegan diets are used to feed not just people, but dogs and cats as well,” said Andrew Knight, the study author.
“However, to safeguard health, it’s important that people feed only vegan pet food labeled as nutritionally complete, produced by reputable companies with good standards.”
The research was funded by the Food System Research Fund, a non-profit organisation dedicated to eliminating animals from the global food system, and Wild Earth, a company which makes vegan pet food.
The majority of pet food sold in the UK is made from byproducts from meat production, although it is fit for human consumption, according to the British Veterinary Association (BVA).
Whether or not eliminating pet food from the supply chain would have a direct impact on livestock numbers would depend on a number of factors. This includes the value of pet food sales to livestock producers, and whether there are other markets for the by-product.
‘Increasing interest’ in vegan diets
There have been several studies in recent years on the impact of vegan diets on dogs and cats, although none on a major scale.
While dogs are omnivores, cats are obligate carnivores, as meat provides them with the essential nutrient taurine, which they do not naturally produce.
In recent years taurine supplements have been developed, and vegan pet food is sold with taurine as an ingredient.
A recent study also led by Mr Knight, based on a survey of 1,369 cat owners, found around 9 per cent fed their pets a meat-free diet.
Owners reported better health outcomes for cats on vegan diets, although all but one of the differences found were not considered to be statistically significant.
Mr Knight said it would be desirable to have large-scale studies into the potential benefits, including with bloodwork analysis and veterinary clinical examination results, but added not enough funding had been made available yet.
The BVA has recently said it would review the role of vegan diets in pet health, after previously advising against them.
“There is increasing interest amongst pet owners around alternative diets for pets and whilst there is a lot of ongoing research into the impacts of vegan diets in particular, there has been a lack of robust data mapping the health consequences of this diet over time,” Justine Shotton from the BVA said.
“In light of ongoing research, the British Veterinary Association recently convened a companion animal feeding working group which will inform our recommendations going forward.
“In the meantime, owners should speak to their vet if they are considering changing their pet’s diet.”
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.