Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen a shift away from highly processed, extruded kibble to real, whole pet foods with recognizable ingredients.
Even though pet food is more highly regulated than human food, we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to providing pet owners with meaningful labels and confidence in marketing terms – how many times have you found yourself staring down the pet food aisle wondering what exactly all those labels mean? And if the health benefits manufacturers claim are true?
When it comes to better health for your pet, I think spending more for better nutrition is money well spent. And when it comes to choosing what we feed our pets, we must also consider the impact our pets have on our planet’s resources.
Drs. Robert and Brenda Vale, professors at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and authors of Time to Eat the Dog calculated that it takes two acres of farm land to feed a medium-sized dog each year. Because cats need to eat more protein than dogs, that figure may even be higher for them. If it takes two acres to feed my dog, Sandy, I want to make sure we’re using that land as wisely as possible.
Here is my prescription for purchasing pet foods that satisfy both your pet’s nutritional needs and the health of our planet:
Rx 1: Go organic whenever possible. Until we get meaningful definitions for organic pet foods, we can rely on the human definitions. By feeding organic foods, you’re telling the pet food industry you’re concerned about what goes into your pet’s food bowl. More importantly, you’re not contributing to the toxic tactics of adding hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and dangerous fertilizers to our food supply.
Rx 2: Read the label. If you see a lot of meat “by-products” or ingredients that sound like a chemistry experiment on your pet’s food label, ask why? Not all by-products and strange-looking additives are bad but many are often the result of factory farming techniques. Vote with your pocketbooks and send the message that change is needed.
Rx 3: Contact the company. Perhaps the simplest and most effective way to be heard is to say something. Call or email your pet food manufacturer and ask where and how do they obtain their proteins? Where does the wheat or corn come from and how is it processed? Do they have a sustainability mission and what are they doing to ensure that the animals used in their foods are treated humanely? When food companies receive queries such as this, they change. After all, they want our business. Give your hard-earned money to companies you trust and believe in and those truly helping pets and our planet.
Rx 4: Make smaller paw prints. By feeding a food with more nutrients and calories per cup or can, you’ll feed less, thereby reducing your pet’s nutrient footprint. Feeding less also means your pet produces less biological waste, further shrinking their environmental impact.
Rx 5: Explore alternative protein sources. According to experts, fish-based diets have less eco-impact than beef, pork or chicken. Don’t be afraid to experiment with protein sources other than the “typical three.”
The choices we make for our pets impact not only their well-being, but the health of our planet. Organic certainly is the way I choose to go for my family and pets. Regardless of your opinions or beliefs on this subject, I encourage every pet lover to take a good look at what you pour into the pet bowl each day. Pets don’t get to choose what they eat; they depend on us to make healthy decisions for them. Whatever you choose, remember – they’re counting on you.