QUEENSLAND, Australia — Can you imagine switching your pup to an all-vegan diet? It will likely take Fido some time to adjust, but it may be worth the hassle for the good of the environment. That’s the main conclusion coming from researchers at Griffith University. They estimated a variety of potential environmental benefits that could result from switching all pet dogs and cats in the United States (or the world) to nutritional, vegan diets.
It’s no secret that the livestock industry has a major impact on the environment due to all of the land and freshwater consumption and pollutant emissions it entails. However, while prior projects have focused on the impact of livestock in relation to human diets, very few studies have stopped to consider the dietary role of our pet cats and dogs. Meanwhile, other recent research indicates a nutritionally sound vegan diet (no meat, eggs, dairy) is indeed safe for dogs and cats, and may even hold “comparable healthfulness” in comparison to meat-based diets.
With all that in mind, Prof. Andrew Knight set out to calculate a series of estimates regarding the potential benefits of a hypothetical scenario in which all cats and dogs in the United States, or globally, switched over to vegan diets. To accomplish this, he made use of pet population data from 2020 for the U.S. and a 2018 dataset pertaining to worldwide estimates. The study included numerous prior studies and governmental databases as well.
Estimates show the amount of livestock consumed by dogs and cats in the U.S. is about one-fifth of that consumed by humans and about one-tenth globally. So, if all American dogs and cats suddenly started eating vegan, according to these estimates, close to two billion land-based livestock animals wouldn’t have to be slaughtered annually. That statistic jumps to seven billion if all cats and dogs around the world go vegan — and that’s not even counting the billions of aquatic animals that would also be spared.
The study also reveals a major pet diet switch would result in significant potential reductions in land and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, use of biocides, and emissions of other pollutants. More specifically, if all dogs went vegan it could free up an area of land larger than Saudi Arabia. If all cats did the same, it would free up an area of land larger than Germany. For comparison’s sake, if all humans went vegan as well an amount of land larger than Russia and India combined could be saved. All dogs going vegan would lead to an estimated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions greater than the amount of all emissions attributed to the United Kingdom, and for cats, in Israel.
Prof. Knight adds that the pet population and animal energy requirement data used for these estimates may have underestimated the true numbers. So, the real environmental benefits of vegan diets may be even better. Still, the researcher also cautions that the calculations required certain assumptions. Ultimately, more research is warranted to reinforce these findings.
For example, the analysis applied U.S. data on numerous diet ingredients to the global calculations, as opposed to accounting for national differences across ingredients. Data from 2009 through 2011 was also used to estimate environmental impacts, which means more recent data may have resulted in different estimates. Instead of averaging across ingredients, future studies could incorporate data pertaining to the actual energy density of different animal-sourced ingredients.
“This study shows environmental benefits when vegan diets are used to feed not just people, but dogs and cats as well. 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,” researchers write in a media release.
The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.
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