by Rose Springer
As we all become more aware of our impact on the planet, efforts to go green have crept into many aspects of both corporate and individual decision-making -- from how to package products to what kind of soap to buy. It is no surprise, then, that dog owners have become more interested in feeding their pets in environmentally responsible ways.
"I think for all my clients, sustainability takes a backseat to nutrition," says Dr. Patricia Joyce, a veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners. "With that said, most pet owners would love to make ethical environmental choices in all aspects of their lives, including what they feed their dogs."
The pet food industry is responding to this desire. In a recent industry survey conducted by the trade magazine Petfood Industry, 62 percent of respondents reported believing that consumers value sustainability and cited consumer demand as one key reason for their operations adopting green practices. Below, Joyce and Virginia-based emergency veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson weigh in on balancing your dog's nutritional requirements with environmental responsibility -- and what else you can do to protect the planet while caring for your pooch.
Dog Nutritional Needs
While a vegetarian diet has less of an impact on the environment than one that includes animal proteins, Joyce and Nelson stress that dogs are omnivorous in the wild and should remain so in your home. "Animal protein is an essential source of vitamins, minerals and amino acids for dogs," says Nelson. "You can do research and find a dog food you feel good about -- say one that uses cage-free chickens. But it's neither fair nor healthy to force a vegetarian diet on your dog."
Keeping that in mind, certain animal food sources do leave less of an environmental footprint. For example, because of a chicken's relatively small size, transporting it "from farm to fork" results in a substantially smaller amount of greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation of beef does. Not unrelated, due to overfishing, some sea-dwellers have become better environmental choices than others. The World Wildlife Fund lists these fish, and a little research can go a long way in deciding which fish-based commercial food to feed your dog.
Though less publicly considered, even the farming of produce has its environmental costs, and as such, there is increasing interest in pulse crops -- crops such as peas, lentils and garbanzo beans -- which derive their own nitrogen fertilizer from the air, requiring less fossil fuel to grow, and releasing less carbon dioxide into the air. Environmentally aware pet owners might look for foods that count these pulse crops among their fiber sources ("Not as their protein source," reminds Joyce) to guide their selection of food.
Other Ways to Help the Environment
"At the end of the day, the goal is to feed your pet the best-quality food," says Nelson. "If that's beef, then it's beef. You can try to reduce your environmental footprint in other ways that don't negatively impact your dog's well-being. Ride your bike rather than drive. Recycle." And use the Web to start researching the following nonfood aspects of your pet's kibble company:
Look for companies that use renewable or recycled materials for their packaging. For example, some dog food now comes in resealable plastic bags that can be returned to the grocery store for recycling after use.
Some commercial pet food makers have made public commitments to using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power. Look for these commitments, as well as manufacturing plant Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Corporate philanthropy often supports green causes. Pet food manufacturers in North America are involved with all sorts of philanthropic programs -- from dedicating a percentage of their profits to supplying clean water to children, to supporting local conservation efforts.
With the pet food industry coming on board to support a whole host of changes that are environmentally friendly, dog owners can feel more optimistic about reducing their best friends' carbon paw prints.
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Pets | Dogs: How You and Your Dog Can Go Green