Cats are beloved pets for many people, but their impact on the environment has long been a concern. The hunting of native birds and wildlife populations is well-documented, but another way in which cats may be affecting the environment is due to their food.
It’s widely known that cats are obligate carnivores, and their meals must be made up of mostly meat. Unfortunately, meat has one of the most significant environmental footprints of all foods. Some estimates suggest that animal agriculture accounts for up to 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and dogs and cats together are said to be responsible for 25%¬–30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States.
While wet food has long been promoted as the best option for felines, it turns out that it results in eight times more climate-heating emissions than dry food. Since wet food is primarily made up of meat, it’s not surprising that its impact would be more devastating.
In a recent study, the environmental impact of the ingredients of wet, homemade, and dry food diets was analyzed, taking into account greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use, and pollution resulting from production. Wet foods had the biggest environmental impact, homemade foods were somewhere in between, and dry foods had the least impact.
As a cat owner, what can you do to help minimize your feline’s impact on the environment? An increasing number of companies are producing ethical or sustainable cat food, meaning that the food production process and the product itself cause little to no harm to the environment. This includes meat ingredient sources that are labeled as free-range, naturally fed, dolphin safe, or sustainably fished and grown. The carbon footprint of production also needs to be considered, including transportation and packaging (recyclable materials like tin being ideal).
Cat litter, toys, bedding, and cat trees are all available in environmentally responsible options. Another option is to make food at home for cats, which allows owners to choose the best, locally-produced meats possible. However, this can be tricky nutrition-wise, and it is recommended to get a veterinary nutritionist to formulate a diet plan, especially for cats with special dietary needs.
Even organic cat foods still contain meat byproducts that are unlikely to be eaten by humans. These products, often referred to as offal, are typically organ meats that contain high amounts of nutrients and minerals. Meat-based proteins from lower in the food chain, such as poultry and fish (especially sustainably caught wild fish), also have a lower carbon footprint than beef or lamb.
Alternative protein options are becoming more prevalent in the pet food market. Fly larvae, crickets, and other insects are promising sustainable protein alternatives that require less food, water, and landscape for their production than any conventional farm animals. According to Dr. Paola Cuevas, a veterinarian at Excited Cats, “Alternative insect proteins are yet to be studied as a long-term feeding basis for cats, but they are definitely a much more sustainable food source that we should be considering as a promising solution to this big problem.”
The impact of cat food on the environment is not something that should be ignored. There are ways to reduce your cat’s impact on the environment, such as purchasing sustainable cat foods wherever possible. The more customers show a desire for these types of products, the more manufacturers will answer the call. As Dr. Lorna Whittemore BVMS, a veterinarian at Excited Cats, states, “There are many ways we can incorporate environmentally conscious decisions into caring for cats.” By making informed decisions about what we feed our pets, we can make an impact on the environment.