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From VetChef vets and nutritionists

Can fresh food save the planet?

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

Owning a dog is a wonderful experience that has the potential to enrich our lives in immeasurable ways, from the mental health benefits their companionship can bring to the improvements to our physical wellbeing from all those dog walks. However, there is no denying the fact that there are also negative impacts to pet ownership, and in these days of increasing awareness of the perils of climate change, the carbon footprint – or pawprint as it is often known – of our pets is right at the top of the list.

Our dogs’ carbon pawprints are largely related to their diets, with carbon-intensive ingredients such as meat being the main contributing factor, along with processing, packaging, and food miles. It has been estimated that the carbon pawprint associated with owning a medium sized dog is roughly twice that of running a typical SUV car, and the dogs in the USA are responsible for emissions equivalent to 13 million cars, or 64 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

So, as responsible, eco-friendly dog owners, what can we do to tackle this issue? Well, the answer could be to feed more homemade food. Homemade food is intrinsically more eco-friendly than processed foods as there is less energy-intensive processing involved, less oil-based packaging, and less food and product miles.

In addition to these basic CO2 savings, preparing a dog’s food at home means pet parents have the opportunity to move their dogs to a flexitarian or even vegetarian diet without impairing their nutritional wellbeing. And this can have a massive impact on the overall carbon pawprint of a dog; for example, research here at VetChef has shown that there is a more than 20-fold difference in carbon emissions related to the lowest and highest home-cooking recipes on the platform.

At the top of list is ‘Spring lamb & greens’ (shown above) which has a whopping 17 kg of CO2 associated with 1,000 kcal meal (the daily average for a typical 16kg dog), while ‘Lentil & spinach dahl’ has a mere 0.8kg. In general, as you might expect, recipes with a lot of red meats tend to have much higher in carbon pawprints, and those without meat, or with fish are much less carbon intensive.

For comparison, it’s estimated that dried pet foods will have a CO2 footprint of between 2 and 10 kg per 1,000kcal depending on their meat content and country of origin – but the increasingly popular meat-rich frozen meals will be significantly more carbon intensive than even the meatiest homemade recipe due to the additional impact of processing, freezing and transport.

So, it’s clear that making informed choices about the foods we feed our dogs can make a significant difference to their environmental impact – and the flexibility of feeding a homemade diet is key to making these choices as easy as possible. Just including one or two low-carbon homemade meals in your dog’s diet every week could cut a significant percentage off their carbon pawprint – and with My VetChef looking after their nutritional wellbeing, there’s no need to worry about them missing out on any of the nutrients they need for their long-term health.

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