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Paws for the Planet: Why Plant-Based Diets for Dogs Are Better for the Planet

Paws for the Planet: Why Plant-Based Diets for Dogs Are Better for the Planet

In an exciting study published in October 2023, veterinarian and professor Andrew Knight set out to determine the environmental impacts of pets, specifically dogs and cats, relative to humans. His findings not only confirm what has been previously demonstrated by geographer and professor Gregory Okin regarding the environmental impact of companion dogs and cats, but also sheds light on the potential of plant-based diets for dogs, and how making this switch can significantly benefit the planet.

Animal Consumption by Pets

The environmental impacts of the livestock sector are directly proportional to consumption levels. When examining the dietary energy needs of dogs, cats, and humans within the United States, it was discovered that dogs and cats consume just under a quarter of the amount of energy that humans do, but over one third of the animal-derived energy. This makes dogs and cats significant consumers of livestock animals. In the USA alone, dogs and cats consume 20% of average livestock animals. 

Environmental Impacts of Pets

Through their animal-based diet, dogs and cats constitute between one quarter and one third of the environmental impacts of animal production, in terms of land and water use, fuel consumption and environmental contaminants and toxins. The consumption of animal products by dogs and cats can be considered to be responsible for the release of up to 64 million tons of greenhouse gases. 

Transition to Plant-based Diets

A striking conclusion from Knight's study was that a full transition to nutritionally-sound plant-based diets for dogs and cats would spare billions of terrestrial and aquatic animals from slaughter each year. In the US, transitioning pets to plant-based diets would save about 2 billion terrestrial animals annually. On a global scale, transitioning dogs and cats to plant-based diets would spare about 7 billion animals.

The advantages of plant-based diets for pets go beyond sparing animals from slaughter. When considering environmental impacts on land and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, acidifying and eutrophying gases, and the use of biocides, the study showed that substantial impact reductions were associated with plant-based diets for dogs and cats. For instance, transitioning to plant-based diets would free up land larger than the areas of Saudi Arabia or Mexico for dogs, while cats would free up land equivalent to Japan or Germany. 

In terms of water use, such diets would save freshwater volumes greater than all renewable freshwater in Denmark for dogs and Jordan for cats. Regarding greenhouse gas reductions, the benefits were significant, exceeding the emissions of entire nations such as South Africa or the UK for dogs, Israel or New Zealand for cats.

While the benefits of transitioning to plant-based diets were most pronounced for humans, being as we are the largest consumers of animals on the planet, transitioning dogs and cats still had a substantial positive impact. In the USA, the benefits of transitioning dogs to plant-based diets represented around one-quarter to one-third of the benefits achievable through human dietary change. 

This research highlights that a significant portion of the environmental impacts of the livestock sector may be attributed to meat-based pet food. The impact of pet food should not be underestimated when considering the environmental effects of diets. On the contrary, substantial benefits for environmental sustainability could potentially be realized by adopting nutritionally-sound plant-based diets for pets, in addition to people. 

Transitioning dogs to plant-based diets can not only benefit their health and well-being but also contributes to a greener, more sustainable planet. As responsible pet owners, choosing plant-based diets for our dogs can have a positive impact on the environment and align with the global call for climate action. Making the switch to plant-based diets for our furry companions is a step in the right direction for a sustainable future.



Knight A. (2023) The relative benefits for environmental sustainability of vegan diets for dogs, cats and people. PLoS ONE

Okin, G (2017) Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats. PLoS ONE 12(8),