Dog food was originally enough to turn your stomach. Consisting of ingredients — mostly animal parts — considered unfit for people, it hardly suggested the potential for a multi-billion industry. How things — and diets — change.
These days the pet food market in the U.S. alone is valued at $42 billion. And it’s estimated about one-fifth of all meat and fish consumed globally goes to our animal companions. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t cause for concern — especially with reports of dog food tainted by pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. Even worse? Just a few years ago, one brand of dog food was shown to contain a euthanasia drug. Why? Because the “food” contained the remains of euthanized animals.
So, is it any wonder that the market for healthier — and even vegan — food for dogs and cats is exploding? Just as more people are aware of what they’re consuming, they’re also rethinking what they’re putting into their pet’s dish. And the big brands have taken notice with traditional pet food makers adopting meat-free or vegan options. Meanwhile, there is no shortage of start-ups looking to take advantage of the burgeoning market. How much is it all worth? According to Future Market Insights, the worldwide vegan dog food market was valued at more than $12 billion in 2021. And the vegan cat food market was worth more than $10 billion.
It makes perfect sense then, that in the U.S. there should be a day devoted to cooking for your animal companion: November 1, otherwise hailed as National Cook for Your Pets Day. At SaltyLama, we believe in treating the planet and all its species with respect and care. Our eco-friendly detergent strips, for example, are produced without animal testing — and the chemical-free, plant-based formula means it is safe for everyone in your household, including your furry friends. So, it’s only natural we also want your pets to be fed healthily and happily in the most eco-friendly way possible. Here then, are a few facts and tips you should know:
3 trending meat alternatives
Unfortunately, as the pet food industry has kept up with demands for more natural, healthier options, its carbon footprint has increased. More human-quality food, after all, requires more human-quality — and intensive — production. Is it possible to balance food quality with environmental concerns? Three alternative sources of protein suggest … maybe:
- Insects: Yes, bugs. Insect protein is already a well-publicized alternative for people. So why not their pets, too? The major brands have taken note, incorporating insects into their products, while start-ups devoted entirely to creepy crawlers are banking on bugs as big business.
- Clean meat: Also known as cultivated meat, this is bona-fide animal meat reproduced in a lab from a single cell harvested from a living animal. Not only is the meat free from pesticides and other toxins, but it means no animals were slaughtered to make it.
- Meatless meat: If you’ve ever tried “Beyond Meat” or “Impossible” burgers, you know what “meatless” means: plant-based protein that mimics the flavor of the real thing. The ingredients vary — some companies use soy while others use pea protein — but the goal is to replicate the bloodiness of biting into real meat without harming either animals or the planet.
All of which suggests intriguing possibilities for the future of pet food. But regardless of what breakthroughs or trends emerge — and however healthier they may sound for your pet and the planet — there are other considerations to make, too.
5 tips to ensure a healthy, sustainable diet
First and foremost: before you make any changes to your pet’s diet, consult with your veterinarian. Even minor adjustments can have consequences. And if you are thinking of switching them to a vegan diet, there’s a lot to weigh. That’s because you need to ensure your pet receives all the necessary vitamins and minerals. As much as we like to think otherwise, animals are simply different than humans. Cats, for example, need meat. Dogs, meanwhile, can live without meat, but their overall health suffers without it.
Look for whole-food ingredients
In other words, not processed. No synthetics or powders. This way, your dog is receiving the nutrients and vitamins they need. In addition to meat, other beneficial ingredients include carbs — pumpkins, greens, and apples are examples — and healthy fats such as Omega3 fatty acids, which are found in egg yolks and olive oil. Other must-haves: fiber, minerals, and calcium, which may be listed as “bone meal” on your pet food packaging, but which is also abundant in eggshells and fish. They can’t catch frisbees without strong bones, after all.
Avoid artificial preservatives and colors
Not only can preservatives, additives, and chemicals harm your pet’s health, but they can also end up in the environment, causing damage to eco-systems and waterways. While not toxic, avoid pet food that swaps out meat for alternatives such as corn, wheat, or soy — they’re harder on the digestive system and aren’t as nutritious.
Buy from companies committed to sustainability
Living a sustainable lifestyle also means knowing who you are buying from. That includes who makes your pet food. Make sure to research different brands, investigating their reputations and environmental commitments. For instance, do they source and produce their food sustainably? And if possible, can you buy locally, therefore reducing your contribution to the environmental impact that comes with shipping and transportation?
Pick responsible packaging
Beyond the food itself, consider the packaging it comes in. Is it plastic that will just end up in a landfill? Many companies now use recycled materials.
Choose eco-friendly dish bowls
Avoid plastic, of course. Instead, look for dishes made from sustainable materials such as stainless steel or bamboo to reduce your pet’s carbon pawprint. Ceramic is another option — just make sure its glaze coating is lead-free, and the dish is certified as safe to eat out of.
Making them a memorable meal
We feed them, and they love us in return. That may sound harsh — and more than a little simplistic — but it’s not untrue either. Then again, why not just speak their love language and give them something delicious that’s not normally on the menu? Here are some simple suggestions for cooking them a meal they’ll remember. Just be sure not to overfeed them — obesity is a concern for both cats and dogs and brings a host of health problems from heart disease and diabetes to arthritis and even cancer.
A balanced recipe they will love
Of course, you want to cook a balanced and eco-friendly dish for your dog or cat. There are many recipes for pet dishes, but why don’t you try chicken with rice and carrots? This one is so easy to prepare, and it also contains all the essential nutrients that your dog or cat needs — vitamins from carrots, proteins from chicken, and fibers from rice.
First, you simply cook the chicken in the water. You can do this until it is well done, and a broth has formed. Then take the chicken out of the broth and collect the meat from the bones and put everything in a separate bowl. Note: While dogs can eat some bones, chicken bones are different. These bones are tubular bones that can be very dangerous and even life-threatening for dogs. Therefore, please be careful that your dog does not eat them.
From the chicken meat, you can take away the fillet pieces afterwards. You can leave some of them for the pet, sure. But the beauty of this dish is that not only your pet, but also you can eat every part of it. And then you just cook the rice and carrots in the broth until everything is cooked. You can season your portion of the food. The animal’s portion should not get any spices. And done! Enjoy it. Both of you.
After dinner activities
Lastly, if you want to go above and beyond celebrating your loyal companion, consider other ways you can improve both his or her life — as well as the lives of other animals.
Donate time or money to animal shelters
Many animal shelters can barely keep their doors open. Why not find one near you and donate money or toys you might not need any longer? This way old toys can be given new life. If you can’t make room in your home permanently, why not consider fostering or even sponsoring a shelter animal? Every little amount helps these facilities since they rely heavily — or entirely — on donations.
The best treat? Time with you, of course!
As any dog owner knows, dogs love to learn new things and explore the world — especially with you. For example, you can visit a dog park, where your best friend can run without a leash and play with other dogs. Or, if you have the opportunity, you can also go to the seaside and do some jogging. As a rule, you can try anything your dog doesn’t normally do. Besides, it will undoubtedly be fun for you to do other things as well.