In this Skin Flints episode, Sue, John and Paul welcomed Dr Arielle Griffiths to the platform to discuss a very topical subject - sustainable pet food.
Chapter 1: “Understanding the Urgency: Why Sustainable Food is Necessary for Our Pets”
(03:44) John welcomes Arielle to the pod, who talks about her work in the industry and in setting up the Sustainable Pet Food Association. As a GP vet she became involved in nutrition and did extensive research before also becoming environmentally and sustainably focused as a result of seeing a change in the world.
(07:31) Sue asks Arielle to clarify what is meant by obesity-based diets and Arielle says this is where owners are (through love) overfeeding their pets and potentially causing arthritis, heart disease and a number of conditions relating to the excess weight. This tipped her to realise the use of plants as a base in food can really help, which was a big factor in her becoming vegan herself.
(09:08) Sue clarifies we are talking about people feeding too much or an imbalanced diet and the carbon footprint of that diet – and that we are discussing dogs here and not cats. Arielle says that the need for palatability in foods has resulted in an excess of protein in the diet and more meat being used than needed, affecting the sustainability. She shared that wet, meat-based diets have the largest carbon footprint, including raw lean diets – with one study in Brazil demonstrating a dog on this diet matched that of a human in that country.
Chapter 2: "Exploring the Landscape: What Constitutes Sustainable Food?"
(11:49) John asks why vegetarian or vegan food is a more sustainable option and Arielle says it is proven that animal agriculture for the use in pet food accounts for 2.5 - 3% of the entire carbon footprint of the world. This comes from deforestation to provide this food and the by-products of the food as a result of the market.
(13:40) Sue clarifies this as methane production from the animals used increasing the carbon emissions along with the deforestations. Livestock accounts for over 70% of global farming land use but only produces 18% of the world’s calories and 37% of total protein - with dog and cat food being equivalent to an entire country’s worth of production. But Arielle says the health benefits are what turned her more to vegetable based foods.
(15:29) Sue comments on the information on the human side for the health benefits, with more GPs suggesting it – she asks if there is evidence to support this on the pet side. Arielle says there is and comments on how in the 27,000 years of domestic evolution dogs have developed to require 52% of their diet to be carbohydrate due to the change in their genes over that time compared to the wolf they descended from, which only needs 1.2% carbohydrate. She also says dogs 3,000 years ago were primarily plant based.
(17:09) John asks if the theory of raw feeding being more natural for dogs is therefore unmerited and Arielle agrees, explaining that dogs obviously love eating food like this which is the success of the industry – but in terms of the environment there is significant evidence that resistant bacteria has been shown to be happening as a result of raw feeding, as well as it not being healthy for the dog. And she reiterates - a dog is not a wolf!
(19:18) John goes on to clarify Arielle is advocating a formulated dog food which is vegetable based and asks if it could be insect based. Arielle says it could and there are a number of companies for this, but she focuses on vegetable based and insects are just using another way of recycling protein and therefore whilst they are more substantiable – they are not as much so as the vegetable equivalents. She mentions how she was one of three vets speaking on the subject at London Vet Show along with Professor Andrew Knight and Dr Mike Davies - talking about animal nutrition and the evidence for vegetable based diets, which previously had looked to have a vegan diet, but a new independent study from Australia and Mexico reviewing all the papers indicated the evidence is sound. She argues now we know they are healthier for our pets and our planet there is an urgency.
Chapter 3: "Making Informed Choices: Considerations for a Sustainable Diet"
(24:40) Sue asks what we do about different life stages and different conditions and Arielle says there is a puppy plant based food and a senior plant based food – and in fact any plant based food is good for senior dog.
(26:12) Sue asks about particular conditions as well (e.g.) skin conditions and Arielle says she’s getting 2 or 3 people a day asking her to transition their dogs from meat diets because of an intolerance to it, and much has been shown to evidence the gut microbiome health being linked to that of the sin and therefore the skin health.
(28:19) Sue asks if you can transition to a plant based diet overnight. Arielle advises that the cases where they are really uncontrolled and unhappy on the food can transition overnight with a care to not over feed. But for the majority of dogs - as with any dietary change - a slow transition over 2-3 weeks is better; 4-5 weeks for raw fed dogs, in order to allow the gut to adapt to the change.
(29:29) Sue asks about the evidence suggesting grain free diets can lead to heart disease and Arielle says this came about in 2018 with increased instances of dilated cardio myopathy in breeds you wouldn’t normally see. She explains this is a result of substitute ingredients and is resolved with the addition of taurine to diets – which is an important reason to use a formulated diet. The number of cases has now dropped as a result of these changes.
(32:45) John wraps the conversation and asks Arielle if there are any resources to highlight and Arielle again recommends the Sustainable Pet Food Association as a great resource to find out more, and find the right food.
(36:18) Outro – Sue raps up as an ever-wise voice of reason.
(40:57) John asks Sue and Paul - Beef or beans?!
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