Worry about what your pets eat?

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011 www.blogactionday.orgThis blog is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is to celebrate Blog Action Day 2011, and is the second in a row about pets. That’s because it’s hard enough to make our toddlers eat their greens, so why do we then infantilise our dogs (and cats) with the same healthy living approach?  For more info about my book Homemade Kids with lots of ideas about thinking out of the box, click here.

Food was the main topic on our family’s walk this morning – taken just before Britain’s blue skies disappear for winter. Not human food – and with nearly 7 billion mouths to feed, zillions starving (925 million, ie close to one billion) and another great hulking lump not yet working out how much is the right amount to eat – that should perhaps be an endless topic. Instead we talked about dogs’ energy and food footprints.

The conversation began just by a gap in the hedge as we moved aside to let a vast great dane pass. “How much would that cost to feed?” snorted Pete who wasn’t keen on our family getting a dog in the first place.

The next moment we met a tall brown curly-haired labradoodle wearing a muzzle. I’ve always assumed this contraption was to stop dogs fighting dogs. Turns out it is to stop picnic hunting. “A labradoodle is a poodle/labrador cross,” explained the owners, “but his labrador side is very greedy so we use a muzzle.”

I intermittently use tiny pieces of cheese to reward Vulcan (our border terrier) when he responds to a whistle and comes back to me. It’s a world of riches for these Hampstead Heath walked dogs – who are used to the best snacks, quality lab-tested foods for premium health, old age, dental care, growing bones, sensitive stomaches – whatever label you have given your dog someone will have an expensive dietary answer.

In 2009 New Zealanders Robert and Brenda Vale published a book Time To Eat The Dog: The Real Guide To Sustainable Living which worked out that a medium-sized dog eats around 164 kilos of meat and 95 kilos of cereal every year. They reckon it takes just over 43sq miles of land to generate just one kilo of cereal for dog kibble (protein-rich biscuits that get served up for the rich world’s dogs’ breakfast and tea).

That makes the annual carbon footprint for my dog at 0.84 hectares – a lot more than the amount of land needed to provide enough energy to build a Toyota Landcruiser and run it for 6,000 miles – 0.41 hectares.

I so hope the Vales work has been discredited  – at any rate the numbers downsized. But they raised an important point, is it right to keep pets in such luxury when so many people are struggling to keep themselves? I think this is the sort of debate your kids might well enjoy having with you over a Sunday dinner. But be careful or it may end in tears…

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One Comment on “Worry about what your pets eat?”

  1. homemadekids Says:

    From Facebook:
    Chris: Have to say I do worry when I open a pouch of Whiskas in Jelly (Senior) – a reputable UK cat food – labelled Chicken, and a quick squint at the ingredients reveals “4% chicken” – one has to wonder about the other 96%, described as ‘vegetable derivatives’ Poppet loves it, but I alternate this with real chicken, and…tuna, sustainably sourced.

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