15: Climate-Friendly Pet Parenting

How to Make a Difference - Cover

One quarter of all meat consumed in the US is eaten by pets. We love our fluffy, furry companions, however their impact on the climate is massive. In this Episode we explore what conscious pet parents can do to reduce the carbon pawprint of their pets. The world of climate-friendly pet parenting is full of amazing innovations and possibilities.

Our first guest is Tracie Hotchner. She is an expert in the area of pet nutrition, and an educator to both pet parents, and companies in the pet industry. With her, we untangle the confusion around an increasing number of pet food trends. 

Our second guest is Hanna Lemmetti, the CMO of Alvar Pet, which is a sustainable pet food startup. She explains how Alvar Pet creates dog food with an up to 84% lower carbon pawprint compared to common alternatives.


In our article, The most sustainable pet food brands around the world for 2021, we put together an extensive list of where you can find more sustainable pet food alternatives all around the world. 

Show Notes

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We have listed all resources in our blog post on climate-friendly pet parenting. You can learn more about our guests at:

Tracie Hotchner (Radio Pet Lady Network)

Hanna Lemmetti (Alvar Pet)

You can learn more about the How to Make a Difference podcast on:


You can find the episode transcript here.

One thought on “15: Climate-Friendly Pet Parenting

  1. Anna says:

    Sorry but if you are going to venture into the field of nutrition, then you first need to spend a lot of time learning about it and making your own observations, else you will just end up playing into the hands of the big food corporations. It takes a while to really see through all the many ways in which they have been manipulating public opinion on what is healthy and sustainable. Even the majority of supposed experts don’t see too far through it, so just naively consulting one of them is not the way to go. Especially not those who have been trained in nutrition or medicine by some official body, because those bodies are the ones most targeted by the companies!
    I’m not sure on what basis Tracie Hotchner claims to be an expert, but she seems to be one of those people who are biased towards the vegetarian side because it somehow feels right to be a peaceful being that doesn’t kill animals. Unfortunately, too many people in this world let their feelings guide their beliefs rather than evidence. I used to be a vegetarian myself once, but my open mind has since led me far away and shown me what true health actually is. So I would like to counter some of her biased statements with some of the facts I have learned:
    – Her claim that tooth shape has nothing to do with an animal’s diet is obviously totally ridiculous. Is she somehow trying to deny that dogs are designed to eat meat? Come on.
    – Her claim that we should not be eating like our palaeolithic ancestors did because we have evolved since then also clearly contradicts the known scientific facts. Evolution proceeds at much larger time scales than a few tens of thousands of years. It is well established that we are still pretty much genetically identical to palaeolithic homo sapiens, with only a few small differences e.g. 30% of us now have a gene to digest lactose as adults, we have a few more salivary amylase duplications and our alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme works much better.
    – Dogs, like humans, are facultative carnivores. We both thrive on a diet of only animals (eaten nose to tail, including organs, fat, bone marrow and collagenous tissues) but are designed to be able to incorporate a little plant food if need be, like during times of poor hunting success. We can’t survive on a vegan diet without supplementing, and while we can survive for a while as vegetarians we will be far from thriving.
    – She dismisses raw feeding in a rather unfair way. Sure, if you just throw some bones with a little muscle meat on the floor that may not be so good. But there are plenty of people these days who feed their dogs with various types of raw organ meats and they seem to be doing well like that. In fact, the whole podcast is missing a proper mention of all the various organ meats that both we and our dogs can eat: Heart, liver, kidney, lung, brain, tongue, spleen, pancreas, thymus, udder, testicles, stomach, intestines. All perfectly good food and they don’t really taste bad! If you look at a carnivore in the wild, after catching a big animal the first thing it will eat is the organs, because that is where the majority of the nutrients are, important nutrients that we all need! If you’d rather suffer the consequences of nutrient deficiency so that you can think of yourself as a civilised being that doesn’t eat such gross stuff then that’s your choice, but at least feed them to your dog, he’ll appreciate them and you’ll be helping to combat food waste.
    – She also neglects to mention the main reason you shouldn’t be feeding your dog or cat (or yourself, for that matter) too much plant food: Animals that are designed to eat lots of animal food are not well adapted to deal with the many antinutrients that plants use to defend themselves against being eaten. We do not have a long colon with lots of bacteria specialised in degrading them. These antinutrients cause us and our pets many health problems, but they tend to be treated as mystery illnesses due to a general lack of awareness of how plants can harm us. Of course, the food industry would rather fund studies into the supposed health benefits of various plant phytochemicals, and pharma companies are happy to make lots of money with medicines to treat the symptoms of these problems. If you look at the animal species commonly classified as omnivores, you’ll find that they all lean heavily towards one side, because it simply is not practical to design a digestive system that works efficiently for both plant and animal food. I think we do not have to debate which side wolves lean towards, and I think the evidence is also pretty clear that humans are very much on the carnivore side of the spectrum: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ajpa.24247
    – One of these many antinutrients is gluten, and I think it is unfortunate how you just dismiss it like that. I spent my entire childhood feeling lethargic and depressed from the inflammation that gluten was causing me, I just never realised what was going on because I just assumed it was normal for me to feel that way. Two years ago I went on a low oxalate diet which healed my gut, and since then I no longer get that effect from it. So I think that an intact gut wall can indeed protect us fairly well against gluten and lectins, but leaky gut has become all too common these days due to increasing intakes of plant antinutrients like oxalates, saponins and glycoalkaloids. And if you feed your dog with high-oxalate plant food, chances are it will eventually get some degree of leaky gut and then the gluten will get through and cause inflammation. I still mostly avoid it, because if I have a large amount then I may still feel a little depressed afterwards, and if I have it in the afternoon or evening then I will struggle to fall asleep that night. So it seems to have some subtle effect even on healthy people, not sure how but maybe because it increases zonulin levels, the signalling molecule that controls the size of the tight junctions in the gut wall. There are studies that have shown that this happens in everyone, but the effect is stronger in people with an intolerance or allergy towards it.
    – Many of these antinutrients are also designed to prevent animals from obtaining the nutrients present in the plant, either by chelating them, by inhibiting our digestive enzymes or by breaking them down before we get a chance to absorb them.

    While I trust that the people at Alvar Pet are well intentioned, they are causing considerable harm to the dogs which eat that food and their approach at reducing emissions is ill-informed. If I had a dog I would never feed it such food, because it is unhealthy for several reasons:
    – It is way too high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and way too low in important saturated fatty acids like stearic acid. Excess PUFA makes us and our pets obese and insulin resistant because it causes oxidative stress and adipocyte hypertrophy.
    – Their numbers don’t add up, which makes me wonder about their honesty. There’s no way they could have 15% total fat content and only 1.95% omega 6, given those ingredients. Looks more like they just don’t want to admit how large the omega 6 fraction is.
    – Beans, beet pulp, rhubarb and spinach are very high in oxalates, a nasty antinutrient that animals cannot detoxify. We can throw out a certain amount per day, but that amount can be easily exceeded and then it will accumulate in the body, subtly zapping your energy by causing mitochondrial dysfunction, causing aches and pains, messing up your hormonal balance, pushing out precious sulphate which leads to all kinds of problems including leaky gut, misincorporating into transferrin thus lowering haemoglobin levels, causing chronic inflammation and depleting your antioxidants, accumulating in the thyroid thus lowering its function, potentially causing autoimmunity and leading to cancer (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4618885/). Free oxalate will also bind with minerals like magnesium and deplete them.
    – It contains linseeds which are very high in phytoestrogens, antinutrients which plants employ to lower the fertility of animals that eat them. Ok, maybe you don’t want your dog to reproduce, but having the right amount of hormones is important for general health too, e.g. they regulate mitochondrial function and insulin sensitivity.
    – Seeds and seed oils contain phytosterols, the plant equivalent of cholesterol. It can be misincorporated into our own cell walls instead of cholesterol, thus weakening them and negatively affecting receptor function. Science also suggests that they are causative of heart disease.
    – Beans, spinach and oats are high in saponins, an antinutrient designed to dissolve our fatty cell walls with its soap-like qualities. They can damage both the gut wall and arteries in this way, and they also act like phytoestrogens, inhibit the enzyme lipase, inhibit gluconeogenesis in the liver, inhibit the release of free fatty acids, prevent the absorption of various nutrients and may contribute to cancer by damaging our DNA.
    – On paper it has a good calcium to phosphorus ratio, but quite probably most of that calcium is bound to oxalate meaning that most of it will not be absorbed (and since it forms tiny oxalate crystals, they can scrape tiny wounds into the stomach and gut lining on the way through). So the effective ratio the dog will be getting will be much lower, and it might end up with osteoporosis as a result. The best source of calcium is animal bones! (What I do is to make bone broth, then the bones eventually become so soft that you can easily eat them or grind them into a powder.)
    – Vitamin E has been added to it, and if it is the synthetic form then it may be quite harmful.
    – It’s not entirely clear how much organ meat is in that chicken meal they use, and which others they use besides intestines, but since they are adding in several nutrients that would normally be obtained from organs it’s probably not much. So the product is quite probably too low in B vitamins and in vitamin K2.

    On their website, they claim that the Nordic oats they use are “sustainable”. But monocrop agriculture is inherently unsustainable because it depletes the soil of carbon and nutrients, especially if tillage is employed. A significant fraction of the excess carbon in our atmosphere now was lost from soils in this way. Also, because of the resulting nutrient depletion fertiliser has to be used, most of which is made with synthetic ammonia. The synthesis process is quite energy intensive, requiring 2% of the world’s energy. The ammonia is made by combining nitrogen and hydrogen, and almost all of that hydrogen is not green hydrogen because making it from fossil fuels is much cheaper than electrolysis. Ok, maybe one day it will all be made with green hydrogen using green electricity. And maybe some day farmers will learn to stop overapplying fertiliser, because if an excess remains it gets fermented into the potent greenhouse gas N2O by soil microbes. And if it runs off into rivers and lakes it leads to eutrophication. Maybe also one day they will all learn to use no-till farming, which may leave a little more carbon in the soil but apparently it depends on the climate and more research needs to be done to have certainty: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-47861-7/ It does seem to be a better option for several reasons, maybe more so for preventing soil erosion and increasing water retention than for storing large amounts of carbon, but as the scientists point out you will still end up with less carbon in the soil than if it was a natural grassland or forest.
    You might now be thinking that agriculture is a necessary evil to feed ourselves, but humans are facultative carnivores and do not require plant food. We really could just let those areas be grassland, put some ruminant animals on it and every now and then take one and eat it. That’s a totally natural, self-sustaining system just as nature intended it. And no, these animals need not cause a climate apocalypse if their grazing is managed properly, moving them around frequently between different paddocks so that they don’t overgraze any area. Because then, the grass plants will strengthen their roots and sequester more carbon in the ground than the equivalent of the methane which the ruminants emit: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X17310338
    I think it’s a good thing that you are doing this podcast, but food is a topic I now happen to know a lot about and so I have to step in and tell you that you are naively promoting a false solution to climate change here. Veganism is not the answer. Regenerative agriculture is. Many ancient cultures have come and gone because they depleted their soils, like the ancient Mesopotamians in the Fertile Crescent. This fertile crescent has disappeared, just like the lush green Sinai peninsula turned into a desert because humans monocropped it to death. Millions of bison used to roam North America, and they didn’t cause global warming because they created very fertile soils that offset their methane emissions. Those soils used to contain about 8% carbon, until humans came and started tilling and monocropping them, so that less than 1% remains by now. It’s high time we started thinking about putting that carbon back, and we can only do that by putting animals onto the land. Several farms have already demonstrated how it is possible to regenerate depleted soil in this way, in just a few years! These kind of farmers are the ones that conscious consumers should be supporting, not companies selling agricultural produce that is just perpetuating the unsustainable system that is destroying our soils. If we continue like this, in a few decades there will be no usable soil left! It’s important that we not let ourselves be misled by the big food companies who are supporting veganism because they can make more profit from selling vegan food.

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