cat eating meat

The Vegetarian’s Pet Food Dilemma

As our understanding of livestock animals, and the conditions in which they are “farmed,” continues to grow, more and more American’s are avoiding meat – or at least being choosier about where their meat comes from. A recent survey found that two-thirds of Americans are actively reducing their meat consumption and 75% of Americans are concerned about the welfare of farm animals raised for food. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of vegans in the United States increased by 600%

At the same time, pet ownership has steadily increased over the last few decades with approximately 85 million families including at least one pet. Dogs and cats make up the overwhelming majority of U.S. companion animals, which can lead to an ethical conundrum for the plant-based consumer who decides to welcome one of these carnivores into their home. 

Although vegan and vegetarian dog foods are available, most experts agree that dogs are healthier on a species-appropriate, meat-based diet. Eating meat is even more vital for cats and we discourage ever putting a cat on a vegetarian/vegan diet as the likelihood of chronic illness increases dramatically. This is because despite thousands of years of domestication, dogs are still biologically, domesticated wolves, and cats are nearly indistinguishable from their African wildcat ancestors. As carnivores, there are a host of essential vitamins and minerals that dogs and cats can only acquire from meat.

If you’re one of the 90% of pet owners feeding your pet kibble, this may not seem like much of a dilemma, however, even the best kibble has devastating consequences for livestock animals, the environment, and the health of our pets. 

The Problems With Kibble

was designed as a cost-effective, convenient method to make use of byproducts from the human food supply chain that would otherwise go to waste. Kibble is typically  mass-produced in factories;often with multiple brands being manufactured at the same location with nearly identical ingredients. The big pet food manufacturers then market these burnt balls of grain and meat byproducts  as a wholesome, complete diet.

Mass-produced products are inherently problematic when animal welfare and ethical sourcing are not involved, and it’s almost impossible to guarantee that the millions of farm animals turned into kibble were treated ethically and humanely. At The Happy Beast, we carry only a handful of brands of dog kibble and no cat kibble at all. Even among these few ethical companies, it is difficult,  to find detailed sourcing information. Rather, consumers are assured that ingredients are “responsibly sourced” or “farm-raised,”which are vague labels that don’t actually mean much given the lack of standardization of these terms.. 

Beyond the impact on the lives of farm animals, there is a negative environmental impact of mass-produced pet food. A 2017 study estimated that dog and cat food is responsible for up to 30% of the environmental degradation caused by animal agriculture. Additionally, it is important to consider the environmental toll of manufacturing, packaging, and transporting the 9.4 million tons of pet kibble produced in the U.S. each year. The food we select for our beloved companion animals can have a much larger carbon footprint than we ever could have imagined.

Above all, kibble just isn’t a very healthy choice for pets. Most of us would be shocked if our doctors encouraged us to eat a diet consisting strictly of a single, highly-processed food. And we’d be even more skeptical if the doctors themselves were the ones selling it. Yet this is what we’ve grown to accept as healthy and acceptable for our pets; often without a second thought. Processed pet foods have been recalled hundreds of times due to deadly aflatoxins, mold, salmonella, foreign objects, and insufficient vitamins and minerals. Because of its high carbohydrate content, low moisture, and low-quality ingredients, kibble has also been linked to obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, urinary issues, and periodontal disease. 

What should conscious consumers feed their pets?

While the question of what to feed your pet may seem complicated based on the above information, the solution is surprisingly simple: fresh foods from small companies that emphasize transparency. The idea of handling fresh meat may make many vegetarians squeamish, but the benefits for the planet, farm animals, and our pets far outweigh any personal misgivings that may come from having meat in the kitchen. 

At The Happy Beast, we’re passionate about the planet and the animals we share it with. That’s why we’re working hard to create a sustainability rating for all the products we carry. While it’s still a work in progress, there are three companies we’d like to highlight based on their commitment to sustainability and animal welfare. 

Answers Pet Food

Based out of Pennsylvania, Answers partners with small family farms that practice sustainable, rotational farming practices. All of their meat is organic, pasture-raised, and certified by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) with some of their poultry reaching the highest standards possible. They have focused on reducing plastic in their packaging, and the paper and cardboard their food is packaged in is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The company even raises a large percentage of its own chickens and ducks and has its own goat herd for its raw goat milk and cheese. 

Smallbatch Pet Food

As their name suggests, Smallbatch makes their food in small batches in Portland, OR. Smallbatch also strives to source its ingredients from local farmers who practice good stewardship of their animals, land, and environment. Many of these animals are also certified humanely raised by GAP. Organic produce means that synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides don’t make their way into the environment, or your pet. Smallbatch also offers their food in lightly cooked preformed sliders for dogs, which can minimize handling for the truly squeamish vegetarian. 

Anderson’s Pet Food

Anderson’s is a local Colorado company and sources all of its ingredients from Colorado, which immediately lowers its environmental impact. With a focus on novel proteins like bison and elk, all of Anderson’s livestock are pasture-raised and live their lives in a stress-free environment in the Rocky Mountains. Produce is also locally sourced and non-GMO. Every part of the animal is used so Anderson’s also offers healthy, natural chews like antlers, marrow bones, and tendons. 

There are many other small, local companies working hard to create healthy, sustainable food with the welfare of  animals in mind, but these are three of our favorites. For the welfare of farm animals, the environment, and our pets, fresh food from small producers will always be a better solution than mass-produced kibble.

Further Reading

Check out more of our blogs or stop by the store to find the best food for your pet.

  1. Meat & The Environment: Beef
  2. Understanding Puppy Food
  3. Overweight and Obese Cats – Why You Should Act Now
  4. From Kibble to Raw: A Feline Food Journey
  5. Simple Diet Solutions for Anti-Inflammation
  6. How to Decipher Pet Food Labels & Misleading Marketing
  7. Retrain the Cat Brain: Solutions for Eliminating Kibble
  8. Feline Nutrition with Veterinarian Dr. Angie Krause
Cows Grazing on Hillside - Meat and the Environment - The Happy Beast

Meat & The Environment: Beef

Now more than ever is the time to support our communities, family, friends, and the environment. We are all trying to cope with a world that will be forever changed by the current pandemic. This is a time for serious introspection. A time to nourish ourselves physically and emotionally and take an honest look at how our actions or inactions affect the environment around us and result in far-reaching consequences. I hope we can all take this time to find ways we can live more gently and lessen our impact on an ever-changing climate and landscape.  

With that in mind, this month we’re kicking off our “Meat & The Environment” blog series with a discussion about a very common protein – beef.

For starters, let’s get a couple of points out of the way. We love meat at The Happy Beast. In fact, a large part of our mission is to educate pet guardians about the importance of a fresh food diet that is high in animal protein and low in carbohydrates. However, there is a price that comes with the consumption of meat by us and our pets. 

Where our meat comes from is an integral part of the puzzle. In this blog post, we’ll briefly address the basics of beef production in our country and what you can do to help lessen its environmental impact. In future posts, we’ll discuss the effect industrialized agriculture has on public lands, wildlife conservation, habitat destruction, and animal/human welfare.  

According to 2017 USDA statistics, there are 2.8 million cattle/calves in the state of Colorado. Americans consume an average of 65 pounds of beef every year and, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, our pets’ diets account for 25–30% of the environmental impacts from animal production, including use of land, water, and fossil fuels.  

As a society, we have become extremely disconnected from where our meat comes from. We don’t see the effects a pound of ground beef has on the environment or what the life of the animal looked like. Our meat and produce have become industrialized, but it does not have to be this way.  

Today, the majority of beef produced in our country comes from industrial feedlots. In 1967, the United States had 9,627 livestock slaughtering facilities (cattle, hog, and sheep). Now, due to corporate consolidation and mass meat production, there are just 1,100 federally-inspected facilities that are managed under the USDA ( 

The reduction in the number of slaughtering facilities was the beginning of major corporations taking over our meat supply. This mass consolidation has led many small, family farmers and ranchers unable to find, or afford to process, their own meat.  According to the Niche Processor Assistance Network, there are only 20 USDA-inspected slaughterhouses in Colorado that support family farmers and ranchers who want to bring their own meat to market. The other option is for farmers and ranchers to sell their meat for a standard price per pound to a facility like JBS that handles processing and sales. In this case, the farmer or rancher no longer has their name on the product and loses all control over the product they have spent their daily lives creating.  

Like with most industries, these corporate processors have priced out the small producer and have often left them with no choice but to give into the system. This is why non-conventional meat (what I like to call “happy meat”) is so expensive. Processing can be 30% of the cost of doing business for these small-time producers. This cost trickles down to the consumer.  It is the cost of doing business the ethical way.   

The four major companies that dominate the world of animal processing sell 85% of the beef in the U.S. (  There are numerous problems with this. Like JBS in Greeley, when slaughterhouses process thousands of animals per day, the animals in their feedlot are given heavy doses of antibiotics and hormones to simply keep them alive enough to cross the threshold to be turned into meat. 

According to the FDA, 80% of antibiotics used in our country are used for farm animals. Not only do these antibiotics and hormones end up in the meat we and our pets eat, they end up in our drinking water and streams and rivers along with the animal waste pollution from these concentrated feedlots. Much like the movement we have seen for organic produce, there is a movement within the livestock industry called regenerative agriculture.  Put simply, this way of farming and ranching uses planned pasture rotation as a way to increase soil health, sequester CO2 in the soil, promote biodiversity, and increase water retention. 

Regenerative agriculture is also good for the cow! Cattle are raised by natural grazing in open pasture and more time is given for them to reach natural maturity for market. Unfortunately, this type of beef makes up just over 1% of the beef sold in our country. According to a report released in 2019 from Stone Barn Foods and Agriculture and their partners, it is estimated that 97% of cattle in the U.S. live the last 4-6 months of their life in a concentrated animal feeding operation (or CAFO). The animals become a product of an industrialized agriculture industry dominated by Tyson, Cargill, JBS USA, and National Beef Packaging Company. Colorado is home to 200 CAFOs. There are 2 million cows that pass through these facilities each year. 

The positive news is that demand for natural and humane beef is on the rise. We have the power to drive that demand and make a significant change for the betterment of these animals, our environment, and the dedicated family farmers and ranchers who work 365 days a year to survive and bring food to our tables.  

So, what can we do? 

1. Support Local Meat Producers

We as consumers drive the demand so look where your meat comes from! The more we ask questions and make sustainable and humane choices, the more change we will see in reversing the industrialization of our food supply. Our family farmers and ranchers need us. They want to do the right thing, but they are cornered between their ethics and being able to survive. 

2. Value Quality

The second justification for apathy is that “happy meat” is too expensive. Yes, it is more expensive. Another way to look at it is why is conventional meat so cheap?  We consumers see this everyday with everything we purchase. Huge quantities are always less expensive than food that is produced in small batches, homemade, sustainably sourced, organic, etc. We need to eat less and waste less. Quality over quantity.  

We are excited to announce that you will begin to see many transformations at The Happy Beast in the coming months. We are working diligently to be a leader in the pet food industry by expanding the scope of information provided to customers, and to broaden our responsibility as animal guardians, members of our communities, and inhabitants of this planet.  

One of our major tasks at hand is to design a scale of sustainability with all of our manufacturers. By creating a code of ethics addressing concerns like where their meat comes from, we can offer transparency about the products you are buying and help you make better choices by selecting products that are more connected to your values.  

Here’s a couple of definitions to help you along the way:

  • Grass-Finished – Meat labeled “grass-finished” is guaranteed to come from an animal that spends its entire life on open pasture and is processed by the farmer/rancher at a small-scale facility.  
  • Grass-Fed – Meat labeled “grass-fed” most likely started its life on pasture on a farm or ranch, but was finished with grain at a feedlot. The exception to this would be meat that is ethically grain-finished on a farm or ranch for taste preferences and then taken to a small-scale processor. Some people prefer the marbling of meat that comes from grain-finished meat.  A safe way to tell is don’t trust anything that is not grass-finished unless it comes directly from a farm or ranch or from a local market or butcher shop. Unfortunately, beef in the big grocery stores most likely came from animals that ended up in the feedlot.

3. Support These Companies

  • Andersons – A Colorado company using only meat from Kinikin farm, which practices regenerative farming on the western slope! They offer fresh food and lots of bones for your dog to chew on.
  • Answers – A leader in the industry for their socially and environmentally-guided principles. All animals are pasture raised with the highest regard for animal welfare.
  • Rawr – Balanced cat food that is sustainably sourced and free of antibiotics and hormones.
  • Raw Bistro – Located in an area of Minnesota dedicated to sustainable agriculture. They source all ingredients from local and regional producers who value humane and environmentally-based farming practices.
  • Beast Feast – Our own line of pet treats made from responsibly-sourced meats in Colorado and Wyoming.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response – Update to Operations and Hours

In light of this period of uncertainty with the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we understand that you may have concerns about interactions with the public, including visiting our store.

We have implemented the recommended social distancing measures for the workplace as instructed by the CDC, and will continue to follow the latest recommendations for our community, including limiting hours and customer interactions.

However, we also want to stay open to ensure your pets have access to the food they need. 

Beginning Monday, March 16th, we will only be accepting pick-up orders placed via phone or email. The store will be closed to customers for browsing. The self serve dog wash will also be closed until further notice.

Beginning March 23rd, we will also be adjusting our hours a bit, but staying open longer on Saturdays:

  • Monday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Tuesday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Wednesday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Thursday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Friday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Saturday: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm
  • Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

For current customers, follow these steps to place an order:    

  1. Please call or email us ahead of time in order to place your order. 
  2. Payment will be taken over the phone via credit card and we will send you an email confirmation of the purchase. 
  3. Most orders can be ready the same day, but it will be helpful if you call ahead so we can give you an approximate pick-up time. 
  4. Our staff will be packaging orders wearing gloves and using cardboard boxes. None of our staff has been traveling internationally, out of state, or to the mountains.
  5. Your order will be ready for pick-up at our front door, or we’ll help you load it in your car if you prefer.
  6. If you are sick and do not have the ability to pick up your food, let us know and we will try to accommodate your needs with at home delivery.
  7. If your animal has specific food requirements please touch base with us ASAP so we can ensure you have the food you need.   

For new customers, or those looking for additional guidance:

  • We are happy to discuss your pet nutrition questions over the phone or email. We’ll also be looking at expanding our video chat options in the coming weeks, as needed.

Based on national and international trends, and as the number of COVID-19 cases in Colorado continues to rise, it’s fair to assume we’ll need to provide these limited operations for at least the next couple of weeks. 

We’ll continue to follow recommended guidelines and best practices for our community, and will adjust as needed to help keep each other safe.

Thanks and please reach out with any questions or concerns.

Phone: 303-604-1300


Discontinuing Single-Use Plastic Cat Food Pouches

Sustainability and reducing our plastic use is a very important goal at The Happy Beast. Unfortunately, this is not an easy task to accomplish in the pet food industry. However, we still feel strongly that it is an important goal to strive towards, which is why we are discontinuing our single-use plastic cat food pouches.

Single-use plastic pouches have been growing in popularity over the past 5 years as an alternative to canned foods. This is because pouches are supposed to retain the flavor of the food better than a typical aluminum can since no heat is used in the sterilization process. However, this relatively small benefit to flavor has come at a significant cost to our environment.

The problem with these types of single-use plastic pouches is that they are made up of several different kinds of plastic and cannot be easily separated and recycled by most recycling facilities. In fact, the only way we’ve found to recycle these pouches is to send them to a New Jersey based company called TerraCycle that specializes in hard-to-recycle materials. 

While TerraCycle is a great option, many people can’t afford to implement a similar program into their homes, or just do not have the means to do so (e.g. Living in an apartment complex, restrictive HOA, etc.). Even with TerraCycle as an option, these pouches often create more wasted resources because they need to be thoroughly cleaned out, rinsed, and dried in order to recycle them. 

And all that effort is just for the pouches that are recycled! Unfortunately, the vast majority of single-use pouches are simply thrown into the trash where they end up in landfills or in the environment. can clog storm drains, harm wildlife, and even end up in our food as we consume animals that have ingested plastic products.

According to the UN, “plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally.” and it is estimated that 79% of all plastic waste produced is now in landfills, 12% has been incinerated, and 9% has been recycled.

Conversely, aluminum cans are 100% recyclable and can be recycled almost indefinitely. Unfortunately, as a society, we currently only recycle about 50% of the aluminum used in consumer products, but that’s primarily due to a lack of education and infrastructure rather than a limitation of the material. What’s more, in Boulder County, all of the aluminum pet food cans we carry at The Happy Beast can be recycled through single-stream recycling services, which are available to nearly all residential and commercial buildings.

Overall, we feel that discontinuing single-use plastic pet food pouches in favor of aluminum cans is simply our next step towards reaching our sustainability goals. We plan to discontinue carrying all pouches by Earth Day 2020. We will continue to provide a variety of food and packaging alternatives for our customers to try, in order to help you find the best option for your pet. As always, we want to help provide the best possible nutrition options for your pets, and simply want to do our part to lessen the impact on the environment and improve our sustainability.

Feel free to reach out to us at with any questions or concerns. Thanks!

Additional Resources

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics for Dogs & Cats

Dogs and cats can sometimes struggle with health issues, and the most prevalent one we encounter is gastrointestinal or stomach problems. From protein allergies to irritable bowel disease, there are several solutions you can use to help alleviate the symptoms of stomach upsets in dogs and cats. In this post, I’ll be talking about probiotics and prebiotics, what the differences are, and the benefits of each for your animal. If you’re looking for more help or other solutions for chronic bowel problems, please visit us at the store or read our other blog posts on similar topics, which you can find at the end of this post.

One of solutions or tools you can use to help your animal with upset stomach are probiotics. Probiotics are healthy, beneficial bacteria that are part of a complex ecosystem that resides in our pet’s gut. In this ecosystem, a lack of good bacteria can result in poor digestion and nutrient absorption, which can result in a spider-web of other symptoms such as skin and coat issues, bad breath, or persistent, loose stool. This complex ecosystem of bacteria can be thrown off by balance by a variety of factors, including your pet’s genes, environmental factors, or medicines like antibiotics. Some dogs or cats with IBS or IBD (irritable bowl syndrome or irritable bowel disease) need an extra boost of these beneficial bacteria to help stabilize them during certain periods when they’re showing symptoms.

Adding probiotics to the food of a dog or cat with a chronic issue will help alleviate these symptoms and improve the overall gastrointestinal (GI) health of your animal. Probiotics can be found in the form of powders or naturally in raw foods such as goat’s milk. We carry both forms at The Happy Beast, and are happy to talk through the benefits of specific brands. We typically recommend probiotics for people having an active or acute problem or symptom with their animal.

Compared to probiotics, prebiotics are the foods that probiotic bacteria feed on in the gut to reproduce and thrive. Many brands of pet food supplement their products with prebiotics, such as chicory root, which helps with digestion, but you can find a variety of supplements to give your animal that provide an overall boost to improve digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Digestive enzymes are also a great addition to a supplement regimen and are often found alongside prebiotics. Adding digestive enzymes can help your animal’s body more easily digest its meals, boost absorption, and improve their stools. This allows your animal to gain more nutrients from every meals. Here at The Happy Beast, we carry a variety of prebiotic and enzyme powders that are fast and easy to add to your daily feeding, including InClover’s Optagest, Honest Kitchen’s Perfect Form, and Super Snout’s GI Balance powder.

In summary, you can think about prebiotics as a great long-term supplement, whereas we believe probiotics are most useful in the short-term while your animal is going through a current phase of digestive upset. Dealing with digestive problems for your animal can be stressful and hard to manage, but using whole, raw foods and supplementation can ease many of the common ailments pets experience.

If you have any questions about probiotics, prebiotics, or digestive health in general, please call or visit us for a one-on-one diet consultation where we can help evaluate your pet and his or her specific needs.

Other Diet & Digestive Health blog posts from The Happy Beast