After rebounding from near-extinction, bison now provide novel pet food protein. What’s more, bison tends to cause less ecological damage and use less resources that cattle. That means pet food producers may market bison-meat pet foods as sustainable. Bison remains uncommon in dog and cat foods, so it may also help pet foods stand out on retailers’ shelves and websites.
Growth in the human market for bison meat has led to more people wanting their pets to enjoy bison too, said Dave Carter of the National Bison Association. Incorporating bison in pet foods subsequently helps bison ranchers use all parts of the shaggy mammals.
“The demand for bison in pet food is creating strong demand for hearts and livers as well,” he said.
Bison ranches, conservation, animal welfare and social justice
Bison once ranged from northern Canada to northern Mexico. Bison were neatly hunted to extinction in the 19th century, both to supply a vogue for bison tongue in East Coast cities and as an act of genocide against native peoples, such as the Lakota, by cutting off their food supply. Although bison no longer migrate in herds that stretch from horizon to horizon, they have rebounded.
“In the 1880’s, bison teetered on the brink of extinction, with an estimated 750 remaining in North America,” said Dave Carter of the National Bison Association. “Today, the North American population is estimated at 400,000 head, with more than 90 percent on farms and ranches.”
Although the bison are raised in captivity, ranchers strive to let the animals maintain their natural habits, he said.
For example, bison tend to cause less damage to waterways than cattle. Historically, predators prowled around streams, ponds and other water sources, so bison tend to drink then move away. On the other hand, cattle are more likely to linger on the banks, resulting in erosion and other damages to riparian ecosystems.
Likewise, ranchers tend to avoid some of the practices used in cattle and other livestock that draw the ire of animal rights advocates.
“As a part of that philosophy, we don’t use artificial insemination, castration, or other procedures widely used with domesticated livestock,” he said. “Federal regulations prohibit added growth hormones in bison, and our Code of Ethics prohibit antibiotics to promote growth.
While exterminating bison was once a means to oppress native peoples, modern bison ranchers are working together with Native Americans to bring back the bison and boost respect for the animals.
“Over the past decade, the National Bison Association has been working closely with tribal nations and conservation groups to promote policies and practices that will bring back bison on all types of landscapes,” Carter said. “The collaboration of the National Bison Association, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the InterTribal Buffalo Council succeeded in winning passage of legislation in 2016 establishing bison as the National Mammal of the United States.
“Now, those groups are continuing to work together on Bison 1 Million, a campaign to bring one million bison back to private, tribal and public lands in North America,” he said.
Bison in pet food
In Petfood Industry’s Dog and Cat Food Ingredient Center database, 58 dry or wet dog and cat foods and treats use bison.
- 35 dry dog foods (1.6 percent of the category total)
- 8 canned dog foods (0.6 percent of the category total)
- 8 dog treats (0.8 percent of the category total)
- 4 dry cat foods (0.43 percent of the category total)
- 2 canned cats foods (0.14 percent of the category total)
- 1 cat treat (0.96 percent of the category total)
The Dog and Cat Food Ingredient Center contains exclusive data on which pet food companies are using particular pet food ingredients, along with the nutritional information about these products. Beyond that, Petfood Industry’s Dog and Cat Food Ingredient Center database allows users to analyze how pet food companies refer to ingredients, for example chicken byproducts versus coproducts, along with the marketing claims made in the names of the pet foods, such as organic or natural.