There are many different reasons for choosing a plant-based diet. Some of us choose to give up meat for the environment, others for health reasons, and the fact that a meatless diet is more humane usually plays a significant role. But should our eating morals be reflected by our pets?
Can dogs really be vegan? Can cats?
Changing your pet’s diet can be very risky. Before you make any big decisions, I would 100% recommend you consult your primary vet. This is especially true if your pet has any preexisting conditions. That being said, there are valid health reasons for switching your pets to a vegan lifestyle – allergies and digestive issues for example.
It is also important to remember that cats and dogs have very different needs. Just because they are both omnivores does not mean they will react the same to a plant-based diet.
We all love our pets and want them to be safe and healthy. It is up to us whether our pets simply survive or really thrive on a vegan diet.
Can Cats be Vegan?
Technically yes, but most vets and feline experts agree it’s not the best idea. Even the ASPCA warned that cats are unlikely to thrive on a vegan food regimen because it is shockingly difficult to guarantee they will not be missing something essential in their diet.
Due to evolutionary reasons, cats are not accustomed to handling and digesting plant-based diets. Cats cannot produce certain vital proteins on their own and can only absorb these proteins from their food. Cats often have trouble digesting plants and carbohydrates because their digestive system has not been adapted to handle a diet without meat.
The riskiest part of switching your cats to a vegan diet is the threat of dilated cardiomyopathy. This is a potentially fatal heart disease caused by taurine deficiency, an amino acid only found in animal proteins. This disease prevents the heart from pumping blood normally and will be fatal if not caught early. Lack of taurine can also cause cats to develop vision problems, even permanent blindness.
Here’s What I Did
I’m a cat owning vegetarian myself. I try to eat vegan as much as possible but I’m still not quite all the way there. I’ve been asked before if I feed my cats a vegan diet and well, my short answer is no. What I do is feed them a humane diet.
I adopted my cats years before I became a vegetarian and I chose to keep them on a sustainably carnivorous diet instead of switching them all the way to a vegan one. This is a responsibility I accepted as a cat owner, I must ensure they have what they need. But I am not heartless about what I give them either.
I feed them organic foods that have been ethically produced with animals low on the food chain. I never feed my cats beef, only chicken and fish. While it may not be the best idea to transfer them to a 100% plant-based diet, you can substitute in a few vegetarian meals a week, thereby cutting down on their meat consumption. Just ensure your cats are meeting their amino acid and protein requirements. You can always add vitamins and supplements as needed.
Can Dogs be Vegan?
Dogs, on the other hand, have a better chance of living vegan lifestyles. However, there is still a line between living and thriving. A meatless dog diet can be done but must be handled very carefully.
Unlike cats, dogs have the ability to soak up proteins and vitamins from both meat and plants. Dogs can safely enjoy carrots, broccoli, lentils, quinoa, and dark leafy greens. They can also digest most carbohydrates without trouble.
Preparing Your Own Vegan Dog Food
There are a few important things to remember if you are planning on preparing your own vegan dog food. Dogs do not have a lot of room for error on their protein intake. Dogs need 15%-30% protein in their diet. Typically, you will have to provide your dog with supplements to ensure they reach their required levels of amino acids.
While dogs digest most foods without issue, there are many vegetables they should never eat including avocados, grapes, onions, garlic, and tomatoes.
There is an alternative protein source on the market now that has been gaining popularity among vegan pet owners. It’s odd and it might surprise you. It’s crickets.
Vegan pet owners are divided about substituting chicken and beef for crickets and I’m with them, since crickets are technically still animal protein. Conversely, dog owners whose primary concern is the environmental impact of their pet’s food have a very good case. The carbon footprint left by crickets is astoundingly lower than that left by domesticated farm animals. Crickets require 6g of feed less than beef cattle in order to produce 1g of protein. The vitamin content is also top notch and dogs have proven themselves to be adamant cricket lovers.
One company that caters to this new fad is Chippin: a dog treat brand developed by veterinarians that combine crickets with various oats and vegetables. The treats are also sustainably produced and come in recyclable packaging.
What Experts Say
Most vets and animal nutritionists agree that an omnivorous diet is best for dogs and if your dog cannot digest plant proteins well then there are some things you can do to help align your meat eating puppy with your ethics.
Only select pet food brands that have verified sustainable and humane farming practices. Prepare your own dog food with ingredients picked up from the local farmers market so you know exactly what is going into their food. You can feed your dog a mostly vegan diet, still allotting for enough animal protein meals each week topped off with dietary supplements (and substitute in crickets for some meals!)
Vegan Dog Food Brands
There are many vegan dog food brands on the market right now. Pet Life Today just released a list of the best 25 vegan dog food brands. They take many things into consideration such as the quality of filler ingredients, the risk of allergy causing elements, and the overall health benefit of each food.