Can pets be vegetarian/vegan?
Although people who choose to consume little or no animal products often face some snickers and judgment from meat eaters, the general public usually respects their right to eat, or not eat, what they want. But when it comes to our pets (particularly dogs and cats) that is a whole other matter, and the debate over whether these animals can thrive on a plant-based diet has inspired passion from both sides.
Proponents of a vegan pet diet believe that the process of producing commercial pet food is devastating to the environment and contributes to animal cruelty. Furthermore, they feel it is immoral to practice a vegan lifestyle themselves while subjecting their pets to a diet that isn’t cruelty-free. Though many acknowledge that by nature dogs and cats are not herbivores, they argue that by working closely with a veterinarian, these animals can survive and even thrive on a vegan diet that includes supplements.
There are even a growing number of vegan pet food companies. Supporters of a vegan pet diet also argue that domesticated animals do not require the nutritional needs of their wild counterparts. Many take the argument further by suggesting, as PETA does, that our pets can live better and longer on a vegan diet.
Opponents of feeding pets a vegan diet concede that it is possible to provide proper nutrition to our pets through a supplemented vegan diet. However, they argue that most of their nutritional needs are more readily available in meat, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish, and that trying to replicate that with a plant-based diet and supplement program is extremely difficult.
This is especially true for cats, as they are “true carnivores” and can only process certain nutrients if they are consumed in animal form. For example, as Dr. David Dzanis notes on the website Dognutrition.com, unlike us, cats can’t turn beta-carotene found in plants into vitamin A.
Instead, these animals require what Dzanis refers to as “pre-formed vitamin A,” which can be found in liver and fish oils. The doctor further notes that cats also require taurine (an amino acid-like nutrient) and arachidonic acid (an essential fatty acid), both of which are more readily available in animal tissue.
However, supporters of vegan pet food argue that even cats with all of their tricky nutritional needs can still thrive on a vegan diet. According to PETA, James Peden, author of “Vegetarian Cats & Dogs,” has developed veterinarian-approved supplements Vegecat™ and Vegekit™ to add to his recipes.
Perhaps the simplest solution for vegans and vegetarians who want to own a pet is to get one that is an herbivore by nature. As Veganpurity.com suggests, these can include everything from rabbits to iguanas.
And, if you are a dog or cat owner who prefers giving them a more traditional diet, consider buying them natural and organic dog food (many brands are available at Petco) that is made sustainably.
No matter what diet you decide to feed your pet, be sure to seek the guidance of a licensed veterinarian. And, if you have a dog, do not feed it any of the items listed here.
Tell us: Is a vegan or vegetarian diet OK for dogs and cats?