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By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Vegan pet owners love their dogs and cats but are often grossed out when they need to dump a mass of smelly ‘wet’ food into a dish. Others argue that pets are better off with home prepared foods rather than commercial processed pet food, and tend to feed their fur babies table scraps, or even make their own dishes for them! And no wonder: several contaminants have been found in pet foods, including old restaurant grease that contains high concentrations of dangerous free radicals, trans fatty acids, PCBs and heavy metals – as well as toxic fish byproducts, which have bacterial, protozoal, fungal, viral, and prion contaminants, along with their associated endotoxins and mycotoxins. And let’s not forget hormone, GMO and antibiotic residues and dangerous preservatives that are found in pet foods.
Some vets ascertain that the increases in pet cancer rates, kidney failure, and other degenerative diseases in our companion animals may be due to these harmful ingredients in many commercial meat-based pet foods. Nevertheless, despite all this disquieting information, some people still wonder if it’s unnatural to omit meat altogether from the diet of our four-legged friends – after all, they are natural born carnivores, whether you like it or not. So can dogs and cats eat a vegan diet?
Not all agree on whether vegan food can give all the nutrition needed for a healthy diet. Lew Olson for instance, author of Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs, believes that a vegan diet can work for dogs if there is a way to squeeze in some animal protein; whereas for cats it would completely go against their physiology. According to PhD laureate Olson, the risks of feeding dogs or cats vegetarian or vegan diet include an inadequate total protein intake, imbalance of the certain amino acids, such as taurine, and deficiency in vitamins and minerals. Puppies or kittens are the ones most at risk in this switch of potentially dangerous diet.
Sure, animals do normally eat quite a lot of plant matter, and to feed them the meat that they would naturally attain would mean you should allow them to hunt for themselves, which obviously isn’t recommendable if you live in a metropolis! So what’s the best kind of food for your pet?
First, if you are truly interested in this subject, you should meet with a veterinary nutritionist who can analyse your pet’s current diet and make recommendations for additional health safeguards.
Secondly, do some research for yourself. Studies have shown how the ailments associated with meat consumption in humans also affect our pets. As PETA has highlighted supermarket pet foods are often composed of ground-up parts of animals like cartilage, bones, hoofs, noses and eyes, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture has deemed unfit for human consumption. Moreover, any flesh that is in pet food could actually be from animals that may have died of infections and other diseases – humans are not allowed to eat these, but animals are. In fact, up to 50% of commercial pet food brands are comprised of byproducts, which include various body parts, such as brain, spinal cord tissue, bones, lungs, intestinal tracts, slaughterhouse wastes and what is known as “4-D meat” (from dead, dying, diseased or disabled animals). This kind of meat often is susceptible to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy, that we all known as mad cow disease. Hence feeding companion animals commercial pet foods can truly jeopardise their health.
This doesn’t mean your pet has to go off meat – but it should be fed healthy, organic meats or meat products instead. This is pricey enough for humans; the cost is even more so for pets. But there are some good, meaty organic pet food brands out there today like:
Still, for ethical reasons, some vegetarians and vegans have decided to feed healthful, meatless diets to their companion animals. The nutritional needs of dogs and cats can be met with a balanced vegan diet and certain supplements, but this takes a lot of work and attention. A thorough explanation is given by James Peden, author of Vegetarian Cats & Dogs, who developed Vegepet supplements to add to vegetarian and vegan recipes. It’s all about the transition, which must not be abrupt. As vegan vet Dr. May recommends, pet owners should start by mixing the vegetarian food with the regular food, gradually changing the ratio to favour the veggie food until no food containing meat is left. PETA recommends serving it warm or using a few add-ins such as soy milk, nutritional yeast, olive oil, powdered kelp and even baby food (as long as it doesn’t contain onions or other seasonings).
Another strong voice behind vegan diets for pet dogs is Chelsea, owner of the blog Simple Wag. After watching the smash hit health documentary What The Health, it got her thinking, if people can benefit from a plant-basied diet, would the same apply my beloved, 5lb Maltipoo? After this Chelsea threw herself into research and wrote the popular : “Vegan Dog Food (Everything You Want to Know)” article upon where she feeds dog owners with all the information they need to help their own pooches thrive on a vegan based diet, as well as busting myths and misconceptions and other tidbits of information that anyone looking into this topic would be interested to read.
Once dogs or cats have shifted to the green diet, you will have to constantly monitor them closely. Watch for chronic gastrointestinal and skin problems, and note any new health problems. But generally most dogs and cats’ health improves on a vegetarian diet -whether this is because this food is an improvement over typically toxic commercial pet foods or due to a lack of meat is debatable, but I suspect the former. Nonetheless, the notable health improvements for pets has given birth to a variety of companies that provide entirely vegan pet foods, such as:
This latter is entirely gluten-free and contains no corn, no wheat and no soy, which also means your pet is not eating any GMOs, which have been proven to damage the digestive tracts not only of animals, but people too. V-Dog’s unique formula is optimally balanced with all the essential amino acids and complete plant-sourced protein for building strong muscles, and it supplies all the critical vitamins, minerals and super foods to optimise brain development and cardiovascular health.
So what’s the conclusion here? We’re not so sure it’s wise to force physiologically carnivorous animals to go vegan, but there can be little doubt that most commercial pet food is nothing but junk food for your pet. If you truly want to feed your pet a fully vegan diet, perhaps consider getting a bunny or guinea pig instead of a carnivore.
Main image and cat: Wikicommons