Is a vegan diet safe for my pet?

There’s a growing discussion arising among veg*ans, and it’s causing quite some controversy.

Many of us who are vegetarian or vegan (veg*an) are concerned about animal welfare and want to end cruel industries such as factory farming. . And, many of us, like me, have also adopted pets of our own and strive to provide them with a long, healthy and happy life.

But this can create a conundrum as our pet food often contains meat that comes from factory farms. Today, more and more people are seeking vegetarian or vegan pet food causing a huge growth in this new market.

This does spark several questions, though, like is it fair and healthy to transition an animal’s ‘naturally’ carnivorous diet to one that is entirely plant-based? If you’ve been considering a vegetarian or vegan diet for your pet, there’s a chance you’ve asked yourself these same questions.

Is it unnatural?

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means the nutrients they require are found in meat. In the wild, a cat’s diet can consist of rodents, reptiles, birds or small fish. However, animal proteins found in most commercial cat foods are salmon, tuna or chicken so commercial cat food could be considered ‘unnatural’ like plant-based food..

Dogs, on the other hand, have long been mistaken to be carnivores due to their distant relation to foxes and wolves. In fact, research in 2013 has shown that one of the main distinctions between the wolf’s genome and that of the dog’s genome is their digestion. This main difference proves that dogs are, in fact, omnivores. Thanks to additional enzymes in their digestive system, they can break down starches and process all their nutrients from plants.

All things considered, the question of “natural” is likely beside the point as there’s too large of a grey zone when speaking of domesticated animals. Your main concern should be to ensure you can maintain a healthy lifestyle for your pet.

 

Is it healthy?

To answer this question, we need to make a distinction: every species’ digestive system is different and serves the needs of that specie’s diet only. Simply put, humans, dogs, cats, sharks, giraffes and basically every other living thing on this planet require a different balance of nutrients to survive.

While dogs can find all their nutrients in plants, cats require proteins and amino acids that are only found in meats. In both cases, a veg*an cat or dog’s diet should be enriched with nutritional supplements, whether in the food itself or with a separate vitamin. Talking to a veterinarian about what your animal eats is the best way to ensure they get all the nutrients they need to be healthy.

An important point that’s often overlooked is the fact that commercial pet foods can be unhealthy. The regulations around pet food manufacturing aren’t as strict as those for human consumption. This means questionable meats usually go into the production of commercial pet food and research conducted by these brands involve invasive testing on animals, as well.

So interestingly, while many people believe it’s unhealthy to transition an animal to a vegetarian or vegan diet, it can be just as unhealthy (or even more unhealthy) to feed them the traditional commercial brands.

 

The bottom line

If you’re passionate about animal protection and wish to introduce your pet to a veg*an diet, here are some steps you need to take:

  1. Research: Get to know your pet’s digestive system: what nutrients do they need and in what foods are those nutrients found? The more you know, the better decision you can make for your pet’s health. While many veterinarians caution against this kind of practice, your pets can be healthy and happy if you carefully plan things out.

  2. Talk to your vet: We heard from one owner who was afraid of telling their vet that their cat was vegetarian. If this is the kind of relationship you have with your veterinarian, perhaps it’s time for a change. In reality, several reputable brands have created specialty foods for animals with health issues that your vet could recommend. In addition, they will have the knowledge and expertise to properly advise you on this journey. They may also suggest more frequent checkups to monitor your pet during the transition if it’s something they haven’t experienced much. In general, your vet should be your ally, not your enemy.

  3. Take your time: Some pets can be picky when it comes to changes in their food, but their digestive system will also need some time to adjust. Start by mixing their regular food with the new food, and then slowly adjust the ratio. If you find your pet is resisting, try sweetening the deal by enticing them with catnip, olive oil or nutritional yeast.

 

For further reading:

Pet food manufacturing and regulations

Specialty foods your vet could recommend

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