If you became a vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons, it makes sense that you would want to extend that line of thinking to your pets’ diets. But should you? Is it safe for cats and dogs to eat vegan or vegetarian diets? The answer, unfortunately, is a complicated one. Some pet owners say that their cats and dogs have been vegan for many years with no negative side effects. But most veterinarians advise against feeding pets a vegan diet.
There are several serious risks of feeding vegan diets to cats and dogs. First, doing so can lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, irons and A, B and D vitamins. In addition, vegan diets can cause a severe imbalance in amino acids. This is especially true for cats, which, unlike dogs, can’t make their own taurine and need to obtain it through food. It is also difficult for pets to get necessary fatty acids from non-animal sources.
Nutritional supplements can help to make up for some those lost nutrients, but that can be costly, and involves feeding your pets processed chemicals, which could also be harmful.
One other concern is that pets aren’t able to get sufficient protein from vegan food. Anyone who has been a vegetarian or vegan for any amount of time is quite weary of the protein argument, but experts say that it is a valid concern for cats and dogs.
The possible outcomes of these vitamin and nutrient deficiencies are frightening. One ailment that commonly affects cats is dilated cardiomyopathy – an enlarged heart with weakened pumping ability that vets have tied to taurine deficiencies. Unfortunately, even when pets are fed vegan diets with the best of intentions, they can backfire and cause serious medical issues or even death.
So what are vegan pet owners to do? One option is to choose an animal that naturally eats a vegan diet, such as a rabbit, instead of a cat or dog. Personally, I buy organic, high-quality cat and dog food, and I often give them homemade food containing ethically-raised meats and organic vegetables. It’s not ideal, but I love my pets and want them to live as long as possible, so I’m happy to sacrifice my beliefs for their health.
If you do decide to feed your pet a vegan diet, do so under the close supervision of a veterinary nutritionist, and make sure that your pet is screened often to identify any potential or existing health issues before they cause lasting damage.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.