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Is it Safe for Pets to Eat Vegan or Vegetarian Diets?
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Is it Safe for Pets to Eat Vegan or Vegetarian Diets?

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.

 

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  1. Vin Chauhun
    Vin Chauhun
    It is VERY bad to try and change your cat or dog into a vegetarian. Cats and dogs are meat eaters, it is what they built for, especially cats. Cats have special dietary needs - taurine as you pointed out, which they need to maintain their excellent vision. There is not need to feel guilt that your kitty or Fido ain't a veggie - they natural born hunters. :) voted!!
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  2. Veganara
    Veganara
    Voted. Great blog. I agree, as a vegan pet-owner, it is not an easy, clear-cut issue. It's true that cats and dogs have evolved to eat meat, but the problem is that keeping them as pets is a kind of artificial situation, in evolutionary terms. Since they are not hunting their own food, sorry Vin Chauhun! If we are feeding them commercial pet foods we are still contributing to the suffering and killing of farmed animals. That is what I feel bad about, when buying food for my cat. But she has to live as well! I think that if we can get them on the vegan pet foods we should try that though , if at all possible But as you say, there are a lot of problems with that. It's certainly a huge conundrum.
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    1. Vin Chauhun
      Vin Chauhun
      LOL..Nein...Nein...No, No veggies for cats. I agree about cats not eating normal "meat". Cats biology is specially designed for meat only. When i had cats I included "some" veggies in their food. They looked at me, like "Are you stupid? Do we look like sheep to U? "
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  3. amuse
    Even thought my Schnauzer will turn her nose up to fresh cooked meat at times to eat fresh fruits and vegetables (that are dog safe) and ice cream made specifically for dogs I will never stop feeding her meat. She is not human and her nutritional requirements are very different from us. The world of Bambi does not exist outside of our imaginations-animals eat one another for a reason and there is no morality involved for them. I still cook meat for her (because I at least know what she is eating versus what's in the can or bag)and my omnivore husband. It is not my place to infringe my standards on them or anyone else-especially not an animal that is dependent on me for its health hand well being. Being a responsible pet owner means knowing as much about their nutritional needs as you do your own. Some vegan foods like onions, garlic, grapes, macadamia nuts, , mushrooms and even fruit pits and seeds are deadly for dogs.- Apple seeds, cherry pits, peach pits, and plum pits contain toxiccyanide, which is poisonous to dogs. As I used to tell my students who would say "But it's natural" ,"So is hemlock., just ask Socrates. Also, greasy meat is dangerous for dogs-as is raw meat in the wild. While in college I worked for a vet and saw hunting dogs die because they got into the kill and they got acute pancreatitis. See: http://www.dogheirs.com/dogheirs/posts/141-toxic-foods-for-dogs-fruits-vegetables-and-nuts
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    1. Vin Chauhun
      Vin Chauhun
      .........my points exactly -I would stay away from plant stuff - So there is no chance of accidental poisoning
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  4. uridev
    I knew a couple that did not know cat physiology requires meat and that accidently killed two of their kittens. Very sad. I am a vegetarian (mostly vegan) and only feed my 3 cats meat with carrots and peas, seaweed and omega 3 through chia seeds which I sprinkle onto their food.. I no longer give them tuna or ocean fish because of Fukushima and the high levels of radiation in fish. The seaweed helps detox and gives them a fishy taste. (I use dulse flakes from the Atlantic).
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  5. Terry McGee
    I have been a vegan for years and I am also a pet owner. I have 3 dogs and 1 cat. I take my animals to the vet for their shots and visits. One time my dog was very sick and almost died. I was so lucky that my vet saved his life. After this my vet suggested for the first few weeks to feed him rice or pasta mixed with a little dry dog food. My three dogs adore rice and pasta and this has become part of their diet. I do add a little vegan cheese here and there to their diet and every now and then I give them half a banana to eat. Other than this my dogs are on a strict diet of rice and pasta mixed with their dry dog food and organic canned food I buy for them. My cat is a very picky eater and will only eat dry cat food. After almost loosing my dog I cannot see changing their diet to a vegan diet. Animals do not have the same digestive system as we do and cannot eat the same foods we eat. I think being vegan we have certain choices in feeding our animals and we can always buy organic food for them to eat. To force them into eating a complete vegan diet is unfair to the animal and will make them very sick.
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    1. Veganara
      Veganara
      I take all the points that people are making here. However just to let you all know, I know a vet who says that cats can be fed on vegan catfood, if it is regularly monitored, and I have also heard of people who have successfully kept their cats on this diet for quite a few years without them getting ill. I know that is only anecdotal evidence but it still counts.
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    2. amuse
      This was in the Charlotte Observer yesterday about organic food. Consider dangers of buying organic By James Greiff Bloomberg View Posted: Sunday, Jun. 08, 2014 Buying organic food is an exercise in personal virtue: You pay more to consume food that’s healthier for you and less damaging to the environment because it’s grown without artificial or toxic chemicals. This powerful perception, based more on belief than facts, helps explain why demand for organic products has grown so much. Organic sales have more than tripled in the past decade, to more than $30 billion a year, while sales of conventional food products have dawdled along at an annual growth rate of about 2 percent. There’s just one problem: Neither of the main assumptions driving the growth of organic farming are grounded in science. In fact, there is evidence that organic farms produce as much, or more, pollution than conventional farms and that organic products might actually contain more toxins than other foods. Like all farms, those that grow organic products rely on fertilizer. Often, organic farmers use animal manure rather than chemicals derived from petroleum or minerals. In one study of greenhouses in Israel, the use of manure led to much more nitrogen leaching into groundwater compared with use of conventional fertilization. Nitrogen contamination, the study noted, is one of the main reasons for closing drinking-water wells. And by the way, nitrogen from all sorts of farming is one of the main pollutants behind algae blooms, fish kills and dead zones in bodies of water from local farm ponds to the northern Gulf of Mexico. A broader study of 12 different farm products in California found that in seven cases, those using conventional methods had lower greenhouse-gas emissions. A big reason for the difference? Conventional farming tends to be more efficient than organic farming, meaning fewer inputs are needed to generate the same amount of food. That hits on a critical issue for organic farming, as noted in a 2012 analysis of more than 100 studies of farming methods across Europe: Getting the same unit production from organic farming tended to lead to “higher ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions.” And while organic farming tends to use less energy, it also leads to “higher land use, eutrophication potential” – that’s the dead zones mentioned above – “and acidification potential per product unit.” The main author of the study, Hanna Tuomisto, a professor at Oxford University, said: “Many people think that organic farming has intrinsically lower environmental impacts than conventional farming but the literature tells us this is not the case. Whilst some organic farming practices do have less environmental impact than conventional ones, the published evidence suggests that others are actually worse for some aspects of the environment. People need to realize that an ‘organic’ label is not a straightforward guarantee of the most environmentally-friendly product.” As for health benefits, the evidence suggests there’s no distinguishable difference in nutritional value between organics and other food. Some types of organic production actually lead to higher levels of toxins in food. Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/06/08/4960000/consider-dangers-of-buying-organic.html#.U5YQ5fldWYE#storylink=cpy My dog loves vegan cheese but i worry about preservatives and sodium. I eat Utz chips that have 90 g of sodium but as much as she loves these I hesitate because i am afraid that even little bites may be too much. She gets all the seedless watermelon she wants though. The diet my previous Schnauzer was given (she almost died by eating those tiny black bird seeds in my neighbor's yard-she had gotten free from the house and roamed over) was rice, cooked ground beef and cottage cheese. When my vet told me this I said she'll never eat anything else again and was assured she would and she did. This was the equivalent of the BRAT diet for children who have stomach problems. For them it's bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Go figure.
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