Pets can’t vote or buy liquor, but some pet owners go one step further by claiming that their animal companions don’t eat meat at all. These folks insist that the animals are vegetarians who subsist on vegetables not just raw carrots. They argue that this diet helps keep their pets healthy and happy without sacrificing their favorite pastime (hunting).
The idea of feeding our pets diets other than what we consume has been around as long as man’s best friend has existed. In fact, it was once common practice to feed dogs meat scraps from the dinner table. However, over time, more and more veterinarians have begun recommending against this practice, citing health risks associated with doing so. Today, most experts recommend providing your pet with a nutritious, balanced diet made up of protein sources such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and grains.
Many vets also believe that it makes sense to provide your pet with an occasional treat, which might include beef liver, chicken livers, or bacon bits. The problem arises when someone insists that their pet is strictly a vegetarian. This isn’t always a good thing especially if you’ve purchased a puppy or kitten. It’s hard enough to break the habit of giving kids sweets and junk food, let alone trying to convince another adult that his or her beloved pooch doesn’t need anything stronger.
To get to the bottom of whether or not your furry friend truly enjoys a veggie diet, take a look at the pros and cons of vegan living. On the next page, we’ll explore why some people choose to make a lifestyle change based around vegan cuisine.
Why Vegetarianism Makes Sense for Some Pets
It’s not uncommon for pet parents to consider switching their animals’ diets. Many people choose to give their cats prescription-free cat foods instead of commercial dry kibble because of concerns about possible side effects like obesity, allergies and digestive problems.
Those who own small dogs often find themselves buying organic treats made specifically for smaller breeds rather than conventional ones. People with horses sometimes supplement their animal’s natural hay and grasses with supplements designed to help control digestion and prevent bloat. And those who own large livestock have found ways to use alternative methods to raise their cows and pigs.
But many pet owners choose to switch their pets’ diets simply out of concern for their animals’ welfare. For example, some say that commercial cat food causes gastrointestinal issues and bladder infections in felines. Others claim that certain kinds of grain used in commercially available cat foods cause life-threatening kidney failure in Siamese cats. By eliminating these ingredients from their pets’ meals, pet owners hope to improve their animals’ overall health and well-being.
Pet veggie advocates usually point to studies about the nutritional needs of dogs and cats conducted by veterinary nutritionists. Most agree that pet carnivores require high levels of protein, calcium and phosphorus in order to maintain optimum health. Although dogs do need regular amounts of protein, they don’t need as much as humans.
Rather than focusing solely on protein intake, veggie proponents stress the importance of balancing a pet’s nutrients. A plant-based diet does contain adequate protein, vitamins and minerals, but it won’t necessarily supply animals with the same amount of calories or fats as their meaty counterparts. If you’re looking to lose weight, you should still consult your vet before making any dietary changes.
So how does a pet become a vegetarian? There are many reasons why people decide to forego meat and opt for a vegan diet. One major reason is environmental conservation. As the human population grows, so too will its appetite for meat, milk and other agricultural goods. Raising animals takes up a lot of land, water and resources.
According to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization, livestock production accounts for almost 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Vegans counter this argument with the adage “One person’s meat is another person’s vegetable,” meaning that everyone can benefit from cutting back on meat consumption.
Another popular motivation behind becoming a vegetarian is ethics. Vegetarian and vegan activists believe that raising animals for food takes away their right to live freely. Because they don’t experience pain or suffering, animals aren’t afforded legal rights equal to those granted to humans. Instead, they must endure cramped conditions, painful mutilations and routine slaughter in factory farms. Animal rights groups like PETA work tirelessly to expose the unethical practices inherent in modern farming methods.
A third consideration is religious. Many religions reject the notion of killing animals for food. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims hold that killing sentient creatures is akin to murder. Other faiths teach that consuming animals violates a strict moral code known as ahimsa, or harmlessness toward others.
Although some people choose to follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons, others decide to do so because they feel that it’s healthier. Studies show that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other chronic illnesses. Vegans also point to research showing that omnivorous animals raised in captivity suffer from higher instances of aggression, anxiety and depression compared to captive herbivores. Vegans argue that giving animals access to free choice would alleviate such psychological distress.
Those committed to adopting a vegan diet often encounter challenges while maintaining a proper balance of nutrients. Meat contains iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and other essential nutrients. Vegan alternatives like fortified cereals and beans lack key nutrients, including iron and vitamin B12. Veterinarians advise patients to talk to their doctors about the best ways to meet their pets’ nutritional needs.
Vegetarianism in Dogs FAQ
In addition to being healthier, veggie-only diets might also improve your pet’s behavior. Studies show that dogs raised on a vegetarian diet exhibit lower rates of aggression toward strangers and other animals. Additionally, veggie-fed pups tend to be less anxious and aggressive around other dogs and children.
If you’ve decided to adopt a veggie diet for your canine companion, you should know that it can be tough to maintain. Not only do pets require daily servings of fresh produce, but they also need plenty of fiber and protein. Your pet may balk at the sight of broccoli, but he or she might enjoy a bowl of lowfat yogurt.
To ensure success, make sure that your pet gets plenty of exercise, too. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of happiness and relaxation. An active pet tends to crave fewer snacks, making it easier for you to stick to a vegan diet.
While it’s true that some dogs enjoy meat, not all pet owners want to subject their animals to such cruelty. You shouldn’t assume that just because your dog eats meat, he wants to continue doing so. Make sure that your pet understands that you’re going veg out and discuss the decision with him or her beforehand.
As with people, some dogs prefer to eat certain types of food better than others. Certain brands contain preservatives that could upset your dog’s delicate digestive system. Avoid processed meats like hot dogs and sausages, since they contain nitrites. When choosing cuts of meat for your dog, ask your veterinarian about potential contamination.
Raw meat juices, called muck, can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea. Before serving, cut off visible fat pieces and remove gristle and bone. Also, avoid feeding your dog fatty or sugary treats. Giving your pet junk food regularly increases the likelihood of overeating and obesity. If you absolutely need your pup to eat something sweet, try offering fruits and vegetables.
When deciding between a vegetarian or vegan diet for your pet, remember that both options have advantages and disadvantages. Take into account your personal circumstances and preferences and then speak to your vet to get the scoop on what’s best for your pet.
Just like people, some dogs dislike vegetables. While some might call this culinary disliking a phobia, others refer to it as gourmet sniffles. Whatever the case, it seems that no matter what type of meal is served, some dogs refuse to touch its contents. If your dog exhibits this kind of behavior, try mixing his or her current dish with a bit of cooked hamburger. The greasy taste might tempt your pet enough to finish it.
Vegetarianism isn’t limited to people and animals. Vegans are also known as ovo-vegetarians, referring to their belief in the benefits of egg consumption. Since chickens lay eggs naturally, ovo-vegetarians don’t eat poultry products. Ovo-vegetarians typically rely on soy products, rice, potatoes, wheat germ and other vegetarian substitutes for proteins. Eggs, though, pose a larger challenge. Some vegans abstain from eating all forms of animal life, including eggs.
Vegetarian Dog Foods
People who believe that their pets are vegetarians needn’t fear that they’ll starve due to their decision. Just as pet owners can purchase specialized diets for specific health ailments, it’s possible to create a vegetarian menu for your pet.