In "Marley & Me," the movie about a spunky little terrier who gets adopted by two lawyers who go on to become vegetarians, there's one scene in which Marley — played by John Krasinski attempts to make his new owner, Alice (Mila Kunis), a grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn't work out so well.
The pet food industry has gotten smart since then. If you're looking to feed your cat or dog a plant-based diet, you can find all sorts of products with meat substitutes, including grains, vegetables and fruits. These foods often come in dry form and have labels such as "humane" or "natural." Some companies market their vegetarian fare as "gluten free" or "dairy tolerant." And some brands will actually tell you on the label what percentage of each ingredient comes from plants.
Vegan diets aren't just for humans these days. In recent years, more people have been interested in feeding their pets a vegetarian diet. As part of the animal rights movement, many vegans refuse to use any products derived from animals, including milk, eggs, honey and leather. They believe that factory farming contributes to global warming, causes undue suffering to animals and ultimately harms our environment. A growing number of Americans also want to reduce their carbon footprints by eating less meat.
But does that mean they should give up their beloved dogs too? While most experts agree that pets don't necessarily need to eat meat to stay healthy, it's important to understand what goes into making a good meal for your furry friend before you decide to cut out meat altogether. The last thing you want is for your dog to get sick because he or she ate something bad. Here we'll discuss whether adding a veggie diet to your pet's current menu is a good idea.
First things first: Vegans are not anti-dog
While some might consider vegans to be radicals, others see them as mainstream. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, nearly half of American adults now identify themselves as vegans. But regardless of how many people follow a vegan lifestyle, the basic premise behind veganism remains unchanged: Consuming animal products is unethical and cruel.
Many vegans choose to avoid using animal products in personal care items such as makeup, deodorant and sunscreen, but when it comes to pets, the decision isn't quite so simple.
Most vets recommend a vegan diet for pets only if certain conditions apply. For example, cats usually require high amounts of nutrients like vitamin B12 to survive, and a vegan diet won't provide enough sources of this nutrient.
Dogs tend to thrive better on a vegan diet than cats do, however, especially if they're fed proper amounts of vitamins and minerals. Generally speaking, dogs don't require much protein like humans do, so a lack of meat shouldn't pose a problem unless your pooch is a picky eater.
For stray dogs, another consideration is where they live. Since strays typically scavenge whatever they can find, they could end up consuming trash or other potentially dangerous substances. This means that stray dogs are more likely to suffer from health problems caused by ingesting garbage or toxic waste than their domesticated counterparts.
Finally, some owners worry that giving their pets a vegan diet will change their personalities. Although some experts say that changing your pet's diet can help curb behavioral issues, others disagree. Dr. Michael D. Roush, founder of VCA Animal Hospitals, says that while it's true that some dogs' behavior changes after adopting a vegan diet, it's also common for dogs to adjust to dietary changes.
Dogs Need Protein Just Like Everyone Else
Pets have different nutritional needs than people do. For instance, adult cats need about 1,200 calories per day, compared to about 2,000 for an average person. Of course, your pet doesn't need as much protein as you do simply because its body mass is smaller. However, carnivores generally consume between 35 percent and 40 percent of their daily caloric intake from protein, whereas herbivores eat 15 percent to 20 percent.