Meatless Meals for Dogs and Cats
If you are concerned about your companion animals’ health and about the cruelty of the meat industry, now is the time to stop buying meat-based commercial pet food.
Dangerous and Unsupervised Industry
Feeding companion animals commercial pet foods may be jeopardizing their health. Supermarket pet foods are often composed of ground-up parts of animals that U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors have deemed unfit for human consumption. The flesh of animals who fall into one of the categories of the four D’s—dead, dying, diseased, or disabled—is what often goes into pet food. One Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specialist says that the unrendered protein in food may come from heads, feet, viscera, and other animal parts.(1) Many of these animals have died of infections and other diseases. Pet food has also been recalled during mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), outbreaks because of the risk that contaminated meat might have been processed into the food. One deputy commissioner states that cats in particular “are susceptible to BSE.”(2)
Most pet foods contain the same hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics that are found in commercial meat products for humans. Other additives can be toxic and go unnoticed until it’s too late. In 2007, melamine found in food was linked to the deaths of least 16 animals, sickened thousands, and caused the recall of millions of containers of dog and cat food.(3) While the pet-food industry falls under the purview of the FDA, the manufacturers are not regularly inspected and, as one industry nutritionist told USA Today, “it’s largely self-policing.”(4) Yet the federal government does not penalize companies for failing to report problems to the FDA, nor does it have the authority to require a recall of contaminated food.(5)
Vegetarian Dogs and Cats
Many vegetarians and vegans feed healthful, meatless diets to their companion animals. One remarkable example is that of Bramble, a border collie whose vegan diet of rice, lentils, and organic vegetables contributed to a nearly record-breaking lifespan of at least 27 years.(6) Studies have shown that the ailments associated with meat consumption in humans—such as allergies, various types of cancer, and kidney, heart, and bone problems—also affect many nonhumans.
The nutritional needs of dogs and cats can be met with a balanced vegan diet and certain supplements. James Peden, author of Vegetarian Cats & Dogs, developed Vegepet™ supplements to add to vegetarian and vegan recipes. They are nutritionally balanced and also come in special formulas for kittens, puppies, and lactating cats and dogs.
Some people wonder if it’s “unnatural” to omit meat from the diet of a dog or cat. Animals in the wild commonly eat quite a lot of plant matter. Besides, to feed them the meat that they would naturally eat, you would have to serve them whole mice or birds or allow them to hunt for themselves, an option that is unfair to native species of birds and other small animals, since companion cats and dogs have been removed from the food chain and have advantages that free-roaming animals lack. Vegetarian or vegan dogs and cats enjoy their food and good health, and a vegetarian diet for your companion animal is ethically consistent with animal rights philosophy.
Making vegetarian food for dogs is easy because dogs, like people, are omnivorous and usually hearty eaters. Recipes for vegetarian and vegan dogs are available along with the Vegedog™ supplement from James Peden’s company, Harbingers of a New Age. It is important to follow directions carefully. If you make any changes in ingredients, make sure that you do not change the nutritional balance of the recipe. If a dog receives too little protein, calcium, or vitamin D, his or her health could be jeopardized.
Additionally, some dogs need two amino acids called L-carnitine and taurine, which are not generally added to commercial dog foods and can be insufficient in homemade dog food as well. A deficiency of these nutrients can cause dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious illness in which the heart becomes large and flabby and can no longer function. This illness generally strikes young or middle-aged dogs who are deficient in L-carnitine or taurine because of breed, size, individual genetic make-up, or diet. Supplemental L-carnitine and taurine can be bought at your local health-food store.
Cats are often more finicky than dogs, and their nutritional requirements are more complicated. Cats need a considerable amount of vitamin A, which they cannot biosynthesize from carotene, as dogs and humans do. Insufficient amounts may cause loss of hearing as well as problems with skin, bones, and intestinal and reproductive systems. Cats also need taurine. A feline lacking taurine can lose eyesight and could develop cardiomyopathy. Commercial pet-food companies often add taurine obtained from mollusks. James Peden found vegetarian sources of both taurine and vitamin A, plus arachidonic acid, another essential feline nutrient. He then developed veterinarian-approved supplements Vegecat™ and Vegekit™ to add to his recipes.
Dogs and cats who are eating only cooked or processed food also benefit from the addition of digestive enzymes to their food. These are obtainable through companion animal supply catalogs and health-food stores. Any raw vegetables in a dog’s diet should be grated or put through a food processor to enhance digestibility.
Making the Adjustment
To help with the adjustment to a vegetarian or vegan diet, start by mixing the vegetarian food in with what you usually serve. Gradually change the proportion until there is no meat left. If your efforts are met with resistance, tempt your animal friends by serving it warm or by adding soy milk, nutritional yeast (available at natural-food stores), olive oil, tomato sauce (most dogs love spaghetti!), catnip (for cats), powdered kelp, baby food that doesn’t contain onions, or other seasonings. Many cats like nutritional yeast and pieces of melon, and most love mashed chickpeas and veggie burgers. If your companion animals are addicted to supermarket pet food, it may take a while for them to adapt.
After switching dogs or cats to a vegetarian diet, monitor them closely to make sure that their new diet agrees with them, especially if they are still puppies or kittens. Watch for chronic gastrointestinal and skin problems, and note any new health problems. Most dogs and cats’ health improves on a vegetarian diet, but occasionally an animal may not thrive, so use common sense if this occurs.
What You Can Do
If you decide to prepare your own vegetarian dog or cat food, we recommend that you read Vegetarian Cats & Dogs to ensure that you understand the nutritional needs of dogs and cats. Do NOT rely on this factsheet for complete information. The book has several recipes and helpful hints. If your local library or bookstore doesn’t have it, you can order it from Harbingers of a New Age.
Entirely Vegan Companies
F & O Alternative Pet Products
Vegan dog and cat kibble and canned food
Harbingers of a New Age
Vegecat™, Vegekit™, Vegedog™, Vegepup™, and digestive enzymes
Kibble dog food
Vegan dog and cat food
1) Elizabeth Weise and Julie Schmit, “Pet Food Mystery Puts Head on Industry,” USA Today 22 Mar. 2007.
2) Steve Mitchell, “FDA May Recall Pet Food Due to Mad Cow,” United Press International, 24 Dec. 2003.
3) Nicole Gaouette, “Tainted Pet Food Could Still Be on Shelves; Much Is Yet Unknown About What Caused the Problem, Officials Say,” Los Angeles Times 13 Apr. 2007.
4) Weise and Schmit.
6) “At 27, Bramble’s Doggone Healthy,” Sunday Mail 29 Sep. 2002.