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Vegetarian Cats and Dogs

If you have been feeding your companion animals commercial pet foods, you may be jeopardizing their health. Supermarket pet foods are often composed of ground-up parts of animals deemed by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors 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. Many of these animals have died of infections and other diseases.

In all but a few states it is legal to remove unusable parts from chickens and sell them to pet food manufacturers. Most pet foods contain the same hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics that are found in commercial meat products for humans. 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.

Vegetarian Dogs and Cats

Many vegetarians and vegans feed healthful, meatless diets to their companion animals. One remarkable example is that of Bramble, a 27-year-old border collie whose vegan diet of rice, lentils, and organic vegetables earned her consideration by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest living dog in 2002. Studies have shown that the ailments associated with meat consumption in humans, such as allergies, cancer, and kidney, heart, and bone problems, also affect many nonhumans. Pet food has also been recalled during mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scares because of the risk that contaminated meat was processed into the food. One deputy commissioner states that cats especially “are susceptible to BSE.”

The nutritional needs of dogs and cats are easily 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.

Important Supplements

Making vegetarian food for dogs is easy because dogs 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. These recipes are probably the healthiest way to feed cats a vegan diet at this time.

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 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.

Companies That Sell Vegan Dog and Cat Food

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 library or bookstore doesn’t have it, you can order it from Harbingers of a New Age.

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 adding soy milk, nutritional yeast (available at natural-food stores), olive oil, catnip (for cats), powdered kelp, baby food that doesn’t contain onions or other seasonings, or by serving it warm. 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.

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  • Educated animal lover says:

    I agree that pets should be fed what they have been fed for years and years, which is NOT commercially processed “animal food”. Whether you agree with a pet being vegetarian/vegan, seriously consider what you are feeding them when you buy their bagged food from a market.

  • Deborah says:

    I found a Vegan dog food option through Natural Balance. It’s slightly confusing because the packaging states that it’s vegetarian, and then has another label on it saying vegan formula. Is anyone familiar with this brand and if it’s good quality or not? Thanks!

  • Cooper's Mommy says:

    I was just wondering what evidence based practice studies have been conducted on having your dog or cat go vegan. I have not been able to find any. I have access to NC States library and couldn’t find anything even there. I have been asked about the safety of putting your dog or cat on a vegan diet and the only information I have found isn’t very unbiased and poorly done.

  • deacon says:

    inflicting your dietary choices on an animal that has been adapted by nature over millions of years to a diet/lifestyle that goes against your political dogma is the worst form of cruelty I can imagine.

  • Grace says:

    A human lives a meat free lifestyle because of personal reasons and because he/she has the knowledge to properly maintain that diet. Having only a cat, I can’t speak for dogs; but if my cat was lost outside for whatever reason, I know I could count on his instincts to help ensure his survival. He would catch any small animals he was able. If he was loose and didn’t eat meat, I couldn’t guarantee he’d know how to properly feed himself with plants only. When an animal is able to form opinions on why a vegetarian/vegan diet is best for him, and when he is able of his own accord to properly nourish himself without the protein and other vital nutrients meat provides, he can gladly choose this lifestyle. Otherwise, animals should maintain the general diet that thousands of years of evolution and genetics has taught him to need. It’s nice that there are people who wholeheartedly believe in the rights of animals, but as an avid animal lover, to me this means respecting that they don’t have to adhere to what I believe for myself.

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