Many vegans consider swapping their pet’s food for an alternative free of animal products for the same reasons that they themselves went vegan… To avoid animal cruelty is often the biggest one, while reducing the huge impact of meat production on the environment is equally important.
There are also valid concerns about the quality of the ingredients that go into commercial pet food. We know that these are not high-quality, but instead are made up of all the leftovers of meat production that are not considered to be fit for human consumption. These by-products are also full of the antibiotics and hormones fed to animals reared for meat. This then begs the question: if it’s not good enough for me, why would I feed this stuff to my beloved pet?
Many pet owners seriously considered this question in 2018 when consumer confidence in commercial pet food products took a deep dive. High levels of pentobarbitol, the euthanasia drug, was detected in pet food produced in the US, causing 100 million units to be recalled.
Can dogs be vegan?
The answer is yes. Dogs are omnivores who can eat both meat and plant foods. But many experts do recommend keeping a close eye on their nutritional requirements. Specifically, two important amino acids, L-carnitine and taurine, should be supplemented for optimal health. Though both of these are found in animal foods, there are good quality vegan sources too. These are almost always added to vegan pet food brands (as well as commercial dog food) so you can rest assured that your furry friend is getting what they need. For those who prefer to make their own pet food at home, vegan versions of L-carnitine and taurine are easily available in powder form at health food stores.
How about cats? Can they be vegan?
Cats are famously finicky and would probably balk at the idea of removing animal foods from their kibble. While dogs are omnivores, felines are obligate carnivores who need specific amino acids found in meat to be healthy. These include taurine and arginine, as well as arachidonic fatty acids and vitamins A and B12. A lack of taurine in a cat’s diet, for example, can cause serious heart problems and blindness.
But despite their more stringent nutritional needs as obligate carnivores, there are high-protein vegan cat food options on the market. These are supplemented with synthetic versions of taurine, vitamins A and B12, as well as a vegan version of arachidonic acid made from a soil fungus.
Our pets can thrive on a vegan diet
Just like us humans, dogs and cats can enjoy a vegan diet and thrive. Science backs this up. A 2016 study published in the journal Animals took an in-depth look into four studies that examined the nutritional feasibility of vegan diets for cats and dogs. The authors concluded that “it is entirely possible for companion animals to survive, and indeed thrive” on such a diet if it is “nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced.”
Many pet owners have seen their own animals do well and even flourish on a vegan diet. One of the best-known vegan dogs was Bramble, a border collie who lived to the age of 25 on a diet of rice, lentils, and vegetables, earning the title of oldest living dog by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2002. It was Bramble who inspired the name of the vegan pet food company of the same name!
Not everyone is sold on the idea of feeding pets plants. More conservative views warn that some caution is needed when switching your pet’s diet to an entirely plant-based one.
The viewpoint of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is that though “it’s possible but challenging to keep dogs healthy on a plant-based diet, a vegan diet is not appropriate for cats at all.”
The British Veterinary Association’s official view is that not enough is known about the potential effects of a vegan diet on dogs and cats. Their position is that a vegan diet is not recommended for dogs, and that dog owners considering this option should seek expert veterinary advice to avoid any potential deficiencies and associated diseases.
As for cats, they state that as obligate carnivores, they should not be feed a vegetarian or vegan diet. The organization warns that there is no guarantee that supplements or meat alternatives would be bioavailable to a cat or not interfere with other nutrients.
Ultimately it’s up to the pet owner to weigh up the potential benefits and risks of a meat-free diet while also considering that commercial pet food can also be unsafe and unhealthy.
Your plant-powered pet
Before getting your pet started on a plant-based diet, do your research. You’ll want to make sure that they’ll be getting all the proteins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals they need and that the pet food you’re considering has been formulated by veterinary nutritionists.
Check if the brand has done feeding trails and studies of the effects of their plant-based pet food on digestibility, and nutritional efficacy. In the US, look out for brands that have the stamp of approval of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which indicates that the pet food is balanced and meets nutritional requirements.
Looking for vegan pet food near you? The Sustainable Pet Food website is a handy resource listing vegan pet food suppliers across the world.