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Should vegetarians (or vegans) put their pets on meat-free diets
Is it safe to transition your dog or cat to a meat-free diet?
The trend of food-conscious humans is expanding. An increasing number of people are turning to diets which support both environmentally-friendly efforts (sustainable, organic etc.) as well as ethical values (vegan, pescitarian, vegetarian etc.). While this is all great, statistic show that food-conscious humans are starting to extend their morality to their pets - i.e. vegetarians are putting their dogs and cats on vegetarian diets, and vegans are putting their pets on vegan diets!
Food-conscious pet owners who have converted their dogs or cats to plant-based diets swear that their animals thrive without meat, and many experts are expressing concern! Numerous experts have taken a stand to say that meat-free diets lack the nutritional requirements for a truly healthy dog or cat. However, these pet owners maintain that their dogs and cats enjoy excellent health on meat-free diets. So which argument is correct?
It's a controversial topic which needs to be considered and researched extremely carefully. There have been reported cases of domestic animals being put on meat-free diets and suffering as a result. There have also been reported cases of domestic animals being put on meat-free diets (under close professional supervision) and doing just fine!
The argument supporting meat-free diets for dogs and cats
It's no secret that there have been drastic environmental impacts associated with animal agriculture and meat production. Studies have shown that livestock farming has contributed largely to global warming, the spreading of disease and the unjust treatment of animals. In fact, livestock farming is the number one cause of rapid climate change due to deforestation, burning of fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emission and global transport. Sources say that meat-eating pets contribute to 20-30% of the environmental impacts associated with livestock farming!
People who have chosen to switch to vegan or vegetarian diets have made this decision for either health reasons or moral reasons, or both. While most people do not push their preferences on to their animals, an increasing number of people are! This may make the majority of people gasp in disbelief but before you judge, hear us out.
Technically speaking (and under the right circumstances), dogs and cats can survive on vegan or vegetarian diets. It's commonly believed that dogs and cats are carnivores (they eat only meat), but they're actually omnivores (they eat both plants and meat)! This means that their digestive systems are quite capable of absorbing and digesting plant-based nutrients.
While the canine and feline digestive systems can get nutrition from plants, it's much easier for their systems to process animal matter, such as fat and protein. Fruits and vegetables are great for providing vitamins and antioxidants that can help your pet thrive, but putting them on a meat-free diet carelessly may result in a lack of the necessary nutrients.
Have you ever heard of veterinarians or licensed pet nutritionists prescribing a meat-free diet to certain pets? It's not uncommon for dogs who are allergic to meat proteins or who suffer from certain health conditions to be put on a carefully-designed meat-free diet. It's crucial to note that this should never be done without professional guidance and supervision! A food plan for cats or dogs consisting of zero animal fats or proteins can lead to malnutrition and serious health consequences if not executed correctly.
It boils down to the fact that dogs and cats do not require animal meat to maintain health IF they are on a nutritious, well-balanced diet under professional supervision. Designing a meat-free diet for dogs and cats that contains all of the necessary nutrients for them to thrive is extremely difficult, even for licensed pet nutritionists. This leads us to say that if you're a vegetarian or vegan for health reasons, it may be best to NOT extend your preference onto your dog or cat. On the other hand, if you're a vegan or vegetarian for moral reasons, ensure you first consult a professional who is highly experienced in the field of pet nutrition before you cut meat out of your dog or cat's diet.
The argument discouraging meat-free diets for dogs and cats
As mentioned above, designing a sustainable meat-free diet for dogs and cats is extremely difficult, even for licensed pet nutritionists. One person's mistake or lack of training could lead to serious long-term health consequences for your beloved pet. The truth is that dogs and cats naturally thrive off meat and their digestive systems are best suited to a diet with meat-based protein and fat!
It's frightening to think that one wrong move could cost you your pet. Certain professionals who are convinced that meat-free diets for pets is horrific, say that the lack of meat in a dog or cat's diet could cause enteropathy, which is disease of the intestine. Many experts are also saying that dogs on a vegan diet are likely to suffer from malnutrition that will drastically affect their quality of life, and vegan cats will certainly get sick and possibly die from malnutrition.
An interesting fact is that cats are more at risk on a vegan or vegetarian diet because they're far less domesticated than dogs and don't digest and absorb plant-based nutrients as well as dogs. They’ve evolved to get vitamins and amino acids from the bodies of their prey. This doesn't mean that it's impossible to transition your cat (under professional supervision) to a vegan or vegetarian diet, it just means that you may want to be that much more careful, or rethink whether a meat-free diet is actually best for them!
If you're vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons and want your entire household to remain true to your morals, there are other ways to extend your lifestyle onto your pet without having to completely remove animal products from their diet:
- You can use free range eggs or dairy in place of meat
- Purchase high-quality pet food that contain organic, free range and sustainably-sourced animal products
- Consider switching common meat (beef, lamb, chicken etc.) with fish-based foods (although the mercury content in fish is becoming a problem)
- Add Omega supplements to your pet’s diet (see Vondi’s Om3 Omega Supplement for Pets)
Ultimately, the decision lies with the individual pet owner. Feelgood Pets encourages owner-vet communication and to always, always, always make sure you're going to a qualified and licensed veterinary professional. Before making any drastic changes to your pet's diet or lifestyle, it's best to consult with your vet and do as much research as possible!
Feelgood Pets stocks only organic pet food and treats. Any meat products are strictly organic with no preservatives or additives. View our collection of healthy pet food and treats >
If you have any questions, please contact our team for FREE pet health advice, or leave a comment below. We always love hearing from you!