Is it fair to expect our pets to follow our dietery choices?
The should pets be vegan debate can be summarised by the argument that it’s wrong to force our beliefs on our companion animals versus it’s wrong to subsidise the meat industry.
Much of the debate centres around cats and dogs. Most smaller companion animals don’t naturally eat meat anyway and most vegans would argue that the trade in “exotic” pets is a highly suspect industry anyway – certainly one I’d keep away from. There are enough “domesticated” animals abused or abandoned every year without adding wild animals to the mix.
Dogs are omnivores in the wild, but wild cats are true carnivores – meat is all they eat. So, one could argue that it is unnatural to feed a cat a vegetarian or vegan diet. But, it isn’t as straight forward as that!
Omnivore, herbivore, or carnivore, it isn’t specific foods that differentiates between the three, but the need for different nutrients and differing ways in which the specific bodies handle those nutrients. For example, plant and meat proteins are very different, and so the type of protein a cat needs is important too.
In cats, it’s the risk of taurine deficiency which is the greatest problem with a vegan diet. Taurine deficiency can cause blindness and death. But, in processed cat foods, taurine has to be added back into the product as processing the meat kills it off. In other words, processed food can be a problem for pets just like it can be for humans.
Taurine is also available in a supplement, as is arachidonic acid – and both are often added to vegetarian and vegan pet foods.
Like all diets, the nutritional balance of what you feed your companion animals needs to be carefully monitored and any changes in health or personality need to be noted, kept an eye on and reported to the vet. While it is easier to feed a dog a vegan diet, it still needs watching closely – especially if it’s a “new” diet – as changes in eating habits for any creature (including humans) can have an effect on health and behaviour.
It also needs noting that the labelling of pet foods is not as comprehensively regulated as the labelling for human foods. In other words, anything could end up in there – and it can often be the left over “bits” from the slaughterhouse floor. That said, there is still a natural outrage in people when they learn that their friends are feeding pets – cats in particular – a vegan diet.
Of course, unless it’s a house cat, many felines will hunt for themselves anyway when they go for a wander – and there’s very little humans can do about this. Also, not all vegetarians and vegans have an issue with feeding their pets meat-based foods – they’re not eating it themselves after all. But it is still an important issue.
The “well don’t have dogs and cats as pets then” argument is rather simplistic as it doesn’t take into account new vegans and those who end up with strays on their property. As compassionate people, the instinct is to help any animal in trouble – domestic or otherwise.
It has been suggested by some that a compromise is going half and half for cats – feeding them vegetarian biscuits and wet commercial cat food, which is one solution that lessens the amount of meat you buy for your pet. Let’s be clear here, pet food is a product of intensive animal agriculture which is bad both environmentally and humanely. Therefore, if you are using commercial cat (or dog) food, then organic is a little better – and probably more healthy too. It also needs to be said that people DO feed cats on vegan diets and they can be perfectly healthy too – but you do need to monitor them very carefully. Most vets seem to advise against it, but the cats that have made headline news as being “mistreated” by a vegan diet have, on the whole, been fed silly diets comprising of human leftovers, rather than a carefully controlled and monitored alternative to meat-based nutrition.
As far as “forcing an ideology” on cats or dogs goes – well that happened as soon as the animals were domesticated anyway, every day working dogs have human ideologies “forced” on them.
Vegans want the best for all species on the planet – and that includes pets.