People have the ability to make a choice about what they eat, often based on their beliefs surrounding ethics, health and the environment. Despite the fact that many of these people own companion animals, the topic of what vegans should feed their pets is a contentious one.
The oldest living dog in the world, Bramble, landed in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2002, as her vegan diet of rice, lentils, and organic vegetables allowed her to reach the age of 27. While there are a number of success stories where animals thrive on a vegan diet, people often consider changing the diet of a pet as cruel and unnatural.
However, a number of scientific studies have also looked into the matter, with Wakefield et al (2006) comparing the health of 34 cats maintained on vegetarian diets for at least a year, with that of 52 cats maintained on meat-based diets for at least a year. There were no significant differences in age, sex, body condition, housing, or perceived health status, with most cats within the study described as healthy. Brown et al (2009) did a shorter term study using 12 sprint-racing Siberian huskies who were fed either a meat based diet recommended for active dogs (n=6), or a vegetarian diet formulated with the same level of nutrients (n=6). The diets were tested over a 4 month period, including 10 weeks of competitive racing. Regular checks and blood tests were performed and overall results showed that all of the dogs in the study remained in excellent physical condition.
The majority of people agree that vegetarian diets can be fed to dogs safely when formulated correctly due to the fact that they are omnivores and are therefore naturally equipped to eat plant-based food. Yet, many argue that they should not be recommended for cats as they are “obligate carnivores” meaning there are numerous concerns regarding amino acid adequacy when eating plant-based foods. However, a scientific study by Knight and Leitsberger (2016) concluded that:
“Both cats and dogs may thrive on vegetarian diets, but these must be nutritionally complete and reasonably balanced”
I am not currently a pet owner, and haven’t been since turning vegan so I am not really sure where I stand on the topic. I find it difficult to think about my money supporting the animal agriculture business, so would theoretically love to feed my future animals vegan food, yet the mix of opinions throughout scientific literature is concerning. I would love to hear any of your stories/ advice about your vegan or meat-eating pets in the comments!