Is a Vegan Diet Sustainable for your Pet?

Should the move towards veganism affect your pets?

Many pet owners are moving toward healthier lifestyles and some are even incorporating a vegan diet into their plan. But should that diet extend to their furry friends? It’s a contentious subject among a lot of pet lovers and even some veterinarians. Before you decide to start withholding meat from your pup or cat’s food bowl, there are some things you need to keep in mind.

Our Pets are Built for Meat

When it comes to understanding your pet’s nutritional needs it’s important to know what, exactly, their bodies require to thrive. The challenge in maintaining a successful vegetarian or vegan diet in both humans and animals is the body’s ability to transform amino acids, found in both meat and plants, into protein the body can use to provide energy and maintain muscle.

While dogs belong to the order Carnivora, like us, they’re actually omnivores who are capable of living on an all-plant diet with special care and attention. Cats, on the other hand, are what are known as obligate carnivores. Their bodies lack the necessary ability to synthesize certain proteins and vitamins. Felines require a considerable amount of taurine in their diet, a vital amino acid, which is not found in plants and can only be obtained by eating meat.

Supplements

Just because meat might not be in your pet food doesn’t mean that essential vitamins and proteins can’t be added in. These pet foods add chemically synthesized nutrients to add what would typically be found in an animal’s normal diet. It is never recommended to attempt to fix your pet a vegan diet from your own kitchen, as it is difficult to know whether or not you’re providing adequate amounts of protein and amino acids in the food.
Just because it might meet your nutritional needs doesn’t mean it will meet theirs.

©istockphoto/Saso Novoselic

©istockphoto/Saso Novoselic

Potential Risks

There are numerous risks when it comes to feeding your pet a vegan diet. First and foremost, it’s easy to end up with an insufficient amount of protein intake each day. Veterinarians recommend 25 grams of protein for every 1000 calories. Most of our, and our pets’, protein comes from meat.

Your pet might also suffer from a deficiency of vitamins and amino acids that are normally only found in meat, including certain B vitamins, phosphorus and iron. As we said above, taurine is an essential amino acid for cats that is not found in plants and must be obtained through meat or supplements that have to be carefully monitored by you and your vet. Insufficient taurine levels can lead to a variety of medical problems, including but not limited to dilated cardiomyopathy, and enlarged heart lacking the ability to pump blood properly, eye problems and reproductive issues.

The Verdict

You’re unlikely to find a veterinarian who would ever recommend switching to a vegan diet for either your dog or your cat; it’s simply not the ideal way to ensure your pet is getting her nutritional needs met in the most adequate way possible. While there are products on the market that claim to be fine for your dog or cat, the truth is that they require intense monitoring and extra visits to the veterinarian to make sure your pet is staying happy and healthy.

While it’s possible they’ll survive on a vegan diet, they’re unlikely to thrive. A natural, wholesome diet that meets the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) is the best option when it comes to keeping your pet happy and healthy and on the move for a very long time.

Meet the Author: Ben Kerns

Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible. This stuff gets expensive.

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