Vegetarianism and veganism is our choice, because we feed ourselves. While we may decide what our children eat we always look out for their best health– fruits and vegetables and snacks with low sugars and fats, but when it comes to our pets, it gets tricky. Pets cannot effectively communicate with us their needs and wants except through body language and noises, and like children, it is up to us to feed them. What we should feed them is a different story, and is critical to their health as they have no other source of food besides what you decide to put into their bowl. This has become more and more of a pressing issue in the most recent couple of years, as pet owners are starting to fed their companion meat free or animal product free foods, in accordance with their own diets and beliefs. This is both unfair and wrong to our meat eating pets, and needs to be stopped or fixed immediately.
Vegetarianism has been around for a long, long time, however veganism is a relatively newer term, dating back maybe a few decades or so. While these two may sound the same, they are very different in dietary allowances. Vegetarianism includes animal made products such as milk and cheese, making protein consumption easier. Veganism is the complete exclusion of animal products– from meat to eggs and milk, this hard-core diet can be difficult, but our omnivorous bodies can withstand the change to being a complete herbivore. Our dogs and cats, however, have a much harder time dealing with these dietary changes, especially that of the vegan.
It takes the meaning of both cruelty free and cruelty to a new level, and while our intentions may be pure, one should look into the nutritional needs of their pet as well as their pets ancestry before deciding to completely change their dietary habits that they’ve kept in tact for thousands of years. The two most controversial pets to feed vegan and vegetarian diets to are dogs and cats, and thus are the main focus.
Dogs, or canis lupus familiaris, are descendants from wolves. Wolves are carnivorous animals, as they lie under the order Carnivora, and while domestic dogs do as well, their digestive systems works a little differently. They can very loosely be described as omnivores due to their ability to create the necessary nutrients they need from proteins that do not come from meat, such as eggs and beans. Switching a dog to a vegetarian diet might not be so bad, but must be regularly checked up on for cardiovascular problems as well as other health issues that include vision, hearing, and malnutrition. This is due to their need for a specific nutrient called Taurine, which helps with cardiovascular help as well as keeping their vision healthy.
Vegan diets are not recommended for dogs, as they do need a great source of proteins in order to survive (which eggs can provide), and when it comes down to it, vegetables provide little nutrition to their diets. This is due to their stomach acid contents, which differ a bit from our own, and prevent them from fully gaining the nutrition that vegetables can provide. Some might say that they see their dogs eat grass or plants sometimes, and this isn’t due to a nutrient deficiency or because it might taste good. Dogs (as well as cats) tend to chew on house plants and grasses and bushes because they cannot digest it. It is a natural laxative and emetics– something that makes them vomit. Why would they want to vomit? To get something that’s bothering their stomach out.
Cats, AKA felis catus, also descent from the order Carnivora. While the dogs’ closest ancestor is the wolf and coyote, the cat is split into many subfamilies due to their size. Along with felis, for small cats, the ones closest are leopards, cheetahs, lynx’s and pumas (as more). These wild cats are similar to our companions in the fact that they all MUST have meat in their diet. This is due to their digestive system and how they gain nutrients and what they take these specific nutrients from. While both dogs and cats need Taurine in their diet, unlike dogs, cats cannot produce this from anything other than the amino acids that comes from meat. If not provided with meat or a type of supplement for taruine, cats can die from numerous cardiovascular diseases or go blind.
The other nutrients they gain from meat, such as vitamins A and D, are needed to keep a cats entire body healthy. Without them cats can suffer from urine crystallization and the inability to urinate or defecate, causing serious internal damage. Illnesses also “includ[e] diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and urinary stones” (http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/vegan_cats) which thankfully, there are vegan foods with added nutrients which help fight these illnesses. But it still isn’t enough, and it is much better if a cat gets what it needs straight from the source– just as it is better for us to eat fruits and vegetables rather than taking multivitamins. If cats are left completely without meat in their diets, they will feel the loss of nutrition and resort to their natural hunting instincts, killing mice and small birds for their needed protein.
If one cannot stand the thought of their own pet eating meat when that is their natural need, then perhaps a revision in pet choice is needed. There are more herbivorous and omnivorous pets out there than there are pure carnivore! Fish, birds, hamsters and ferrets– you don’t need to force your animal to eat these nutrient devoid foods! There are plenty of other choices that will leave one just as satisfied with the positive impact their making on the world with a vegan or vegetarian pet.
People should not be pushing their beliefs onto their pets. These animals are naturally carnivorous and have been for centuries. Even domesticated, the first dogs and cats were domesticated due to the fact that they found meat scraps and left over bones from our own primitive diets! We cannot suddenly change cats and dogs diets to our liking because we think it’s protecting the Earth and those who inhabit it. Instead we are slowly and painfully killing them, even though that’s exactly what we’re trying to prevent. It’s a kind of caring that an underlying layer of abuse– and while one can deny they are abusing their pet because they are looking out for their best interest, perhaps their best interest shouldn’t include your interests.