If you have been feeding your companion animals commercial pet foods, you may be jeopardizing their health. Supermarket pet foods are often composed of ground-up parts of animals deemed by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors unfit for human consumption. The flesh of animals who fall into one of the categories of the four D's : dead, dying, diseased, or disabled's what often goes into pet food. Many of these animals have died of infections and other diseases. In all but a few states it is legal to remove unusable parts from chickens and sell them to pet food manufacturers. Most pet foods contain the same hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics that are found in commercial meat products for humans. If you are concerned about your companion animals health and about the cruelty of the meat industry, now is the time to stop buying meat-based commercial pet food.
Vegetarian Dogs and Cats Many vegetarians and vegans feed healthful, meatless diets to their companion animals. One remarkable example is that of Bramble, a 27-year-old border collie whose vegan diet of rice, lentils, and organic vegetables earned her consideration by the
Guinness Book of World Records
as the worlds oldest living dog in 2002.(1) Studies have shown that the ailments associated with meat consumption in humans, such as allergies, cancer, and kidney, heart, and bone problems, also affect many nonhumans. Pet food has also been recalled during mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scares because of the risk that contaminated meat was processed into the food. One deputy commissioner states that cats especially are susceptible to BSE.(2)
The nutritional needs of dogs and cats are easily met with a balanced vegan diet and certain supplements. James Peden, author of
Vegetarian Cats & Dogs
, developed Vegepet supplements to add to vegetarian and vegan recipes. They are nutritionally balanced and also come in special formulas for kittens, puppies, and lactating cats and dogs.
Some people wonder if its unnatural to omit meat from the diet of a dog or cat. Animals in the wild commonly eat quite a lot of plant matter. Besides, to feed them the meat that they would naturally eat, you would have to serve them whole mice or birds or allow them to hunt for themselves, an option that is unfair to native species of birds and other small animals, since companion cats and dogs have been removed from the food chain and have advantages that free-roaming animals lack. Vegetarian or vegan dogs and cats enjoy their food and good health, and a vegetarian diet for your companion animal is ethically consistent with animal rights philosophy.
Important Supplements Making vegetarian food for dogs is easy because dogs, like people, are omnivorous and usually hearty eaters. Recipes for vegetarian and vegan dogs are available along with the Vegedog supplement from James Pedens company, Harbingers of a New Age. It is important to follow directions carefully. If you make any changes in ingredients, make sure that you do not change the nutritional balance of the recipe. If a dog receives too little protein, calcium, or vitamin D, his or her health could be jeopardized.
Additionally, some dogs need two amino acids called L-carnitine and taurine which are not generally added to commercial dog foods and can be insufficient in homemade dog food as well. A deficiency of these nutrients can cause dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious illness in which the heart becomes large and flabby and can no longer function. This illness generally strikes young or middle-aged dogs who are deficient in L-carnitine or taurine because of breed, size, individual genetic make-up, or diet. Supplemental L-carnitine and taurine can be bought at your local health food store
Cats are often more finicky than dogs, and their nutritional requirements are more complicated. Cats need a considerable amount of vitamin A, which they cannot biosynthesize from carotene, as dogs and humans do. Insufficient amounts may cause loss of hearing, as well as problems with skin, bones, and intestinal and reproductive systems. Cats also need taurine. A feline lacking taurine can lose eyesight and could develop cardiomyopathy. Commercial pet food companies often add taurine obtained from mollusks. James Peden found vegetarian sources of both taurine and vitamin A, plus arachidonic acid, another essential feline nutrient. He then developed veterinarian-approved supplements Vegecat and Vegekit to add to his recipes. These recipes are probably the healthiest way to feed cats a vegan diet at this time.
Dogs and cats who are eating only cooked or processed food also benefit from the addition of digestive enzymes to their food. These are obtainable through animal supply catalogs and health food stores. Any raw vegetables in a dogs diet should be grated or put through a food processor to enhance digestibility.
If you decide to prepare your own vegetarian dog or cat food, we recommend that you read
Vegetarian Cats & Dogs
to ensure that you understand the nutritional needs of dogs and cats. Do not rely on this factsheet for complete information. The book has several recipes and helpful hints. If your library or bookstore doesnt have it, you can order it from
Making the Adjustment To help with the adjustment to a vegetarian or vegan diet, start by mixing the vegetarian food in with what you usually serve. Gradually change the proportion until there is no meat left. If your efforts are met with resistance, tempt your animal friends by adding soy milk, nutritional yeast (available at natural-food stores), olive oil, tomato sauce (most dogs love spaghetti!), catnip (for cats), powdered kelp, baby food that doesnt contain onions or other seasonings, or by serving it warm. Many cats like nutritional yeast and pieces of melon, and most love mashed chickpeas and veggie burgers. If your companion animals are addicted to supermarket pet food, it may take a while for them to adapt.
After switching dogs or cats to a vegetarian diet, monitor them closely to make sure that their new diet agrees with them, especially if they are still puppies or kittens. Watch for chronic gastrointestinal and skin problems, and note any new health problems. Most dogs and cats health improves on a vegetarian diet, but occasionally an animal may not thrive, so use common sense if this occurs.
References 1) 27-Year-Old Vegan Collie Could Be Worlds Oldest Living Dog, Ananova, 29 Aug. 2002. 2) Steve Mitchell, FDA May Recall Pet Food Due to Mad Cow, United Press International, 24 Dec. 2003.