The battle rages on, and those who are vegan and those who aren’t both weigh in. Many vegans prefer to have their pets lead the same lifestyle, which raises a significant and important question.
Can cats, dogs, and other pets go vegan? Cats cannot go vegan but dogs can due to their biological differences. For other pets, it depends on their natural history and biological needs.
As a former carnivore zookeeper for over 12 years, I have a lot of hand-on experience with feeding and caring for canids and felids of all kinds. There is a lot of misinformation out there about whether certain pets can live a healthy vegan life. Here I’ll cover some of the most common questions.
There are many points to this question, including nutrition, digestive health, energy levels, and the ethical side of it. Both sides of the spectrum are turning toward research to know if it is safe to feed a vegan diet to their pet.
Dogs and cats are different animals, so it stands to reason that having a vegan pet is determined by their make-up and what they can eat to remain healthy. Though meat-based meals are often the go-to for a lot of animals, a plant-based diet could be safe.
Meat is absolutely necessary for obligate carnivores to eat and keeping that from them leads to health issues and nutrient deficiencies. Therefore, as a vegan pet owner, it’s important to focus on the right pet food.
I know it’s hard to determine whether you should have a vegan dog or not, but it is possible. Vegan cats might be another story.
Below I’ll go over all your common questions about being vegan with a carnivorous pet as well as what the current research shows on whether having a vegan pet is healthy.
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Do Vegans Allow Their Pets to Eat Meat?
Some vegans do permit their pets to eat meat, though they may not like doing so. If I’m a vegan, and I have someone non-vegan over to my house, I’m not likely to prepare meat for them.
For one, I don’t really know how, and I’d be worried that I might make them sick by cooking it wrong. Plus, I’m not going to buy foods that I am not going to eat.
However, if I go to a friend’s house who is non-vegan, I’m going to steer clear of the meat dishes and only eat what I can on my vegan diet. I don’t expect them to give up their meat-loving nature for me, and they don’t expect me to prepare foods that I don’t feel ethically able to make.
That being said, as a vegan, I want to make sure my friends are healthy. If one of them requires a diet that’s meat-based, I’m not going to belittle them for that fact. The same applies to my pets. They are my friends, so I’m going to ensure that they get the food they require.
Not all vegans feel or think the same way. Some of them do not allow their pets to eat meat at all. This is not necessarily a bad thing or cruel – as long as the pets are healthy and getting a diet full of nutrients. If you’re going this route then it’s absolutely necessary to do this under the supervision of your pet’s veterinarian.
Is It Cruel to Feed Dogs Vegan?
Whether you are vegan or not, many issues crop up around vegan animals. If you want to have a vegan dog, it is possible for the most part. It isn’t considered cruel, based on science.
However, the thing you must consider is whether or not the vegan diet is safe for them. Dogs need the right nutrients to live healthily. This includes amino acids, vitamins, vegetable matter, fruits, and everything else. In a sense, animals eat similarly to humans.
So is it cruel to feed dogs a vegan diet? No, not if you’re feeding them an AAFCO approved dog food that has all the nutrients they need. Your dog’s veterinarian should also run bloodwork to make sure all their values are healthy.
Nutrients Your Vegan Dog Needs
One argument against feeding your dog a vegan diet is that they won’t get the proper nutrients. Dogs often eat kibble, which has protein, vegetables, and the appropriate amino acids.
Some of the most important nutrients to watch for include:
- Arachidonic Acid: This is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, and it’s found in phospholipids, such as phosphatidylinositides, phosphatidylcholine, and more. It’s generally found in the muscles, liver, and brain. As an omega-6 fatty acid, it is often seen as better than fish and other seafood.
- Protein: Protein is an essential macronutrient required to build muscle mass. It’s often found in meat, as well as canned pet food. You can get protein from other sources, which is what vegans often do.
- Arginine: This nutrient is used to bio-synthesize proteins. It can also help to release insulin and hormones and get them where they need to go. It can also be used in humans as a treatment for blood vessels and heart conditions – both in pets and humans.
- Lysine: Lysine is a building block for protein. Generally, an amino acid is there to help the body process protein. Though it doesn’t matter where the protein comes from, it’s much harder to get enough of it from a vegan diet. While vegans can choose other sources, it’s harder to do for dogs and cats. Pets don’t often have the same food needs as humans.
- Valine: This amino acid is found in a variety of proteins. It can enhance your energy, increase endurance, and even help with muscle repair and recovery.
You can clearly see why these things are so important. Therefore, whatever foods you give to your pet must have these and other nutrients in it.
Vegan diets often fall short for humans if they aren’t careful. It’s so easy to get stuck in a loop of eating vegan junk food that is nutrient-poor. You don’t want the same for your dog.
Though you can choose to eat what you want and withdraw protein and foods that come from animals, your pet still needs the right foods to get the right nutrients.
If you’re looking for high-quality vegan dog food, read my Wild Earth dog food review here. This is the only brand of vegan dog food I’d consider for my dogs. It’s AAFCO approved and many dogs do well on it; especially dogs with allergies.
What Do Vegans Think of Carnivorous Animals?
Veganism itself is a stance against exploiting and killing animals unnecessarily. Vegans feel it is unethical to eat animal products because they have the choice not to eat them and still be healthy.
Carnivores don’t have that same choice. They must eat meat to get the nutrients they require. As humans and omnivores (eating both meat and vegetables), it’s easy to become vegetarian or vegan over time.
However, many carnivores rarely eat anything but meat. Putting them on a vegan diet almost seems to be the wrong choice. You’ve also got to consider that cats and dogs are different and require different nutrients.
Cats are considered obligate carnivores which means that meat is biologically essential for their survival. There’s no getting around this. Cat’s simply cannot be vegan and be healthy.
Veganism makes exceptions to its rules for survival, and animals that must eat other animals to survive. Dogs have evolved to be more omnivorous so some of them can do well eating some grains and other protein sources.
Many animals don’t understand the moral implications of eating other animals and it’s in fact how they’ve evolved over time. Animals don’t have morals, so there is no need to worry about ethics.
Where ethics come into play is the question of whether vegans owning pets moral? Yes, vegans owning pets is moral as long as they take proper care of them. If a pet was adopted and needed a home, and you’re not breeding them yourself, you’ve given that homeless animal a safe place to live.
Some vegans do believe that they should be moving toward a world where no animals are held captive. This clearly indicates pets.
However, domesticated animals should stay cared for and respected as companions, at least in my opinion. People have had pets for forever, and it’s impossible to ignore the fact that they are a part of our lives.
They make us feel better after a long day, and some studies have shown that dogs can actually help people feel better and be healthier.
Can Cats Eat Vegan?
No, cats can absolutely not eat a vegan diet. They are entirely meat-eaters, so depriving them of meat or giving them meat alternatives will cause painful health issues and nutritional deficiencies.
Some believe that cats shouldn’t have to eat a vegan diet because they can’t get the nutrients they require from it. Others feel that cats are so strong-willed and independent that it must be their choice, or else they would not do it.
Though dogs can eat certain ‘human’ foods, cats cannot. Therefore, you shouldn’t give your cats vegetables. Also, cats require certain nutrients to stay healthy that often can’t be found with your own research. You’re going to have to buy cat food that is fortified with those nutrients in order for them to stay healthy.
One of the most common deficiencies for a cat on a vegan diet is taurine deficiency. A cat who doesn’t get enough taurine will over time get impaired vision leading to blindness as well as muscle and heart tweaking.
The problem is that this deficiency is slow to develop and show symptoms. Often by the time you realize it, it’s too late and long-term damage has been done. So do your cat a favor and feed them an AAFCO approved diet full of meat or don’t adopt a cat to begin with.
Why Cats Can’t Eat A Vegan Diet
Cats, on the other hand, are impossible to switch to a vegan lifestyle. While a vegan dog is relatively easy because they can digest vegetables and grains, cats are different.
Cat food must be fortified with certain proteins, including taurine. Cats can’t produce this protein themselves and must get it from food. Of course, fish, chicken, and beef are all great sources. If they don’t get enough taurine, they could develop DCM (Dilated Cardiomyopathy).
Vegan cat food is available, and it is free of animal-based products but overall it is not healthy for them. While it says it has all the nutrients that cats need, cat digestive tracts are built differently.
Their intestines are much shorter which means food passes through quickly and they aren’t able to absorb the nutrients from plant-based foods effectively.
So while the food is often fortified with essential proteins like taurine, cats aren’t able to digest it. Most vets believe that cats can’t thrive on diets without meat.
How to Feed Your Omnivorous Dog a Vegan Diet
Veganism is on the rise. Between 2014 and 2017, it rose to about 600 percent in just the United States. Therefore, it’s no wonder that many people want to feed their cats and dogs a vegan or vegetarian diet, as well.
You can find vegan dog food, so it is possible to own a vegan dog. Still, you have to ensure that they’re getting the right nutrients. Owners of pets find it natural to give them regular pet foods. They need meat, but that can cause problems if you are living a vegan life.
You can continue to feed your pet regular food like they are used to having. As a carnivore, they are going to be good with that and have probably been fed it for many years.
Those who do want to consider vegan food for their pets should think about the appropriate requirements. You can find vegan dry dog food for your dogs. Wild Earth is my favorite vegan alternative. You can read my review of them here.
Many companies are now offering such products but I recommend sticking to AAFCO-approved foods since they have strict guidelines on nutrients. Dogs tend to prefer meat, but they can live healthily on vegetables and fortified dog food.
Why Some Dogs Thrive On A Vegan Diet
While some dogs may have trouble switching to a vegan diet, other dogs can easily switch. Many dog owner’s who have switched to a vegan protein source for their dog have done so due to allergies rather than for personal beliefs.
A lot of the most common proteins in dog foods are chicken, turkey, beef, eggs, or other animal-based sources. If you’ve ever looked at a dog food specifically for dogs with allergies, many times the protein sources are more exotic like duck, venison, rabbit, lamb, or even bison.
This is because vets have found that many dogs with skin and allergy problems do best on varied protein sources they haven’t built up an allergy to yet.
By going with a commercial vegan dog food like Wild Earth, the protein source is from yeast and is completely clean and sustainable. They also meet AAFCO guidelines so you know your dog is getting all the nutrients they need. If you’re interested in learning more, check out my Wild Earth dog food review.
History of Dogs
Generally, dogs became domesticated because humans offered them food from their campfire, which wasn’t always meat. Wolves, of course, eat meat, but they also eat grass and berries if they are lacking in a particular vitamin.
Throughout the years, dogs adapted to a diet with more plant starches and less meat. They have the right genes to digest it.
Therefore, dogs are at an advantage over cats when it comes to moving them closer to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Still, it is not easy to get a dog to switch to a vegan lifestyle. Lots of close work with your veterinarian should be done before switching over.
It’s often best to use a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that you’re doing things correctly. However, that can get expensive and be a challenge to you.
Though there are companies offering vegan dog foods, you still need to research them and ensure that they are providing the right nutrients. This is often difficult to do and requires you to spend hours online trying to figure out the difference between all of the amino acid requirements and more.
Can Vegans Own Snakes?
Vegans can technically own any animal they want, but if they want the pet to be on a vegan diet, then a snake is not the best choice. Generally, snakes only eat meat and do not eat vegetables and fruit.
It’s nearly impossible to keep a snake healthy on a vegan diet and you shouldn’t try. Their diet consists of eating small animals, such as mice. If you can’t allow them to eat meat, then it is best not to buy or try to care for a snake.
Are you no longer vegan if you feed your pets meat?
Yes, you are still considered a vegan if you feed your pets meat. It’s their biologically appropriate diet, for goodness sakes.
Veganism means different things to different people. If someone wants to judge you for doing whats best for your furry friend, then it’s best to ignore them.
You are not eating meat and are advocating against it. But if you already owned cats before turning vegan, that doesn’t mean you should re-home or abandon your pets.
Caring about animals is part of being a vegan so abandoning or giving your pets medical issues can’t be farther from the essence of veganism.
Herbivorous Pets Vegans Should Consider
If you’d rather have a pet that is naturally vegan, consider the options below. I always recommend adopting pets rather than buying them from breeders or pet stores. There are millions of pets in need of homes.
Here are 12 vegan pet options:
- Guinea Pigs
- Some Reptiles
- Small Fish
- Certain birds
Before adopting any animal, make sure you do additional research to truly understand the long term care each pet needs. Many tortoises and reptiles can get to quite a large size despite being small for many years.
Also keep in mind how long the pet lives. For instance, African Gray parrots can live upwards of 80 years and require constant one-on-one attention. Do you want the commitment for basically your entire life?
Is it wrong for vegans to own pets at all?
I don’t consider it bad for vegans to own pets. In fact, I have a dog, three cats, and a cockatiel at home. All of them were either found abandoned on the street or adopted from sad situations.
There are vegans who are against pet ownership because it means that animals are in captivity. On the flip side, where would these animals bee if they weren’t in people’s homes?
They’d most likely be euthanized or in stressful conditions on the streets. Domestic cats and dogs are not natural in any way and can’t be release “into the wild.”
Domestic cats kill an estimated 4 billion wild birds and 23 billion wild mammals ANNUALLY. If they aren’t adopted into people’s homes, the only other option is euthanasia. I’d rather adopt them and give them a happy indoor home life, personally.
While this is a complicated issue, it comes down to your mindset. If you don’t think of your animals as “things” and try to give them as many choices as possible, they can live a happy life.
Whether you own a dog or cat, you may be thinking of turning them onto a vegan lifestyle. This can be very difficult to do, and cats absolutely cannot eat a vegan diet. They require nutrients only found in protein and meat.
Despite being a vegan myself, all three of my cats are fed a high-quality all-meat diet that follows AAFCO guidelines. There’s no getting around it; it’s what is best for their health.
Your dog might be a little easier to switch to a vegan protein source because they have already adapted to eating grains, vegetables, and diets lower in protein. If you plan to get your pet away from eating meat, it might be best to search for products, such as vegan dog food.
If feeding your pets like snakes, cats, or other animals who are carnivorous meat bothers you, then you should rethink adopting them. Instead, focus on adopting a pet that is naturally vegan such a rabbit or rodent.