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One thing that most pet owners have in common with each other is a love for all species and types of animals, both domestic and wild. As a natural result of this, a small but significant number of pet owners are also vegetarian; either out of concern for the welfare of animals which are kept for meat, because they believe it is a healthier way to live, or because the idea of eating animals which they love throws up a host of moral and ethical issues. Understandably, it must cross the mind of any vegetarian pet owner from time to time to question whether or not their cat or dog could also be fed a vegetarian diet while remaining healthy and adequately nourished. So, can cats and dogs live a vegetarian lifestyle? Read on to find out!
The answer to this is no and yes respectively; Putting aside any logistical or moral considerations for a moment, cats cannot be fed a no meat diet while remaining healthy, but theoretically dogs can. Let’s look at cats first of all. The main reason why cats cannot eat a vegetarian diet, is because an essential part of the healthy cat’s diet is taurine, a nutrient which is found in sufficient quantities to fulfil their needs only in meat. A couple of pet food companies claim to provide a complete cat food which is both vegetarian and contains appropriate amounts of taurine and other essential nutrients- however none of these products are endorsed by veterinary professionals or pet nutritionists, and contain significant quantities of synthetic compounds to make up for the lack of naturally occurring taurine. Also, cats are natural hunters- much more so than dogs. Dogs are hunter-scavengers, while cats in the wild subsist almost exclusively on fresh kill. If you remove meat from your cat’s diet, their hunting instinct will kick in and they will begin to search for live prey such as rats, mice and birds- which rather defeats the object of the exercise. Dogs, on the other hand, do not require taurine to be present in any significant quantities in their diet in order to stay healthy. In terms of fulfilling your dog’s complete nutritional requirements, feeding a well thought out and researched vegetarian diet or pre-packaged complete vegetarian dog food would take care of their nutritional requirements sufficiently. Also, as dogs are hunter- scavengers, their instinct to hunt for food is much lower than that of cats, and so you are unlikely to come across any problem hunting behaviour in a dog which has not shown much inclination to hunt before.
Hopefully after reading the information above, you have already discounted feeding a vegetarian diet to your cat- but what about your dog? Should you be put off because it is not something that would occur organically in nature? This is a complex question. It is fair to say that it is certainly not ‘natural’ in that sense of the word to feed dogs a vegetarian diet, but what exactly does it mean to feed ‘naturally?’ It is not ‘natural’ to feed a dog a pre-packed complete food of hard kibble pellets or a mixed meat-based food from a tin any more than it is to feed a vegetarian diet, but both of these practices are considered to be totally acceptable to the vast majority of pet owners today, providing the food provided is nutritionally complete and fit for purpose. It is worth noting, however, that feeding an all natural raw meat and bone diet is slowly but surely returning to popularity as well.
The question of whether or not it is ethically appropriate to feed a cat a vegetarian diet is cut and dried- a vegetarian diet does not fulfil all of a cat’s nutritional needs, and so is not suitable. Most of the UK’s clubs and organisations for vegetarians and those which campaign for vegetarianism for people fully agree with this, and publish guidelines to pet owners not to try and feed a vegetarian diet to cats. The question pertaining to dogs, however, is much less cut and dried, as dogs can apparently stay healthy and well on a complete vegetarian diet. The ultimate answer to the question is down to the individual dog owner. When trying to come to a decision, think about the following aspects:
Ultimately, the moral and ethical trade off on feeding your dog a vegetarian diet is not a decision that somebody else can make for you- but it is important to research thoroughly and seek advice from a nutritionist and/or vet before you decide to go ahead.
First of all, speak to your vet and ensure that there are no health issues or nutritional imbalances which may mean that a vegetarian diet is unsuitable for your particular dog. Ask for your vet’s advice on how you can ensure that any vegetarian food that you feed is definitely complete and fit for purpose, and how to introduce it into the diet. Make the transition gradually, and monitor your pet closely in both the short and medium term to ensure they are making the transition well. It is also important to remember that feeding a vegetarian diet to your dog is a choice, and one which you may have to re-assess if your situation changes, or your dog fails to thrive, or shows any signs of nutritional imbalance. Good luck with your decision!
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