Being honest, a vegan can have any pet! The main thing to remember with being a responsible pet owner, vegan or not, is to look after the pet properly and be aware of the Five Welfare Needs.
This Pets4Homes article will take a look at the pet choice if a strict vegan lifestyle is being followed and the limitations of the most common pets.
Of all the common pets, the cat is probably the most inappropriate for a vegan. The reason is simple – cats are known as obligatory carnivores, which means they must eat meat. Unlike us they have exacting needs when it comes to nutrition, cats require:
• Vitamin A
A cat cannot make these by themselves in their body and unfortunately, they aren’t present in large enough quantities in vegan-friendly plant-based proteins. Milk proteins also contain very low amounts of these substances, but because many cats are intolerant to the lactose contained in milk, this route is also unviable.
Even if research chemists were able to make a supplement of these substances for your cat, it would be a very complex procedure and potentially hugely expensive.
If a cat does not have these, even in a short space of time, it can prove potentially fatal. One of the major components needed on each meal is arginine, without it, the cat can start having tremors, seizures, and slip into a coma, all within hours. If the arginine is not replaced, the cat can die. Animal proteins all contain arginine, so is present in usual cat food and is vital for the health of the cat.
It is actually unethical to try and get your cat to become a vegetarian or vegan, in fact, it’s not even legal on animal welfare grounds. Cats have adapted from hunters that eat meat, through evolution to be domesticated, but the instinct to hunt is still within them all. Would a strict vegan be comfortable with a pet that sees small creatures as a potential dinner? Even if you have a cat that is not a hunter, the instinct is still there, it just lays dormant.
So, cats really aren’t the best choice when it comes to a pet for a strict vegan. The nutritional needs are just too complex, and their instinctive behaviour can also cause a predicament. There are other choices that can make a much better pet, the next popular question of course is…
Man’s best friend on the surface does seem a better choice than a cat. Dogs are a natural omnivore (they can eat both meat and plant matter). They can also be possibly (see below), be supplemented with specific animal-based amino acids, which they have an increased need for, such as taurine. Unlike cats they also are far less inclined to hunt and eat meat – even Terriers who have a strong inbuilt behavioural trait can easily keep this dormant. On the whole, dogs are great companions, so having one as a vegan owner is looking positive.
However, delving a little deeper into their needs uncovers the same problem as cats, the stumbling block of getting the right amount of taurine into their diet. Taurine, as we have seen with cats, comes from animal proteins and presently the most common way dogs get this is from commercial pet food, where extra taurine is added specifically to help their health. Until extra taurine was added and regulated by pet food manufacturers, the low level of this amino-acid was the biggest cause of heart disease in the canine species.
There are two others! Firstly, dogs have an abundance of energy and to make sure they have enough with meat-based commercial dog food, there is a specific amount of saturated animal fats in the ingredients. For a vegan diet, the animal fats would have to be replaced with cereals at quite a substantial amount. However, by doing this would raise the chance of the dog becoming diabetic.
Secondly, if the dog was to be fed a plant-based diet, it will be too high in fibre for the gut. High levels of fibre will cause chronic diarrhoea and/or constipation, also malabsorption – so the dog could actually lose a lot of weight.
So, although the dog is a possible choice for a strict practicing vegan, your vet will need to ensure you get the very best advice on their nutrition and diet.
So that is the two most common pets, both with their own issues when it comes to following a vegan diet. So what pets are the most suitable?
These creatures are the second best choice (we will get to the best choice soon) that is because they can live on either plant-based foods or meat and they are quite happy with either. Be aware that they will eat meat if they can get hold of it, including the odd insect!
They make great little companions and are intelligent with an affection to their owners who they will quite happily play with.
The one drawback with rats is their lifespan – they will never be a long-term companion as the average lifespan is only three years.
The best choice is a rabbit! This is because they do not eat meat at all, they are true herbivores. Rabbits are highly intelligent and very sociable, they can be trained to a high level including being a house rabbit, living indoors. Compared with a rat, their lifespan is usually 8 to 10 years. They can even be taught tricks, on par with a dog!
So, a rabbit will fit in with a vegan lifestyle excellently, without any major changes or upheaval.
There are pets that will fit into a vegan lifestyle, it is worth doing complete research beforehand on each type of animal that you’re interested in (this goes for every animal, regardless of lifestyle). Before jumping in and choosing a pet, please speak to professionals including your chosen vet and other people that are in the same situation. As long as the pet has appropriate care and attention, everyone wins!