Updated: Mar 15
It is common for vegans to love the company of animals and to live with them is a natural step. Dogs and cats will keep people company and dogs can protect the people that they live with. Fish are beautiful, rabbits and hamsters can be a lot of fun. There are a lot of different, non furry, animals that can be kept a pets including reptiles. Some animals should definitely not be kept as pets such as lions, tigers and chimpanzees and it is illegal to buy these animals, but what about the animals that are legal to keep?
Hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, rabbits and other small animals are herbivores, some of them can eat meat, but they don’t have to. Other animals like cats, dogs, snakes and iguanas naturally eat meat. They have lots of very sharp teeth, not like humans or even horses that have more flat teeth than sharp ones; they can also have claws or move really quickly to catch their food. If a human wants to catch an animal for food they have to make tools to do it. They'll go out hunting with a bow and arrow, spears, knives, guns, not just their bare hands. When you keep animals as pets, though, they often don’t get to hunt for their food, snakes and other reptiles aren’t let out to roam and catch a meal and neither are dogs. Cats, if they are allowed out can catch mice and sometimes birds for food, but most of what they eat is given to them by us. It is easy to forget that when we feed our animals we are giving them meat even though it will say so on the packet. There is a disconnect. If someone gave us a plate of chicken and turkey we’d think of the birds and not want to eat it, but when we spoon it onto the plate for our animals we don’t make the same connection, it’s just brown stuff that doesn’t smell great, but our animals love it. It keeps their little tummies full and gives them energy. But what about the birds? What about the cows in the beef flavoured dog food, what about the fish in the salmon and trout flavoured pouches? Should we not care because we’re looking after our animals, or is there another way, can we make our omnivorous and carnivorous pets vegan?
Generally vets say that we should feed our animals according to their nature, if they naturally eat meat we should give it to them, if they don’t then a plant based diet is fine. Does this mean that I should stop my cat from stealing my vegetable soup? No, well yes, it’s my soup, but a little bit won’t do her any harm, but can I stop giving her kitty kibble and make her eat lentil soup every day? Although there don’t seem to be any scientific studies about feeding animals a vegan diet there is enough scientific evidence that this may not be a good idea for all animals. For example we all need vitamin A, humans can get it from eating animal products, such as liver, that have vitamin A in them or we can make our own from beta-carotene which can be found in orange plants such as carrots, but not all animals can do this. Cats can’t make vitamin A, they have to eat it, you could feed your cat carrots until they turned orange under their fur (this does actually happen if you eat a lot, like a lot a lot, of carrots, you’ll change colour), but they still won’t have enough vitamin A. Also cat’s need a protein called taurine which plants can’t make, they have to get it from meat, but cats are carnivores so this makes sense, they are made to eat meat, not vegetables.
Dogs, though, are omnivores, they naturally eat both plants and meat so removing meat from a dog’s diet can be done, but it must be done carefully with the help of a vet to make sure that your furry friend gets all of the nutrients that they need. When it comes to other animals, such as snakes, forcing them to eat a vegan diet can be very dangerous, they are not made to eat plants, they cannot chew and they can’t make the chemicals that break vegetables down to release the nutrients. Meat has no fibre in it so animals thnaturally only eat will not be able to process the fibre found in plants, this can kill them. When asked in a survey (Plant-based (vegan) diets for pets: A survey of pet owner attitudes and feeding practices. Dodd SAS, 2019 Jan) most vegans said that they would like to feed their pets a plant based diet but worried about the cost and whether or not a vegan diet would be good for their pets. It seems that in some cases it wouldn’t be good and could be dangerous. If you’re not sure talk to your vet and let them advise you, don’t try to change your pet’s diet and potentially make them very ill.
Maybe the question to ask isn’t can we make our pets vegan, maybe what we need to ask is should vegans keep pets at all? What do you think?