Controversial Combination: Can a Pet Be Vegan?

PetMD Editorial
April 21, 2009
Share this:

Samantha Ernano has been a vegan -- that is, she has kept her diet meat and dairy-free -- for the past six years, and could not be happier with her lifestyle. She raves about the health benefits that maintaining such a diet holds, but only for humans.

When it comes to feeding her cat, Emily, Ernano has no problem buying products that contain animal-based food. "It's fine for people to be vegan. It's our decision and our bodies can handle it. But if you want a dog or cat, you have to feed them meat."

Many vegans are torn when it comes to buying food for their animal companions. Some buy products containing meat for their dogs and cats, despite the fact that it goes against their principles. Others opt to feed their pets special formulized food containing soy-based products as meat substitutes. There are even some vegans who decide to sacrifice the companionship of a dog or cat altogether and keep animals that are naturally vegetarian as pets.

Pet owners who maintain their dogs and cats on vegan diets argue that their pets are healthier than pets kept on meat-based diets, but most veterinarians disagree with this assertion -- especially when it comes to maintaining cats. Unlike dogs, who like humans, evolved from an omnivorous species, (meaning a species whose diet is composed of both animal- and plant-derived nutrients), cats are strictly carnivorous (that is, most of the nutrients cats require come from animal-based proteins). In order to remain healthy, cats need the amino acids that only animal proteins contain. Their bodies simply cannot break down plant proteins and use them to their benefit as dogs and humans can.

Dr. Lisa A. Pierson states on her website, that while cats may survive on a strictly plant-based diet, they would not thrive. "Please pay special attention to the words survive versus thrive as there is a very big difference between the two states of health."

It is important to note that most veterinarians do not recommend a vegan or vegetarian diet for either dogs or cats. Vegan pet owners should instead consider buying organic pet food containing human-grade meat products, as Ernano does. If buying any meat products, even if not meant for human consumption, goes strictly against one's beliefs, then perhaps they should consider taking in a fellow vegetarian as a pet instead, such as a rabbit, guinea pig, turtle or bird.

Image: Martin Cathrae / via Flickr