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Conflicts of Consistency: Vegan Dogs and Their Diets

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This is part of an occasional series exploring questions of consistency and other moral dilemmas facing vegans and animal rights advocates.

For those of us who are vegans for any or all of the usual reasons (for the sake of animals, our own health, or the environment), it can be a moral dilemma embracing a vegan diet for ourselves—and often for our children as well—but not for the canine companions we share our homes with. It can be especially challenging for those of us who want to maintain a truly vegan household. It seems absurd to many of us to feed ourselves a vegan diet while still feeding our animal companions meat from farmed animals! It does raise an interesting question about imposing our ethics on our dogs.

One veterinarian told me that the choices we make for ourselves should not be imposed on our dogs. How do we know that our dogs would want to be vegan? But another vet took a more practical approach by pointing out that dogs live under the rules of our household and that the only thing that is important from his perspective is that dogs receive proper nutrition, whether it’s plant-based or animal-based.

The good news is that it’s easy to feed your dog a healthy and wholesome vegan diet. While you could feed Fido homemade food or many of the great vegan foods that you make for yourself, there is a much easier and more convenient route that also ensures that he is on a sound nutritional diet.

V-dog makes and markets only vegan dog food. The company’s food is sold online, and shipping is free. Several commercial dog-food brands offer vegan varieties. Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance offers a vegetarian formula. Nature’s Recipe has a vegetarian recipe, as does AvoDerm. Although “vegetarian” is used in their names, all three products are vegan. Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance, Nature’s Recipe, and AvoDerm offer their dog foods in both a dry formula and a canned formula, and they are available at most major pet supply stores.

And vegan dog treats abound as well. PetGuard offers two vegan varieties: Mr. Barky’s Treats and Mr. Pugsly’s Treats. Zuke’s Peanut Butter ‘n’ Blueberryz Mini Bakes are also vegan, and so are Cloud Star’s veggie, sweet potato, peanut butter, and molasses varieties.

Some dogs are sensitive to wheat ingredients, as we discovered was the case with our three dogs. V-dog is still working on a wheat-free formula. The other three brands are wheat-free, as are the vegan treats made by Zuke’s. Cloud Star’s veggie and sweet potato options are also wheat-free.

Keep in mind that these are all premium foods, so expect to pay more than discount-store prices. In this case, you really do get what you pay for. And beware of dog foods that contain any type of animal “meal”—like chicken meal. This is simply the ground-up remains of animals not suitable for human consumption (not even good enough for hot dogs!).

What are your thoughts on and experiences with vegan dog food?

 

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    Toby says...

    October 13th, 2011, 7:24 pm

    “Moral dilemma”? Being vegan is no dilemma; it may be weird, but that is how progress works… those doing good are weird until doing good is more normal. Everyone should be vegan regardless of species.
    -my dog is vegan… she has Evolution Diet dog food, mixed with various other foods for variety (spice of life)… peanut butter… soy milk… sometimes mashed potato… leftovers… something to make it better.

    Kim says...

    October 14th, 2011, 11:20 am

    I’m vegan and yes my 2yr old son is also. But our Labrador isn’t. He has loads of veg and fruit, but at the end of the day he is a dog. Decendant of the wolf and more importantly they have canines – Designed to eat meat.

    I don’t give Guinness (hes a black lab) any bones or those disgusting packaged struff from pet stores. He eats a quality dog food supplemented with veg and fruit (he loves apples and cabbage.)

    Veganette says...

    October 14th, 2011, 2:49 pm

    I’m vegan for almost a year now, and I’ve been a vegetarian for about 7 years now. My mom is also a vegetarian, but our cats aren’t. There is no vegan cat food where I live, and in my country regular cat food is still somewhat of a novelty, so I guess we’ll have to wait for the vegan diet to become available here. In order to reduce their meat consumption, we give them plenty of our vegan food too, along with leftovers from a nearby restaurant. I’d like to have my household 100% vegan as soon as possible, so I hope alternatives will find their way into my country too.

    brooke says...

    October 14th, 2011, 4:18 pm

    Another way it is a dilemma..

    You want to rescue an animal from the shelter, because you love animals… yet keeping that pet alive on a diet that includes meat means that countless other animals are going to die to feed the pet you rescued.

    Thank you for providing many pet food resources to look into.

    Inogen says...

    October 14th, 2011, 4:39 pm

    All my animals (1 Rotweiller, 2 Jack Russells and 8 cats) are vegan and have been for about 5 years now. I live in England and get Benevo food from veggiepets.com. They are all the picture of health. I will not kill an animal to feed an animal.
    The cat food contains taurine from seaweed so there is no danger to health – by the way, they all love it!

    Ellie says...

    October 14th, 2011, 4:40 pm

    Dogs are omnivorous. But they haved evolved from the wolf and still need to eat meat whether we like it or not. I’ve heard about people feeding cats vegan diets too. Cat are carnivours. They have to eat meat or else their lives are in jeapordy. Cats have become blind from lack of taurine. Unless you’re a dietician you should try to make up what any animal needs yourself. The raw diet for dogs is the best one yet. I believe in free range of course.

    Lori says...

    October 14th, 2011, 4:43 pm

    Any vegan cat food?

    John says...

    October 14th, 2011, 4:51 pm

    Since there are 3 major companies making a quality vegan dog food, there really is no reason for vegans to feed their dogs the awful factory farmed meat found in commercial dog foods. My rescue poodle, Pierre, thrives well on Natures recipe, both wet and dry, and V Dog. He also enjoys fresh cooked organic broccoli, some brown rice, and occasionally apple, watermelon or cherries for a treat. I know a vegan vet who says that it is fine.I have had many disagreements with those that think dogs cannot survive well this way, but I understand that one of the longest living dogs, a border collie who lived to be 29, was a vegan dog. It appears that they do well on it, in most cases.
    Cats, on the other hand , are more difficult, since they are obligate carnivors.

    mayumi says...

    October 14th, 2011, 5:21 pm

    I have a dog & two cats. Of course I love my companion animals, as we all do, & I don’t think it’s fair to deny them their instinctive diets.

    Our dog Rocco is fed limited ingredient, no-grain dry food that is made from bison, venison, duck & wild salmon & trout (other ingredients include pea protein & sweet potatoes); I may be wrong but I like to think that these creatures are at least able to live in the wild (& not on some horrid farm like chickens, cows & pigs) until they are killed & consumed.

    Our cats Ajax & Isabelle are fed canned wild caught tuna & salmon-based food, some of which also contain prawns, crabs & mackerel. Ajax has hunted & brought home (& sometimes eaten) birds, rats & mice. Nature is full of predators, and animals will kill & eat other animals. I believe that prey in the wild still have a better existence that most farmed animals. I therefore avoid all chicken, beef & pork-based food since the conditions these animals must live in before they are slaughtered are intolerable to me. Again, my hope is that the bison, deer, & fish that my animals are fed did not suffer unnecessarily in order to feed my dog & cats.

    Thank you for reading my $.02 worth on this sensitive subject.

    I wish you all peace & grace.

    Tina says...

    October 14th, 2011, 5:51 pm

    I have been vegan for approximately 7 years. However, my cats are not. They are very fussy eaters and will only consume Friskies wet cat food. If I offer them something other than Friskies they turn their noses up and walk away in defiance. They would rather starve than eat not to their liking. However, for the most part I buy fish for them as I feel that fish suffer the least, perhaps I am wrong but at least fish don’t live in factory farms on in small spaces. The little darlings are all around 17 years old, so upon their demise, if any new homeless cats adopt me I will try them on a vegan diet while they are still young and not so caught up in their ways.

    Kim says...

    October 14th, 2011, 7:28 pm

    My two dogs are vegan and are the picture of health. Wilbur, 9, a shepherd/terrier mix, has congenital glaucoma. Thanks to a very talented veterinarian eye specialist and his vegan diet, he sees very well. Everything we read 7 years ago, when he was first diagnosed, said he would be blind in 5 years. Humans are also omnivores with canines designed to eat meat. Yet we also know from recent research that 80% of heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes can be prevented with a vegan diet. If it’s good for us, it’s good for them. And a vegan diet hasn’t slowed down our rat terrier, Jack, either. Nor me. I’m 58 and do not need to take any prescription medications. My carnivore co-workers and friends can not say the same. I am vegan for the animals, but my excellent health is a nice bonus!

    Fineartmarcella says...

    October 14th, 2011, 8:12 pm

    I just don’t care what other people think as far as whether it is my ‘lifestyle’ imposed on my dog, so what? It is MY dog. MY lifestyle is one that promotes nonviolence and veganism, why would I go againist my morals and feed her tortured chickens?
    No, I purchase my dog’s food and it is vegan. She loves it! I tried many different brands before she picked Van Patten’s Natural Balance and she has been a vegan ever since. It has been many years ago and she is an ageing old lady now and is pretty healthy.
    Hats off to anyone who stands by their convictions!

    Fineartmarcella says...

    October 14th, 2011, 8:14 pm

    Lori there is excellant vegan cat food out there! All include the needed ingredients that a cat needs to be healthy! Simply check it out, the article lists the companies, click on the links

    Fineartmarcella says...

    October 14th, 2011, 8:16 pm

    P.S. – you can get vegan cat food online…

    J says...

    October 14th, 2011, 9:03 pm

    My 15 1/4-year-old lab mix has been a vegan since she was about 1 or 2 years old. (She eats Nature’s Recipe dry kibble.) I only wish I had started her on this stuff earlier in her life. No complaints. I have a happy, healthy geriatric vegan dog.

    Jonathan says...

    October 14th, 2011, 9:16 pm

    Are you kidding me? I’m all for animal rights but people need to put the politics aside for science. Dogs are NOT natural omnivores. By the logic that dogs should endure what the owner imposes on him/her, then flat out animal abuse works under that same condition. These companies will make anything that sells even remotely.

    Rick Thompson says...

    October 14th, 2011, 9:19 pm

    Some of you may be wondering why I didn’t include cats in my posting. It was simply a matter of limiting my post to my own experience. My partner Ken and I never had cats, only dogs. All three of our present dogs are older rescue dogs, and they are all healthy, vibrant, and thriving on a vegan diet. Continue commenting!

    Tammy says...

    October 14th, 2011, 9:23 pm

    My 4 cats eat AMI Vegan Cat Food and they LOVE it, plus they are very healthy! It contains all the nutrients that are essential for them to be healthy and it’s not more expensive than any other “decent” food and best of all, it’s cruelty free! :)

    Cheryl Dare says...

    October 14th, 2011, 9:24 pm

    I gasped in concern for cats when I read of feeding cats vegan meals. I am a veterinary technician and am well aware that God did not create all animals to be vegan. Cats are carnivores: obligate carnivores. They are designed to eat flesh. In the wild, no plant matter would be eaten unless it’s the contents of the prey animal’s stomach. Our domestic cats do eat prepared meals that contain plant materials, but as I said: cats are obligate carnivores and God never meant them to be vegetarian. There are several nutrients the cat’s body cannot synthesize and are only available in muscle tissue. The amino acid Taurine (lack of which can cause blindness), vitamin A, niacin, pyridoxine and arachidonic acid. These can only be absorbed from the meat they eat. I believe that feeding a cat a vegetarian or vegan diet is not only irresponsible but ultimately cruel because of the many medical and nutritional problems we would cause. We mustn’t force animals to eat any human diet; they are not humans and have their own nutritional requirements. It is a contradiction to claim to be sensitive to all animals’ needs then force any animal to eat a diet that is unnatural to them. You, as a human, can thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet, however, no cat will thrive without meat in his/her diet. Cats fed on strictly vegetable products usually die of malnutrition. Would anyone label that looking out for the best interests of animals?

    Gina says...

    October 14th, 2011, 9:25 pm

    Our two rescued dogs eat mostly vegan food. They have never tired of Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance and I occasionally use Vegedog nutrient supplement to make homemade food or treats. They do however sometimes get some animal products in their biscuit treats if there are no vegan options available at the store when we run out. I’m trying to plan ahead now so we never run out! Recently our ten year old had a bad reaction to a shot and we took him to the local animal hospital. The vet was impressed how young he seemed and what great shape he was in for his age and asked what we fed him – I was happy to say he is mostly vegan!

    Ken says...

    October 14th, 2011, 9:36 pm

    I’m a bit biased (Rick is my partner), but our 3 senior dogs (all about 10 years old) are all very happy and healthy. They LOVE their vegan food, and on occasion, enjoy a few scraps of our vegan food.

    Just the other day, we were at a dog event (for a rescue for which we volunteer) and saw a dog that looked very similar to our Toby (a Collie/GSD mix). They really could have been twins, but the other dog’s fur was dull and unhealthy looking. Toby’s fur is beautiful and shiny.

    Chloe is our most recent addition (it will be a year in December; she’s a pure-bred GSD who was dumped at a shelter when she was 10 years old). She was underweight when we adopted her; her coat was dull, and she didn’t have a great amount of energy. She has now gained necessary weight, her coat is beautiful and she is full of energy (she acts like a 5 year old).

    Winnie (not sure what she is, other than a stubborn little dog) just LOVES food. She’d be thrilled to each the entire bag of vegan dog food.

    Kevin says...

    October 14th, 2011, 9:39 pm

    To those who are considering putting their cats a vegan diet, PLEASE DON’T! Unlike dogs, cats are strict carnivores. If you truly care about animals, don’t force your feline companions to go vegan.

    Ashlee says...

    October 15th, 2011, 2:37 am

    I make my dogs home made vegan dog food everyday. I really have no time for the ‘designed to eat meat’ arguements…..My dogs are healthier than ever before and FYI the oldest dog in the world was vegan. died at 29.

    As said above the most important thing is making sure they get all their nutrients, and that they enjoy the food. which mine do!

    I think some of you forget that its not the meat which they need but rather the nutrients it contains – which can be found in plant foods and supplements. If you feed your dog meat – its no different than you eating it yourself.

    Chipo says...

    October 15th, 2011, 2:40 am

    What I don’t understand in this discussion is that if you are a vegan, you still want to own companion animals. Maybe under the reason of “rescuing” them from a shelter or from a fate worse than death, but still.
    Vegan cats, indeed. I suppose kept indoors in case the kill a mouse or a bird?

    Susan says...

    October 15th, 2011, 9:41 am

    My dog’s even the adult rescue dogs are all put on Nature’s Balance food and the treats. My dogs are all happy healthy and live long lives. What took it from a dilemma to a just a way of life was when I learned that dog foods were doing the same as cattle feed. I also want to say my dogs are less aggressive and more relaxed. And the vet thinks I have the healthiest dogs around. They are high energy, high gloss coats, healthy dogs are happy dogs.

    Romana says...

    October 15th, 2011, 11:22 am

    My husband and I are both vegan and raw fooders as well. We have two dogs and we feed them meat because being descendants of wolves, they need it. We also give them lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Our friends learned a valuable lesson the hard way, they are vegans and their 3 dogs were vegan too. They actually tried to persuade us to turn our dogs into vegans too but we felt uneasy about it after doing lots of research about it. They fed them some protein supplements for vegan dogs that they bought from a veterinarian. Despite all this, one of their dogs died and the other two were diagnosed with a severe protein and taurine deficiency and their hearts were severely affected by this. Our friends switched to BARF diet, a complete turnabout, from vegan to raw meat. We personally don’t agree with feeding dogs raw meat for different reasons, but anyway, their dogs are thriving and doing well.

    felicia says...

    October 16th, 2011, 4:14 pm

    Romana,
    just because your friends didn’t know what they were doing and fed their dogs a poor diet doesn’t mean it can not be done properly- in fact if you have read any of the other posts or done proper research you would know that dogs can and do live very healthy lives on a vegan diet. I have 2 dogs who are both vegan and they are happy and healthy.
    That argument about descendants of wolves is irrelevant. They are not wolves! They are domesticated animals! It’s tantamount to saying we as human beings used to eat meat and that is how we evolved into what we are today so we “need” meat in our diets today. It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s just laziness, not wanting to take the time to properly care for your animal companions.
    Don’t write a horror story of one isolated incident and say it has any relevance to all dog and dog owners when it doesn’t. That’s bad science.
    And to all the rest of you so called vegans out there, if you are purchasing meat for someone else’s consumption, be it your pets/friends/whatever, you are not a vegan. You just do not yourself consume animal products, so please stop labeling yourselves as such, cuz you make the rest of us look like idiots. And maybe you should try it before you decide what does and doesn’t work.
    thanks

    Jan Glancy says...

    October 16th, 2011, 9:51 pm

    My dogs have been vegan for about 2 years now. My one rescued Jack is 19 years old. All four of my dogs are healthy and happy. I make their food and give them vitamins or use Natural Balance and Evanders.
    All this nonsense about obligatory carnivores is silly. If the animal can get taurine in their food from seaweed why kill any other animals?
    The descendancy thing makes me laugh too. These pets are so far from the wolf and lion living as domestic pets.
    We used be mono brows hunting mastadon and wooly mammoth but that seems to be over for humans too last I checked.
    Get with the times people. We do not need to act like cave men and neither do out pets with the technology and science available to us.
    Geeeez!

    Mark says...

    October 17th, 2011, 6:27 am

    I would just like to point out an important point for owners feeding AvoDerm, Nature’s Balance and many other vegan and non-vegan foods alike. If the food contains canola oil you may want to consider feeding something else. 99% of all canola oil manufactured in the United States and Canada is genetically modified. It is debated concerning carcinogenic properties. If the food is not organic then the canola oil is a GMO. Also, make sure the food meets AAFCO guidelines to ensure that mineral and nutrient requirements are met as a maintenance diet. I am a licensed veterinary technician and have done tons of homework on pet nutrition over the years. I have witnessed how companies like Hills/Science Diet will come into college programs and offer students free gifts to win them as ‘friends’ to the company. Personally, as long as your hound is not hypersensitized to wheat I recommend feeding V-dog. People please do your own research and don’t fall for marketing scams. Too many companies are just looking to take your money as their primary objective rather than produce a seriously wholesome food.

    Jennifer says...

    October 17th, 2011, 11:00 am

    I feel very strongly about my decision to go vegan, but I would not feed a vegan diet to my animals. I just don’t agree with it. My cat eats a raw food diet, from local, organic, pastured animals. My dogs eat kibble from a similar source. I would possibly think about my dogs being vegetarian, probably not vegan though. But I would never refuse my cat what’s natural for her. I can’t force my husband, or anyone else, to be vegan and I won’t do it to my animals. I’m all about animal rights, but this is just going too far for me.
    Kudos to those whose animals are healthy on vegan diets. To each his own though, right? As vegans and vegetarians, I hope we can all keep an open mind about this and not go bashing each other… The fact that we’ve taken the steps to live a more compassionate, cruelty-free life is what’s most important here. Progress, not perfection (:

    Jennifer says...

    October 17th, 2011, 11:07 am

    I’d also like to add that sometimes, you may think you are getting something that is cruelty free, but it’s not. I just looked at the sites for these foods, and Nature’s Recipe is manufactured by Del Monte Foods, which makes Kibbles N Bits, Snausages, Meaty Bone, and more. All brands that are not even close to being cruelty free. So even if your dog is eating the vegan food, you are still supporting a company that promotes cruelty. Just sayin…

    Fern says...

    October 17th, 2011, 12:25 pm

    Any online vegan cat food stores where i can buy? It does seem absurd to me that i’m vegan and then i buy cat food with meat! I’d love to start my cats on a vegan diet but have absolutely no idea how to begin. Especially since they hate everything after 2 weeks as it is. Help!

    Claudia says...

    July 22nd, 2013, 1:29 pm

    Hi..i have been vegan for 2 years and a vegetarian before that. I have 2 beautiful pit-bulls that are vegan and love their food. I love my dogs and they are basically my kids living under my care and in my household this is the reason why i feed them a vegan diet. They also love fruits and vegetables more than anything. I haven’t had a problem with them at all and they are very healthy. Like it has been said: i won’t kill an animal to feed another animal. And, since i am a passionate animal activist it makes sense that i walk my talk right?

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