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Can dogs and cats go vegetarian?

Or will such a diet only harm them?
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - September 26, 2010
By: Adele Ong
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Can dogs and cats go vegetarian?

Pet owners who feel very strongly about consuming only vegetarian or vegan food may extend their principles to what they feed their pets. As they believe it is wrong to sacrifice another living creature’s life for their own nutritional needs, they may also want to feed their pets food that did not result from the death of any other animal.

While the overall principle is admirable, it can cause harm to omnivorous or carnivorous pets such as dogs and cats, which have different dietary and nutritional requirements from human beings, and may suffer on an all-vegetarian diet.

Some veterinarians may advise that while some dogs might be able to manage on a vegetarian diet provided certain precautions are taken, cats will not do as well; others strongly recommend sticking to a regular, meat-and-some-vegetables diet tailored to canine and feline needs respectively.

Even some vegetarian humans are from time to time obliged to consume meat because of health problems that their physicians advise them would be best tackled on a more well-rounded diet. What more for non-humans whose diets have always been based largely on meat – whether caught and killed through their own hunting skills, or by the provisions supplied by their human guardians?

Vegetarian diets for dogs?
Like humans, dogs are omnivorous, able to consume meat-based and plant-based foods. Humans can, with clever nutritional knowledge, strategic food substitutions and use of supplements, live healthily on a wholly vegetarian or vegan diet.

However, dogs are not humans. For one thing, meat substitutes such as tofu that vegetarian humans use are not always tolerated well by dogs. Foods like onions, chocolate and grapes that people can eat without trouble can make dogs very sick.

For another, a dog’s nutritional needs are different from a human’s. Dogs naturally have a largely meat-based diet. Even if a dog has a mostly vegetarian diet, it almost always needs some animal-based products such as eggs to derive essential nutrition. Therefore, a totally vegan diet may result in serious health problems for your dog.

Some pet-food manufacturers do make vegetarian food products, and you may consider purchasing them. Or you may want to cook for your dog. But whatever pet-food source you turn to in order to bring your pet’s diet in line with your own beliefs in not eating meat, your first priority must be your pet’s health.

Always discuss major diet changes with your veterinarian first. Only a veterinarian can give you objective professional advice about whether your pet can or should eat or avoid eating certain things.

Also be aware that every dog reacts differently to different diets. If your pet on a vegetarian diet starts to appear listless, seems to have no energy, or has diarrhoea, loses its hair or vomits, it is not tolerating the diet well. For the sake of its health, please see your veterinarian again about reverting to the dog’s original meat-based diet.

A dog on any kind of unusual diet – and a vegetarian diet is considered unusual for a dog – must see its veterinarian every one or two months in the initial stages of the new diet to ensure that it is doing well.

Vegetarian diets for cats?
Cats are true carnivores. They need diets that are nearly wholly meat-based. In fact, cats need to derive important nutrients like taurine from meat, and cannot obtain such nutrients from non-meat sources, or even from foods that have lower meat-protein contents.

For example, cats that are exclusively fed dog food have been known to go blind, because dog food simply does not contain as much as cat food does of the meat-protein nutrients needed by our feline pets to keep themselves healthy and well.

Therefore, if dogs can face health problems on vegetarian diets, cats will almost certainly encounter a host of serious health difficulties if their owners feed them an all-vegetarian diet.

Nonetheless, staunchly vegetarian cat owners have tried to give their pets vegetarian-only meals, and some have succeeded, with careful monitoring by veterinarians. Some pet-food manufacturers also make vegetarian food for cats, along with supplements that provide the nutrients needed to keep their eyes, ears, hearts, and livers healthy.

But whatever your ethical beliefs are, please always discuss it with a veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet from regular kitty feed to anything else. Your cat’s health and behaviour must be carefully monitored by yourself and the vet if you change its diet. If it behaves oddly or seems listless and off-colour, you should be the first to realise that it is not doing well, and must be switched back to its regular one. Your vet can also tell you through blood and other tests whether your cat is faring well, and advise you about what it needs to have in its food in order to stay healthy.

Strict vegetarians who feel morally uncomfortable about feeding meat to their pets must still put the health of their pets first. Those who do not yet have a cat or dog but were thinking of getting one may perhaps have to think twice about keeping carnivorous or omnivorous pets if they feel that their vegetarian or vegan beliefs will ultimately clash with their need to give the pet a proper diet.

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