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Are there any suitable pets for a vegan household?

Well, technically, you could have any sort of pet - it depends on how strongly you want your whole household to be vegan.

Informative image: vegan

Is there a problem?

Some people don’t find a conflict between their vegan life choice, and keeping a non-vegan pet - usually because eating meat is entirely natural and non-optional for some animals, and they therefore do not see this as a moral issue.

However, you do then run into the moral minefield of how do you feed your cat, for example - if you expect him to subsist entirely on wild-caught game (AKA songbirds, rodents and squirrels), kudos to you for encouraging natural behaviour, but he may not hang around for long if next-door are offering the equivalent of cat junk-food. In addition, there’s the thorny issue of cat predation on wild bird populations, which can be a significant environmental problem in some areas.

If, on the other hand, you are willing to buy meat products for your cat, it’s important to remember that this is still killing other animals to feed one; in addition, there’s very few slaughterhouses out there that ONLY produce cat food. In most cases, the best cuts of meat go for human consumption, and the rest goes into pet food. Partial exceptions exist with institutions like hunt kennels, but these aren’t organisations that all vegans are willing to support.

If you are a vegan because you dislike meat, or have a medical reason not to consume animal products, then there’s no issue. If, though, it’s because (reasonably enough!) you dislike the killing and farming of animals to produce food, then some people would regard you as hypocritical for choosing to keep an animal that requires the slaughter of others for its sustenance.

What animals cannot live a vegan life?

There are a number of animals for whom veganism is NEVER an option. These are the obligate carnivores - primarily cats and ferrets. These animals require animal-protein to survive. They require certain amino acids and vitamins pre-formed (i.e. from meat), and will suffer and then die without them (for example, cats may become sick within hours of eating an arginine-deficient meal, and will become blind unless there is animal-made Vitamin A in the diet). Remember, just as for you, it’s not the quantity of protein in the diet, it’s the quality (i.e. the ratio of amino acids) that’s important, and unlike humans, they cannot convert the plant-forms into versions that they can use.

Ultimately, trying to make a cat into a vegan is an act of animal cruelty, so unless you can square your conscience with providing an animal-based diet, don’t keep one.

What about dogs?

Dogs are an interesting case in point, because they are facultative omnivores - while adapted to eat an animal-based diet they can live, for a while, on a vegetarian one. However, they cannot live as vegans for a long period, as plants lack amino acids such as taurine and carnitine that are essential for heart, eye and general health. OK, a few things like avocados reportedly contain a little bit of carnitine, but not enough for a healthy dog. A taurine or carnitine deficient dog will eventually develop heart failure - in fact, before the days of commercial pet foods, taurine-deficiency cardiomyopathy was reportedly the most common cause of heart failure in dogs - it’s now really quite rare!

So unfortunately, a pooch isn’t the best choice either - they need an animal-enriched diet: although most of their nutrition can come from vegetable matter, they need supplemental animal products.

So what pets CAN be vegan?

Fortunately, the third most popular UK pet is a natural vegan - get a rabbit! They are herbivores, and do not eat any animal-based products (at least, not deliberately, or on a regular basis!). In fact, the mainstay of a rabbit’s diet should be grass and good quality hay - so they’re not even competing with humans! A little bit of leafy veg or pelleted food is a useful balancer, to top up minerals and vitamins, but no meat required.

Equally, Guinea Pigs are totally herbivorous, and also like grass or hay. Remember, though, that unlike rabbits they do need supplemental vitamin C, so a commercial mix is usually the best way to feed unless you can very carefully work out their feed requirements. Chinchillas and degus also make good vegan pets.

Be careful of rats however - while lovely pets, they are omnivores and as such have a very high protein requirement in their diet. While a vegan diet is possible, many food manufacturers boost rat pellets or mixes with animal-based protein, to increase the crude protein percentages.

If you want to talk about your pet’s diet, give us a call and make an appointment to see one of our vets or nurses, who will be able to help you formulate an ethical and healthy diet!