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Vegan diets for pets can be a hot topic for some, so let's see what a diet without animal products would mean for cats and dogs! Jessi is a wildlife educator and animal behaviorist, founder and Executive Director of Animal Wonders Inc. for 11 years. Her knowledge and care for animals focuses on the animals' health and happiness above all else. Animal care is based in scientific knowledge of biology, the specific animal's physiology, and their natural history.

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Let's begin by saying that I encourage everyone to make their own choices in how they live their own lives.  I'm not against veganism or any other personal choice in what kinds of foods you eat, but now, let's talk about how that translates to caring for animal companions, because that's a different story.

(Intro)

There's a promise you make to an animal when you take them into your home as a pet.  You are their keeper and promise to give them shelter, food, companionship, and all they need to live a happy and healthy life.  That promise looks different for each species and also each individual within a species, but there are some certain rules you need to follow, basic things that an animal needs to thrive in captivity.

One, they need a home that's close to their natural habitat.  For example, most birds need perches.  Fish need water.  Guinea pigs need lots of cozy hiding places, etc.  Two, they need to be kept at a comfortable temperature, similar to what their physiology has evolved to survive in.  Three, they need socialization and environmental stimulation that brings out behaviors they would have in the wild.  Four, they need food that fulfills their natural nutritional needs, and five, you never intentionally hurt them.

If you break one of these rules, you're breaking your promise to your companion animal.  Right now, I want to focus on number four, nutritional needs, and I want to discuss veganism.  Offering a companion animal a vegan diet is not inherently wrong.  If they are naturally an herbivore, frugivore, or detritivore, then a vegan diet is absolutely fine.  You can find a variety of plant-based foods to cover all their nutritional needs.  

The problem is when a strictly vegan diet is given to an obligate carnivore like a cat or an omnivore like a dog, that requires at least a small amount of animal protein in their diet in order for their bodies to perform all the functions needed to survive and thrive.  Let's take a closer look at why cats and dogs need animal protein in their diet.

Cats and dogs both need vitamin A for their bodies to function properly, meaning it's an essential vitamin.  They can't produce it on their own, so they must consume it in their diet.  It's important because it supports their immune system and prevents against cancer.  Without vitamin A, cats will suffer muscle deterioration, becoming extremely weak.  They'll have poor coat growth and night blindness.  Vitamin A is most commonly found in liver, fish liver oil, and egg yolks.  There is a form of vitamin A found in some plants that certain animals can convert into a usable nutrient, but cats are not one of those animals.  They simply need to get their vitamin A from an animal source.

Dogs can utilize plant-based vitamin A, but it's easier and healthier for them to get it from an animal source.  Next up is vitamin D, which both cats and dogs cannot produce on their own, so they need it in their diet.  There are two forms of vitamin D, D2, which is derived from plants, and D3, which comes from animals, most commonly fish, fish liver oils, cows, and egg yolks.

Humans and dogs can both use D2 to a certain extent, but cats cannot and they require D3 for proper heart function and bone strength.  For dogs to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from plant sources, they need a large amount and wide variety of plants to meet their needs.  

Both dogs and cats also require sufficient amounts of taurine.  Taurine deficiency leads to dilated cardiomyopathy, which is an enlarged heart.  Cats cannot gets taurine from anywhere other than animal sources.  Dogs can synthesize adequate amounts of taurine from other dietary amino acids, so they don't require animal-based taurine.  However, certain breeds are more susceptible to low levels of taurine, so including a taurine supplement or offering meat in their diet is needed.

Dogs and cats naturally seek out meat because it's a complete source for all of these needed nutrients, so choosing to offer a pet dog a vegan diet is possible, but it's also risky.  If you choose to go this route, I highly recommend consulting with a veterinarian who is familiar with a vegan dog diet and can ensure you're covering all of their nutritional needs, because it's not easy, and if your dog isn't getting their nutritional needs met because of their breed or genetics or whatever, it's essential that you provide them with the proper supplements they need in order to thrive.

It's never acceptable to offer an obligate carnivore like a cat a vegan diet because you cannot meet their nutritional needs without offering protein from an animal source.  It's also not appropriate to feed a vegan kibble with only limited amounts of animal protein supplements, like a little chicken breast or taurine if you aren't knowledgeable about how to provide the correct percentages based on weight and protein source.  

The promise we make to our pets is to love them and give them the best life we can.  The fourth and fifth rules of a happy and healthy life come into play when we discuss a vegan diet for omnivores and carnivores.  It's your responsibility to provide them foods that fulfill their natural nutritional needs and it's your responsibility to never intentionally harm them.  Restriciting an obligate carnivore to a vegan diet is harmful. 

I encourage everyone to research how they can provide their companion animal with the best possible nutrition based on their species and fine tune it to their individual needs and preferences, but please don't force them to eat a diet that doesn't allow them to thrive in your care.  Let them be who they are with your unending support and love.

Thank you for joining me this week.  If you'd like to help support our mission of animal education and caring for our animal ambassadors, please check out our Patreon page, patreon.com/animalwonders and join us.   Thanks, and we'll see you next week.

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