Veganism and Pets…ahem, companion animals

by L Matthews on March 22, 2011

Am I Vegan?

Am I Vegan?

The move back to Vancouver is imminent and with it comes the possibility, after many years, of acquiring a rescue mutt of some kind or another. For absolute abolitionist vegans this may seem completely out of order as having a ‘pet’ puts an animal in servitude to you in some respect. I’m hoping, however, that this relationship will be a much happier and mutually beneficial affair as I have no intention of buying a dog and contributing to the ‘pet economy’.

Is this however, tantamount to buying leather second hand or eating meat you found in a dumpster…? Where are your lines drawn?

We had rescue rats when we lived in the UK, and fabulous little critters they were – the perfect vegan pets as they just ate mini versions of our dinners each night! They never quite understood rat basketball, despite much trying (yes, I know the university lab tests are cruel and exploitative), but they knew damn well how to harass you for houmous and chew holes in your favourite jumper whilst looking extremely adorable.

mmm, houmous!

mmm, houmous!

Again, these were rescues as we would never have gone to a pet-shop to put money in such coffers. Our ratties took quite a bit of attention at first as they had, seemingly, had some previous trauma possibly due to their origin in a non-too-friendly pet store in Manchester.

Our doggy then will be from the SPCA or similar charity looking to rehome a neglected or abandoned mutt. If you have a dog needing a new home in Vancouver please get in touch to see if we can help out! I’m now in the wonderful position where I already work from home and my partner will be able to as well, so we’re completely flexible in terms of daily schedule – we’re also planning on sticking around in Vancouver for a few years, which helps somewhat… nomads, eh? I already have a route mapped out from the new apartment in Kits to the park via the Edible Flours vegan bakery that’s set to open in the next few weeks. Vegan croissant and coffee anyone? Woof.

<em>signs of a taurine deficiency?</em>

signs of a taurine deficiency?

With the acquisition of said dog will come the responsibility for his/her health and happiness and this is where things get a little tricky. As much as I love cats I don’t think I’d ever own one, unless there was no one else to look after poor kitty. This is entirely due to the issue of what to feed your waif and stray.

Cats, to my knowledge, have particular amino acid requirements that are extremely hard to meet through a vegan diet alone (taurine is the main issue). It is possible to feed a cat a plant-based diet but it takes a significant amount of dedication and awareness and a good relationship with a well-read vet. Dogs however are not only happy to survive on a vegan diet but are often said to thrive on them. In fact, many vets seem to put dogs on a vegan diet once arthritis and inflammatory issues kick in as they can help restore doggy to good health or inhibit disease progression.

In Canada we’re lucky that there is a nutrition standard for commercially prepared dog food to ensure it is appropriate for your animal’s needs. The next few weeks I’ll be doing my research and making sure I know which brands are vegan, what’s available near our new place, and who to turn to should I need extra help with taking care of a soon-to-be-vegan dog. I do not think it cruel or unusual to follow my own personal ethics when taking on such a responsibility as a companion animal and I completely understand that my dog’s natural impulses will most likely lead him/her to quickly snaffle any meat that’s lying around. I do think having the best possible nutrition for my mutt is the highest priority and that is what I will aim to do without that causing cruelty to another animal in the process. After all, is it a charitable or cruelty-free act to adopt a dog only to feed him/her other once-living creatures as part of a diet that could compromise their health?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Shishkoff March 23, 2011 at 23:10


Sounds like you’re on the right track, although anyone who calls themselves an abolitionist and derides your decision to care for a dog from a shelter has only abolished responsibility and care for those who are refugees and utterly dependent on our care.

Don’t know if you caught my tweet earlier in the day, but Lee Hall just had a piece posted on the topic, think you might appreciate it:

Esp. about feeding cats. I really don’t think cats eating meat are the problem, and endangering their lives with food that could very well make them sick (or dead) is a pretty bold act of dominion and disrespect in itself.

Another thought is the term ‘companion’ animal…i’m not sure it really applies, and only whitewashes the relationship.. Presumably, companions are such by choice, and that’s not the case with domesticated animals (at least most of the time)… I think ‘pet’ is a fair term, and emphasizes the matter, that we’re forcing (via breeding) these animals into existence that leaves them dependent on us…

My two cents, anyway. I’m sure you’ll be a fantastic rescuer. =)

emma March 24, 2011 at 02:17

hey! just found your blog…it’s cool! love the taurine deficient kitten 🙂

admin March 26, 2011 at 17:59

Hi Emma,

the kitten’s a cutie isn’t she!? Although I do feel I should stress that I do not approve of kitties being dressed up in such a fashion! I shall check out your blog… quirky kitchens are my favourite kind.


admin March 26, 2011 at 18:16

Hey Dave,

thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve never been too comfortable with the ‘companion animal’ term; it smacks of denial of the real relationship. My dog will, indeed, be a pet as he/she would probably not exist were it not for forced breeding as you say. Thanks for the link to Lee Hall’s post, I have some catching up to do on the VeganViews site and didn’t see that. You’re absolutely right that cats are often made unhealthy by meat-based diets considered ‘natural’ when they’re anything but… processed bone and feathers is not good nutrition… I find it quite distrubing though when ‘devout’ vegans (and I use the word deliberately) buy a cat and feed it a vegan diet, almost as a political point. The hypocrisy seems obvious and they’d be much better off rescuing a cat rather than contributing to the whole awful pet-breeding economy.

I’ve read so much stuff recently about whether vegan pets are OK or not and I think the clearest thing that I got out of it is that those who say you’re imposing your own ethics onto your animal you call a pet forget that by feeding your pet meat/fish/dairy you’re quite clearly imposing your ethics onto those animals involved in that exploitation and cruelty. Not that I equate children and pets but I think the same is also true there… you get called irresponsible and are accused of imposing your ethics on your child if you raise them vegan but I think it’s actually unethical not to give your child the choice to be cruelty-free from birth. Why make them complicit in cruelty and murder before they even understand the terms… and why perpetuate that in order to carry out the charitable act of rescuing an animal from a shelter. The scant scientific research I’ve managed to track down seems to find no problem with a dog eating a vegan diet… even those involved in extreme exercise such as husky-sled-dogs. The old adage of ‘just because that’s the way it’s always been it doesn’t mean it’s right’ seems to apply here as far as I can see.

On a completely different note, have you signed up for the Victoria cycling thing in May? You wouldn’t happen to know anyone selling a fairly cheap road bike would you? Not for me, I hasten to add, but for a 6’3″ chap.


Dave Shishkoff March 28, 2011 at 20:19


Hmmm…one important distinction between human children and pet cats is that children are fine as vegans, and the same isn’t the case with cats, where many have gotten sick and died because their owners chose to direct their dominion that way.

Again, pet cat consumption of meat isn’t the problem with animal husbandry, human consumption is the driving force and is what needs to be addressed.

Like, what happens when we have a vegan world (yay!), and still have to care for carnivores who are injured because of us (say, hit by a car), like hawks, snakes or fish? Are we going to experiment on them with vegan food, or feed them essentially the same thing (err…same being?) they’d have eaten..? Eventually we’ll be in this situation, and i can’t see how we’d ever figure out the nutritional needs of so many carnivores without performing animal testing…maybe this is one place for lab-grown meat?

What would the Gary Francione abolitionist (to address those who think this way directly) do? Would they disregard an injured carnivore, and only assist herbivores? If our actions caused the injury of an animal, shouldn’t we be responsible for their care? Is it speciesist to care for an injured rabbit, but neglect an injured brown bat?

A final thought is that the cat or dog shouldn’t be called ‘vegan’, given that it’s a decision towards a particular ethical position. Perhaps there are cats or dogs who think ‘i don’t want to hurt other animals’, but we don’t know this, and really, if we describe it honestly, we’re just feeding them a vegan diet…

Yep, will be racing all that weekend at the end of May, i’m not doing the big Tour de Victoria (it’s just a ride, not a race), but i’ll be doing the Friday night sprints, the Dallas Rd Time Trial on Saturday night, and Bastion Square crit downtown on Sunday morning. =)

As for a bike….hmmm….i usually just check out Craigslist and UsedVictoria… PinkBike also has a number of local bikes, that’s my best tip…!

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