Vegan diets and pets – getting the facts straight
Never has giving up meat and dairy products and switching to a solely plant-based diet been more popular. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled, according to a survey commissioned by The Vegan Society.
And it’s a trend that’s having an impact on pets too. A survey of 3,670 dog and cat owners from around the world found that 35% are interested in putting their pets on a vegan diet, while 27% of respondents who follow a vegan diet themselves have already got their pets to follow suit.
Reported in The Independent, the study’s lead author, Dr Sarah Dodd of the veterinary college at the University of Guelph, Canada, said she was surprised at how many pet owners were feeding their animals exclusively vegan food: “That percentage, 27%, might sound like a small number, but when you think of the actual numbers of pets involved, that’s huge, and much higher than we expected.”
Cats are carnivores
Dr Dodd points out that more research is needed. The RSPCA agrees – and is concerned about the impact on cats in particular. A spokesperson said: “Cats are ‘strict carnivores’ and depend on specific nutrients found primarily in meat, such as taurine, vitamin A and arachidonic acid.”
Burgess in-house vet, Dr Suzanne Moyes, comments: “Our pets deserve the correct nutrition to thrive and today, we’ve never been better informed about the significant role nutrition plays in keeping our pets happy and healthy. It’s vital that we respect our pets’ natural diet and feed them food that is nutritious, well-balanced and as close as possible to what they would eat in the wild, whether they’re natural carnivores, omnivores or vegetarians. “
Who eats what?
So, are any of the UK’s most popular pets natural vegans? Dr Suzanne Moyes sets the pet dietary information record straight...
- Rabbits and guinea pigs are true vegans – but that doesn’t mean you should feed them lots of fruit and veg! Their diets should be a carefully balanced mix of long-stemmed feeding hay, rabbit or guinea pig nuggets and fresh greens. In addition, guinea pigs, like us, can’t make their own Vitamin C, and so need it in their daily diet.
- You may think that hamsters, gerbils and degus are vegans, but they’re actually omnivores (animals that have the ability to eat and survive on both plant and animal matter). Although their natural diet is mainly plants and seeds, they also eat insects. Wild, omnivorous chinchillas primarily eat grass, leaves, bark and woody shrubs, but they also eat insects and birds’ eggs.
- Rats and mice are also opportunistic omnivores and will eat both plant and animal -based foods. Wild mice will eat a wide variety of seeds, grains, and other plant material as well as invertebrates, small vertebrates and carrion. Wild rats eat pretty much anything, from fruit and seeds to human food waste, insects and birds' eggs.
- Ferrets and cats are both ‘obligate’ or ‘true carnivores’, which means they must eat meat to survive and thrive. Obligate carnivores are those whose diet requires nutrients found only in animal flesh. While obligate carnivores might be able to ingest small amounts of plant matter, they lack the necessary physiology required to fully digest it.
- As for dogs, they’re not, as is often believed, classified as carnivores, but as omnivores – benefiting from a healthy diet that contains both animal and plant-based foods such as grains. In fact, even wolves in the wild derive nutrition from both plant and animal sources.
ASK AN EXPERT
If you have any concerns about your pets’ diet, always consult your vet first.
Dr Moyes advises: “At Burgess, all our pet food is produced in line with FEDIAF (the European pet food industry federation) nutritional guidelines. These guidelines, which are based on many pieces of published research, helps us to calculate the nutrient content and dietary components such as protein, fat, carbohydrate and vitamins and minerals required to ensure all our foods meet the detailed nutritional requirements for the pets they are designed for.”
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Sources: independent.co.uk, vegansociety.com, rspca.org.uk, wildlifetrusts.org