Question: My friend has a large Labradoodle. The family has all become vegan and is wondering how/if their dog can join them
as vegans, given that dogs are considered primarily carnivores.
Answer: Well, technically, they *can* but, in my opinion, they should not be. If they truly care about animals, they will provide their animal companion with the foods he/she was designed by nature to digest/consume.
This is one of the most ethically challenging aspects of deeply loving all animals while caring for certain animals that need to eat other animals by nature; especially when they are part of our family.
Consider this: if you truly love and honor snakes, and want the best for them, you would never even think about feeding a snake a diet of carrots or apples that had some sort of supplement added to make it more rodent like. When I did wildlife rescue, I had to feed the owls and other raptors baby chicks and mice. It was difficult to do, but this is what they eat. This is what they need to eat to thrive. I think that the most humane approach is to provide every animal with a diet of whatever it is they were designed by nature to consume and truly thrive on, to the best of our knowledge and ability.
If they are unwilling or unable to feed their dogs or cats a meat-based diet (food that honors their true nature, physiology and biology) then they should reconsider sharing their lives with these animal companions. Some vegans consciously make the choice to live without other animal species as part of their family – for a number of reasons. Because I can’t imagine not having animals as part of my family, because I don’t even know what a day would be like without caring for a creature that I love, and because the current need to provide homeless animals with a home is so immense, this is not something I can do personally – but it is a choice (and sacrifice) some make. For vegans that do not want to feed meat to carnivores, there are a huge number of herbivores desperately seeking homes in rescue, too: rabbits, tortoises, iguanas, mice, guinea pigs, for example. This is another way to help animals within one’s ethical concerns.
I’m not at all saying your friends should rehome their dog as vegans, but I do feel strongly that the most vegan thing they can possibly do is recognize and honor their dog for the canine creature that they are, and feed them a species appropriate diet. I have known some people that feed raw, home-prepared diets using only animal by-products (meaning they feed meat from animals that were not killed for the sole purpose of feeding their pets, but were already slated to be a part of the human food chain) or those that feed a meat-based raw diet most days but few meals a week of eggs and/or fish instead of meat to minimize the environmental impact of feeding meat. They will need to come to their own conclusions on this.
And, by extension, purchasing dried or canned processed meat-based foods is also highly problematic as a vegan because those bags and cans are essentially the “worst of the worse” – those bags contain the most inhumanely handled sources of meat in the entire food chain. This was one of the reasons why I started SFRAW, was to seek out the farms I wanted to support and ensure the meat I was buying was raised at a higher standard – that the animals/livestock being raised for food were being honored during their lifetimes for being cows, pigs, lambs, chickens, etc. It is important to me that ranchers provide these animals a life that allows them to engage in behaviors and enjoy a lifestyle and diet that, at a minimum, respects and considers their natural behaviors and biology as a species. Thus, SFRAW continues to seek out the most ethically handled meat we can find. In this way we are able to honor our dogs & cats for who they are/their very nature; honor the livestock animals being raised for food; and honor the humans doing this work, too. That is being as vegan as you can get, IMO. I think it is our responsibility as caretakers to do the very best we can for the animals under our care by providing them with the best nutrition and care available to us.
Yes, they can find highly processed “food-like” products on the market (either vegan processed pet food or supplements they add to a home-prepared vegan dog diet) that may keep their dog alive, but their dog will not truly thrive on this and, for me, the biggest problem I have with it is the lack of honor being shown for the animal under your care. Respecting our family members (of any species) for who they are, by their very nature and biology, is important. Being vegan is about honoring life and non-violence; this includes respecting our dogs and cats as unique individuals and as separate species with needs that might differ from our own (and the animals raised to feed them).
If they have any questions about this, they can contact me as I am happy to speak to them from a long-time (since 1983) animal loving, ethical vegan perspective. I think it is wonderful that they are considering these things so thoughtfully. Engaging in the continued effort to live an examined life is commendable. Becoming vegan (or paleo or locovore or a whole-foodist), committing to any diet or lifestyle that investigates and perhaps limits what you consume, and that forces you to seriously consider what you are buying and consuming on a daily basis, takes a lot of dedication, thought and commitment. I have tremendous respect for anyone that puts effort into living a good and ethical life, and even more when they reach out to others to help formulate decisions that align with their ethics. I hope this helps them with making an informed, researched, and well-considered choice.