CHICO — It feels safe to say the vegan community is one full of love for our four-legged friends, but our opinions on how far to take our vegan lifestyle when we decide to own an animal or two can vary widely.

Most vegans I know currently have animals, whether canine, feline or otherwise. My animals have always come into my home via rescue, and so my house has opened to my tabby adopted in Oroville in 2010, and my boxer/Staffordshire terrier mix adopted in August 2019.

My journey into vegetarianism and eventually veganism has progressed without much change in my philosophy about animal ownership, and I have discovered it’s a major point of confusion for some people of how being a pet owner might change if you’re a vegan. Many don’t seem to understand how you could be ethically motivated to prioritize harm to animals, yet want to keep and feed domestic pets.

It really comes down to your perspective. My personal belief is on the side of adopting rescue animals, and not breeding them or purchasing animals bred for profit, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s necessary to avoid ownership as if it restricts their freedom. But I do hope to avoid supporting the meat industry as much as I can, and owning animals does present a problem in that regard that I think is worth unpacking.

Cats and dogs are naturally carnivorous, and I have accepted that my cat will be eating animal products and it wouldn’t be advisable to force her to go plant-based — nor would any veterinarian support the decision. But while there is vegan animal food out there, the research around whether it really supplies everything they need is mixed.

Dogs are facultative carnivores — they can technically survive on a plant-based diet, but it must be approached carefully to give the dog everything it needs to stay healthy. However, cats are obligate carnivores and cannot handle living meat-free.

Therefore, it looks like owners of these animals should expect to feed them products with meat of some kind in them. While not all vegans have chosen the lifestyle for ethical reasons, the majority are motivated by a desire to avoid harm and any products that may have caused harm and this can cause a dilemma when having to feed your own animal this kind of product.

The thing is, your responsibility as a pet owner is to feed the animal what is best for its body, a nutritionally complete diet. And if your veterinarian has given you their professional opinion and that diet contains meat, personally I will choose that option unless pet foods grow more advanced and those nutrients can be made complete for an obligate carnivore — because right now, it’s what my cat needs.

But is it ethically wrong to feed an animal food that contains animal products? Does that make you a bad vegan? I’ve been asked this more times than I can start to count.

Psychology Today recommends that while some plant-based feed has been developed, every animal is different and only dogs can, with plenty of supervision eventually function on a vegan diet — but cats can’t.

Therefore, as someone who will likely own both canines and felines in their life, I don’t plan on trying to make my animals go vegan if I know I will always be buying meat-based products for my cat. There are going to be compromises on this journey. For me, this choice is similar to knowing I will pick up meat at the store for my brother if he pays for it, or cook my dad a meal with cheese in it because that’s what he asked for. I know not every vegan feels this way, but it’s how I’m navigating my journey at present.

A cat, a dog and a handful of grace at the vegan dinner table

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