I have a confession to make. Normally, it’s not something I bring up, because, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it’s particularly interesting. It’s also usually not relevant to whatever’s going on. But it’s become relevant in lots of discussions I’ve had lately. So, the confession: I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat cheese or dairy products either, although the occasional butter sneaks in, and I love eggs from my friend’s beautiful chickens. So why am I mentioning this now? What place does this have in the Raw Pets Thrive Movement? I mention it because so frequently I hear vegetarians and vegans say they don’t want to feed their pet raw meat and bones. And, I hear those who aren’t vegetarian/vegan disparaging those who are for that attitude. It seems to be widespread on both sides, and I thought it was important, as a vegetarian who feeds raw, to share my thoughts. For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to use the term vegetarian, but please understand I’m referring to vegans too.
The decision to be vegetarian
Many of us vegetarians make the choice to be so for health reasons or because we are concerned about animal welfare and the environment (or perhaps a combination of the two). Personally, I made the decision to be vegetarian years ago, and I did it for both of the reasons I just mentioned. I’m an omnivore; physiologically, I can take in both plant and animal matter for nourishment. However, my dogs and cat are carnivores. They can only thrive on a diet appropriate for carnivores, which boils down to meat, bones, and organs/glands.
The well-being of all animals is important
As a vegetarian, I’m concerned with animal welfare. This includes animals like cows, sheep, chickens, and turkeys (all animals that at one point in my life I ate), but it also includes the welfare of companion animals like my dogs and cat. This is an important point to remember—the welfare of our own pets is as important (not more important, perhaps, but certainly not less) as the welfare of other animals in the world. Loving our pets as we do, it is so important to take care of them and give them what they need to thrive and flourish. One of the fundamental ways to do this is by making sure they get the best nutrition for them. Nutrition is the cornerstone of health—it gives the body the support it needs to thrive. I recently saw the life expectancy of Golden Retrievers is half what it was 20 years ago. I don’t know if this is accurate, but I do know dogs are presenting with diabetes, cancer, and other serious issues younger and younger. We’re seeing a huge rise of kidney and liver issues in cats. Diabetes and cancer rates among felines are also increasing. When I talk with people these days, they tell me their pets are dying at 8, 9, and 10 years old. This is due, in large part, to the processed food diets that we feed them, because those diets do not give our pets what they need to maintain true health. In light of this, I think that it is absolutely imperative, as the custodian of my pets’ health, to feed them what they are designed to eat so their bodies can stay strong, fit, and healthy.
So how do I reconcile my dogs’ and cat’s welfare with the welfare of the animals they are eating? For me, it boils down to being mindful of the suppliers I use. I look to make sure they’re treating the animals humanely. They should get plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and species-appropriate food. I look for meat that is pasture- or grass-fed. Also, I make sure it doesn’t have antibiotics and hormones added. Some suppliers include information about how they treat their animals, and if they don’t, I ask. For example, Layne Labs, which sells quail, rabbits, rats, and mice, includes an “Animal Bill of Rights”, which states:
All Animals Born In Our Facility Have Certain Inalienable Rights. These Include:
A Stress Free Living Environment
A Constant Flow of Fresh Air
Clean Drinking Water
Clean, Dry Bedding
Peace and Quiet
Natural Day and Night Light Cycles
To Be Treated Humanely, With Compassion and Respect
I also look for information on how the animal is dispatched. It’s important to me that this is done in a humane manner. If a company isn’t willing to tell me how they dispatch their animals, I move on. By making sure to support the farms, ranches, and suppliers that raise their animals humanely and compassionately, I’m helping ensure those are the farms and suppliers that will thrive. I believe that one of the best way to show support (or lack thereof) in our society is through where we spend our money; each time I buy from these businesses rather than a big factory farm, I further the ability of those farms to keep raising animals in a sustainable but compassionate way.
Feeding a raw diet vs kibble as a vegetarian
If you struggle with feeding your dog or cat a raw diet instead of kibble, remember that just because kibble looks like a dried nugget that’s meat-free doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain meat. It does contain meat, but that meat (protein) has been denatured. In other words, it’s been rendered almost unusable by your pet. This means your pet can’t utilize the protein effectively to thrive. Also, much of the meat that is used is raised with no concern for the meat animal’s welfare. Frequently, the animals the meat comes from have been treated with hormones and antibiotics and enhanced with sodium and other things, which are then passed on to your pet. Bottom line: if you’re looking to feed your pet a compassionate diet, kibble is not the way to go (either for your pet or the animals that went into the kibble).
Honoring our carnivore pets
Most of the vegetarians I know respect and honor other species. I think, as I said earlier, that it’s just as important to honor the carnivores that share our lives as it is to honor the herbivores that they have evolved to consume. Honoring and loving our carnivore pets means honoring and loving the essence of who they are. This includes feeding them a balanced, varied raw diet. To do otherwise is to disregard the essence of our pets and instead try to turn them into little versions of us.
Family members, but not humans
In truly understanding our pets, perhaps the most important thing is to understand that they are different than us. They share their lives with us, and the love and joy we get from them and they get from us can’t be questioned. However, they aren’t humans. We have a tendency to think of them as little people. I call my pets “kids” and think of them as my kids. My animals sleep in bed with us, share adventures with us, make us laugh, and comfort us.
I know many people with pets prefer the term “pet parent.” Heck, I do too. In light of how integral pets are to our lives, it’s perfectly normal to think of them as family members. But it’s important to realize they aren’t humans, they’re dogs and cats. By keeping that in mind, we can more easily remember their needs are different than ours. Treating them as little people, especially in how we feed them, doesn’t do them any favors. They are family, but of the four-legged kind. And for them to thrive, we must treat them as such.
Handling raw meat as a vegetarian
Finally, I know that some vegetarians are really uncomfortable handling raw meat. I handle meat every single day for my dogs and cat, so I don’t have any issue with it. However, at the beginning, it did take a little getting used to. Use gloves and an apron if you don’t want to touch the meat (just make sure the gloves are chemical-free). Also, I have a separate cutting board for my animals’ meat. I follow good food safety and food handling practices. And of course, I thoroughly clean everything that came into contact with the meat, and wash my hands. That way, I never have to worry about bacteria, and no meat or blood smell ever lingers.
It is my sincere hope this post will make you stop and think a bit about how you feed your dog and/or cat, whether you’re a vegetarian or not. If you struggle with feeding your pet raw because you’re a vegetarian, think about why you became a vegetarian in the first place. If it was for health reasons, remember feeding your dog or cat a species-appropriate diet is vital to maintaining their health. And if it was for animal and environmental welfare, keep in mind your dog or cat’s welfare is just as important as the welfare of other animals. Either way, feed them what they need to thrive. Do everything you can to find meat suppliers that treat their animals with compassion, dignity, and respect. And then rest easy knowing you’re helping ensure the lives of those animals, as well as your beloved pet, are the best they can be.
Do you feed a raw diet as a vegetarian? Or, do you struggle with feeding raw? Let us know in the comments below! And please share this post with all your fellow pet parents.