Today, 1st November, is World Vegan Day, established in 1994 to honour the 50th anniversary of The Vegan Society and the coining of the term ‘veganism’. THE PACK founders Judy and Damien are both vegan, creating THE PACK to help dogs thrive on a diet free from animal products. The philosophy of veganism as a way of living which rejects (as far as is possible and practicable) all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals is very much in line with the goals of THE PACK. We want to help you feed your dog without harming other animals, in a way that gives your own furry friend the happiest and healthiest life.
Still, 78 years after veganism became ‘a thing’, there’s still confusion over what the term actually means, specifically how it differs from vegetarianism and plant-based eating. Especially when it comes to our dogs! In this blog, we explore what it means to care for your dog in line with vegan values and whether your dog can, in fact, be a vegan.
Vegetarian Versus Vegan Diets
What’s the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan? Well, vegetarians omit all animal flesh from their diets, including fish (those who choose to consume fish but not land animals are called ‘pescatarians’). While vegetarians decline to eat actual animals, they do eat products produced by those animals: so dairy from cows and goats (cheese, milk, yoghurt), eggs from chickens, Omega 3 oil from fish or honey from bees. Unlike veganism, vegetarianism is a dietary rather than a lifestyle choice, so vegetarians will wear leather, wool and silk, all produced by animals.
Some people who eat an entirely plant-based diet (no meat, eggs or dairy) do so for environmental or health reasons and don’t practice veganism away from the dinner table. By contrast, a vegan eats a fully plant-based diet, so far as possible, but they also live their entire life in a way that aims to cause as little harm to animals as they can. They may refuse to ride horses or visit zoos, to wear make-up or use bathroom products tested on animals, or to wear any clothes made from animal skins. They fight for the environment because our planet is home to all sorts of animals, not just the human sort. In this sense, veganism is a belief or values system, not a diet. It’s a social justice movement, a commitment to making life better for the billions of animals with whom we share our planet.
That's why at THE PACK we try to avoid saying our dogs are ‘vegan’, even when we feed them a fully plant-based diet. Our dogs are not vegan. They aren’t lying awake at night worrying about factory farming or ethically conflicted about whether to eat that chicken bone on the street. And it’s safe to assume that they don’t give a pig’s ear about deforestation and carbon emissions! Veganism is an ethical and moral framework that our dogs have neither the capacity nor incentive to engage in. Why should they? They’re not the ones choosing and buying the pet food, doggy shampoo brand or collar. Instead, it’s up to us to make the decision between meat and plant-based, tested on animals or cruelty-free, leather or faux-leather.
It might seem a tiny thing to call our dogs ‘plant-based’ instead of ‘vegan’, but it can have big implications. When we shout about our ‘vegan dogs’, we open ourselves up to accusations that we’re imposing our own political or ethical values onto our pets. This is dog poop, obviously: for every pawrent, our dogs’ health and wellbeing is always the priority. In reality, we’re simply feeding a diet that provides our dogs with the very best nutrition. That this diet aligns with our own ethics is a happy bonus. What’s more, many non-vegan pawrents are interested in removing meat from their dogs’ bowls for health reasons, but the term ‘vegan’ can put them off, meaning their dogs lose out! In this sense, ‘plant-based’ is a more accurate term and unlocks wider acceptance of animal-free dog food. After all, changing your dog food brand doesn’t force an ideology onto your dog or onto you: you won’t suddenly find yourselves on an Animal Rights march just because you bought a can of THE PACK! All you’re doing is feeding your dog a different food.
Some Simple Plant-Based Swaps
Let’s say you have decided to ditch the meat and switch your dog to a fully plant-based diet. Avoiding all animal products in your dog’s diet is easier said than done, even foods that purport to be meat-free often being vegetarian rather than vegan. Many dog treats contain cheese or egg, for instance, and homemade treat recipes often use honey to sweeten. A lot of dogs love the savoury taste of cheese, with its strong aroma appealing to their ultra-sensitive noses, and doggy ice cream almost always contains milk (your dog may also have a taste for the end of a human ice cream cone!)
Luckily there are some easy substitutes. Instead of cheese, sprinkle some nutritional yeast or ‘nooch’ on your pup’s dinner, giving them that cheesy smell and flavour with an added dose of B vitamins! Or swap dairy yoghurt for a coconut or oat milk alternative; just make sure it’s free from xylitol (which is poisonous to dogs) and added sugars. If you’re baking some dog biscuits, use maple syrup instead of honey. And choose a meat-free complete pet food that leaves dairy or egg out of the ingredient list; that way you can be sure you’re providing all the nutrients your dog needs without involving any other animals at all. That’s a good thing for any ethical or environmental concerns you may (or may not) have, and it’s a great thing for your dog’s health.
Although we’ve talked at length about how it’s scientifically possible for our dogs to thrive on a vegan diet, we’ve seen here that does not make them vegans. It simply makes them happy, healthy dogs. Of course, while our furry friends aren’t losing sleep over factory farming or environmental destruction, we often are! That's why it's our responsibility to care for our dogs in the way that does least harm to other animals, to the planet but, most importantly, to the dogs themselves. What better message to bark about this World Vegan Day?
Not Ready To Go Fully Plant-Based? Try A Flexidogian Approach
The word 'flexitarian' was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014 and is defined as “A person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish". We give you ‘flexidogian’, defined as “A dog who eats a mixture of meat or fish-based, vegetarian and plant-based foods”!
Following a flexitarian diet means eating more plant-based foods without totally eliminating meat. Just like flexitarian humans who reduce their meat consumption in exchange for alternative protein sources, a flexidogian diet can offer a more environmentally sustainable option for your meat-eating hound. Research by Oxford University declared that if every UK family swapped a red meat meal to a plant-based meal just once a week, the environmental impact would equate to taking 16 million cars off the road. What if we got our dogs involved too? Remember that most dogs eat meat-based food for all their meals, plus meaty treats. Imagine if we ate meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and only snacked on jerky and chicken nuggets! Exchanging just some of those animal products for plant-based nosh is going to make a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions, land use and all the environmentally damaging impacts of meat production. Research reports that moving humans to a more plant-based flexitarian diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52%. Imagine how much higher that percentage could be if our dogs became flexitarians too…
What’s more, flexidogian is about adding new foods to your dog’s diet as opposed to excluding any. Foods that have enormous health benefits, like beans, peas, leafy greens, root veg, fruits and seeds, incredible sources of protein, antioxidants and more. Where can you find all these glorious ingredients? In THE PACK food, of course!
Why Not Go The Whole Hog?
Even when you’ve read the science and heard the success stories, it can be nerve-wrecking to completely change what your dog eats. We also know that switching to meat-free pet food can cost a little more with plant-based dog food still in its infancy and struggling to price-match cheaper meaty products. What’s more, some pups are addicted to the meaty taste of their usual brand: the ‘secret sauce’ used by most meat-based dog food producers (animal fat sprayed onto the kibble). There are also hounds who have medical conditions that require a specialised diet which contains animal products. Does this mean those dogs can’t join the plant-based pet food revolution? Absolutely not!
Top Tips For Flexidogian Living
Here at THE PACK, we’ve always advocated a gradual transition to a plant-based diet. If you’re not able - or comfortable - to go all the way, there’s no reason why you can’t stop at mixing half vegan with half animal-based dog food. Or keep the main meal meaty but reward your dog with plant-based treats instead of beefy bites. You can buy delicious vegan dog treats from independent companies and increasingly from the large pet food brands, or you can simply feed veggies like carrot sticks or cubes of sweet potato. Keeping the chicken kibble but swapping out pig-ear chews for raw carrots, or beef biscuits for butternut squash, means your dog associates treat time with plant-based food. You could even freeze spoonfuls of THE PACK to feed as treats or spread some on a lick mat to keep your pup mentally stimulated.
Equally, you can flip things and feed plant-based meals as your dog’s main diet but still toss them the occasional meaty treat. Another way to reduce your dog’s environmental pawprint is to do Meat Free Muttday together, using that as an opportunity to tickle their taste buds with something new – and maybe try some new vegetable-based dinner options yourself too. If your dog’s anything like ours, they’re start begging for courgette as soon as you get out the chopping board!
In a nutshell, we welcome flexidogians into our community with open paws. Just make sure that your dog’s main meal is nutritionally complete & balanced, providing all the nutrients they need, whether it be meat or plant-based.
We all know that modern meaty dog food is a problem, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity and resource use. But so much of today’s pet food is meat when it doesn’t have to be, meaning there are a plethora of options when it comes to swapping in plant-based substitutes. Because when we rethink what goes into our dog’s bowl, even just a few days a week, pet food can become part of the solution. We want to help you get there, one meal or one treat at a time, and we recognise that the journey is different for every dog. THE PACK is for all pups, whether vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or flexidogian!
World Vegan Day Giveaway
To celebrate World Vegan Day we have teamed up with our friends to give you and your dog(s) an incredible prize worth over £750!
To enter, simply head to our Instagram @thepackpet and follow the rules to enter. If you do not have Instagram please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to enter.