Meat nearly killed my dog. First, a little history…
We adopted our Chow/Shepherd mix, Knish (yup, that’s his name!) in 2006 and fed him good old fashioned commercial dog food; kibbles and canned meat. But we found that our boy had quite the sensitive stomach.
For months we tried different commercial brands to try and ease our pup’s testy tummy, changing them slowly and gradually, but to no avail. It was diarrhea city for our baby. We made sure to know about pain meds for pets, incase we found that we needed them, and wondered quite what we were going to do for our four-legged friend.
At the time I was vegetarian (now vegan) and busy working as a lawyer. While I didn’t eat meat for years because I was a huge animal lover, I was fairly ignorant about the horrors of factory farms and definitely didn’t think a non-meat diet for a dog was even possible.
Because of my dog’s queasy stomach I started researching what goes into commercial dog food…
“Meat byproducts” (lungs, kidneys, brains, bones, intestines, etc.), “meat meal” (zoo animals, road kill, and even other euthanized dogs and cats; say what?). Big companies certainly get creative in making profits off of things that are “unfit for human consumption”. Add in loads of chemicals, preservatives, and cheap fillers, mix it with big bucks for a happy healthy dog ad campaign, and you have disgusting products that look pretty and make millions. Mind you, not all dog foods are like this check out this list of top rated large breed dog food picks, some of them may suprise you!
I had read enough. We decided to try home cooking his food to see if it helped to harden up his stool.
We cooked him brown rice with cooked meat and veggies. Again, I hadn’t eaten meat in years so it was not fun for me, but at the time I didn’t think a dog could go without meat and I no longer trusted dog food. This new diet solved his stomach problems completely and we did this for almost 2 years.
And then one day, we fed him the wrong meat…
He began throwing up uncontrollably, over and over again. Then the diarrhea started. We rushed him to the vet with it coming out of both ends all the way there.
The vet kept him overnight, certain it was some kind of food poisoning. The next morning when I arrived, it was as though he aged 10 years overnight. By now he was throwing up and pooping blood.
Two more days and nights later… The vet said he was doing well on the meds and IV and could go home. I took one look at my boy and expressed my doubts. He looked like a dead dog walking. I’ve been around animals my whole life and I have never seen an animal get that sick.
He told me to try. Knish hadn’t eaten in 3 days and he thought he might relax enough to eat something at home. Within one hour of being home, no eating, and 2 diarrhea bathroom breaks, I walked out onto our porch and found my baby lying in a pool of blood. It was literally pouring out of him.
My heart broke, my stomach dropped to the floor, and panic ensued. I rushed him back to the vet crying the whole way. Three more full days and nights of treatments and IVs and a hefty vet bill to boot. Finally, he was able to go home.
Our vet said they could not identify the exact bacteria that got him sick without doing invasive testing. All we knew was that it was caused by his meat because that was the only thing he had eaten in the previous 24 hours and we had just purchased it.
Two days later, the article on the cover of the New York Times was about a massive meat recall due to an E. Coli outbreak. I had my answer. He had all the symptoms of E. Coli poisoning.
By this time I was vegan and well educated on factory farming. Feeding my dog any type of animal had grown more and more difficult for me and more expensive as we tried to purchase locally farmed products. So I researched feeding your dog a home cooked vegan diet. After much experimentation and vet consults, we got a formula down that works for him and us and we’ve been doing it for about a year and a half now.
Knish is the perfect weight, in perfect health, and fit as a fiddle – lean and muscular – with a nice shiny coat. And I might add, his breath is awesome :)
Ingredients for My Dog’s Home Cooked Vegan Dog Food:
Note: Every dog is different and transitioning your dog to a vegan diet must be done with veterinary supervision. Diets must be catered to your dog’s breed, size, age, health issues, etc. You also need to do yearly blood tests to make sure they’re getting the nutrients their organs need. Nothing in this article applies to cats as feeding them a vegan diet is much more complicated and dangerous.
- Brown Rice (we cook this in our rice cooker)
- Protein: A different type of bean every week to vary the nutrients (i.e., black, pinto, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, fava, lentils, red kidney, etc.). You can also use tofu, tempeh or seitan but we find that isn’t as cost efficient. Sweet potatoes are also a good addition but should not replace the beans.
- Note: Our dog likes lentils the best so we use them frequently (green, yellow, etc.). They’re small so you don’t have to worry about mashing them up as much and they seem to digest the best. For bigger beans, you must mash them.
- Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health: I learned about this from The Kind Life. It’s an excellent holistic dog food pre-mix made from 6 organic grains, 9 vegetables and 14 herbs. It’s dehydrated so all you have to do is add hot water (it looks like oatmeal with veggies in it).
- Alternative Option: You can also steam veggies with nutritional yeast and then puree them.
- Olive Oil: For their coat.
- Natural Balance Vegetarian Canned Formula: The above ingredients are all we used for quite some time but per a vet’s recommendation, we now supplement his food with this canned food. Before we started using this we gave him supplements (i.e, Taurine, L-Carnatine, and VegeDog Supplement) but I always worried about whether or not we were giving the right amounts for his breed, size and age. Because this canned food is a balanced diet we no longer need to worry about adding supplements (and according to the vet, giving supplements on a balanced diet can be harmful due to over toxicity). There are other vegetarian canned dog foods but my dog only likes this one. If you don’t want to use this you need to work with a pet nutritionist to determine the right balance of supplements.
Preparing all of this may sound like a pain but once it becomes part of your routine you get used to it. To me, my pup and my peace of mind are well worth the effort. To make our lives easier we make one huge batch that lasts about 6 days for our 60 llb dog. We feed him twice a day which we were told is better for dogs on a vegan diet.
We use a 48 oz bag of brown rice, a 16 oz bag of beans, a large bowl of Dr. Harvey’s, and 2 cans of Natural Balance. We then add in the oil (sorry, we don’t measure that!), mix it all together, and his food is done for the week.
Tip: If we run out of time or haven’t made it to the store we’ll sometimes substitute the home cooked beans with canned beans, canned vegetarian chili, or canned lentil soup. The veggie chili and canned soup also helped us transition him to this new diet as he seemed to enjoy the flavors.
Our dog is insanely picky about what he eats (he turned down many brands of commercial dog food!) so I was surprised by how quickly he took to this diet. He’s happy, healthy, and fit. And when he kisses me his breath doesn’t send me to the floor!
It eases my heart to know I’m not cooking him meat or giving him dog food I don’t trust and so far we certainly haven’t had any more emergency vet bills. It takes some effort but it’s been so worth it.
Veterinary Resources for Transitioning Your Dog to a Vegan Diet:
- School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California Davis (www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu; (530) 752-1393/7892). They will create a home cooked food plan for your dog based on blood work. You must submit a Nutrition Consult Request Form and a Diet History Form (along with blood results).
- Dr. Armaiti May, DVM (www.veganvet.net) – She is a vegan vet who does phone consultations.
Liz Longacre is the founder of the Gentle Living. Gentle Living covers everything involved in living a gentle but powerful life.