Friday, December 13, 2013

Vegan Dog: Is it Possible?

Holiday time is a time when I think about food. A lot. I think about baking, I think about eating, and, inevitably, I think about what I will not be eating.

My life over the past decade has been a bit of a revolving door when it comes to the food choices that I have made. When I was 19, I decided I wanted to be a vegan; however, I didn't have the know how to make good food choices and lived mostly on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Oreo cookies. Yes, you can technically be a vegan and eat no veggies. The extreme weight loss and lack of energy that this brought on influenced me to return to my old ways as a meat eater. And then began the back and forth from meat eater to vegetarian and back again with short bursts of veganism when I was feeling extra inspired.

Flash forward to the summer of 2012 (when we adopted McGee) when I felt a shift that made me
desire a vegan way of living more than ever before. The connection that I felt with McGee brought up so many questions for me. I remember watching her play in her new backyard and thinking how can I eat another being when I am witness to how much joy this little dog is capable of experiencing? Surely a cow or pig isn't that much different?

I have since educated myself about factory farming and plant based cooking to the point that I feel confident about both my reasons for choosing vegan and my ability to provide myself with a healthy diet. When I'm paying attention and eating with awareness, a vegan diet makes me feel healthier and happier, in body and in mind, then I ever have before.

Sitting for salad.
I don't claim perfection. Being vegan 100% of the time can be super challenging- I've definitely eaten cheese on occasion (the absolute hardest thing for this Wisconsin girl to give up) and I've had a few doughnuts too. Dog Dad is a great support system for me and the food we keep in our home is all completely vegan. We even had a vegan meal for the reception at our wedding this summer which was fun to plan and was received very well by our family and friends.

What's the point of this spiel? Well, one of the challenges I didn't expect when I made this decision about my lifestyle is that I feel super weird about the fact that I feed McGee dog food made out of other animals. I mean, I love her so much and here I am watching her eat other creatures. It just seems bizarre to me. I cringe when I see pictures of dogs happily chomping on bully sticks (bull penises), I was super freaked out when we decided to use dog food with lamb in it as a training reward, and I know my dog has lusty feelings about bacon, but that pig may very well have been smarter than McGee!

The challenge is that, while I can adopt a vegan diet and then analyze how I feel and make changes to meet my nutritional needs, McGee can't tell me if an all veggie diet is making her feel crappy or happy. And have you ever tried Googling "can my dog be a healthy vegetarian"? You will get every result from people telling you that their dog lived a freakish 25 years as a vegetarian to those who say you will kill your dog by not letting them eat meat. I'm not sure how to provide McGee with everything she needs on a cruelty free diet. I don't want to hurt her, but I also don't want to hurt all those chickens that are ground up in her dog food. I seriously feel like it would require me to go back to school and get a degree in dog nutrition to know what's best. What's a girl to do?

I feel you VeganPolice. I really do.
For now, McGee enjoys her Blue Buffalo chicken and rice food and all of her treats are vegan: sweet potato dog biscuits, peanut butter in her Kong, broccoli or green beans for something extra special. The fact that she's reactive and needs extra special treats in order to focus adds to the challenge. I gave in and let her have pizza, lamb, hot dogs and an array of other items that gross me out during her 8 week training course.

I know that there's the argument that a wild dog would be out there eating meat to survive, but the reality of the situation is that McGee just isn't a wild dog. She's my dog and it's up to me to provide her with food and make sure she's healthy and well cared for. And I want what's best for her, it's just really hard to come to terms with the fact that she's living at the expense of other creatures.

Are you a vegetarian or vegan who feeds your dog meat? Do you believe a dog can live a healthy life as a vegetarian?

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