As I watched my dog Finn sprint away with glee, his meaty rawhide prize clenched tightly in his jaws, my stomach turned, and I knew things had to change-fast. In the year that I had become vegan, I had carved out a healthy, happy, veg-friendly niche for myself, as free of animal products as it could be. When I adopted Finn Biscuit, a rescued Blue Heeler, in July, I never considered how bringing pounds of meat-based products into my home would feel.

Although it seemed silly to quibble over kibble, I felt more like a hypocrite with each passing dinner. Glancing over the labels on his food, there it was: meat byproducts. His favorite chews were rolled rawhides and greasy pigs' ears and his treats were packed with animal parts not fit for human consumption. (The animals deemed OK for pet food by the U.S. Department of Agriculture usually fall into the categories of diseased, disabled, dying or dead. Most have been fed a diet packed with pesticides, antibiotics and hormones.) Eliminating meat from Finn's diet matched my ideal, but I couldn't rightfully sacrifice his health to do so. What could I do?

I started to search for an answer, anticipating hours of in-depth research ahead. Hunkering down at the computer, I was amazed at how simple the answer was. Dogs, like people, are omnivorous. I could meet Finn's nutritional needs without meat. A proper combination of plant proteins could provide the calories, vitamins, minerals and nutrients he needs. In fact, there are companies that make vegetarian food for dogs and cats.

Although they're carnivores, cats don't need meat to survive; they too can thrive on a balanced, fortified vegan diet, although getting them to eat it can be trickier because cats are picky eaters. It's also important to select a vegetarian cat food that contains taurine, an essential nutrient cats need to survive.

How to fill Fido's dish

St. Paul-based Evolution is one of the largest purveyors of vegan dog and cat food in the United States. "Our food is a mix of protein like corn gluten and soy meal, mixed with whole grains like oats and oat groats, making it a complete protein," explained CEO Eric Weisman. "We add digestive enzymes after it's been cooked as well as nutrients like carnitine and taurine."

When it comes to comparing the nutrition of Evolution's product to that of commercial dog foods, Weisman says there's no contest. "The worst parts of the animals go into regular dog food," he said. "Byproducts like spines, entrails, hooves and then it's cooked in rancid grease. Our food uses pure vegetable oil, which is much healthier."

Evolution's products use vitamins C, E and beta carotene as preservatives, instead of chemicals, but perhaps its greatest selling point is that it's not made at the expense of any other creatures.

Evolution's products sounded good, but I still wasn't convinced that Finn would thrive on a vegetarian diet. Dallas Rising, a long-time animal advocate, relieved my concerns. A vegan for 10 years and the proud guardian of Warren, an Affenpinscher, and Max, a five-year-old beagle, Rising assured me, "The boys don't suffer from [being vegetarian] at all. I thought going into it that I would have to do a lot of research and end up making dog food from scratch, but that isn't the case. It's actually been so convenient."

While cooking dinner, Rising drops in the ends of carrots, bits of celery and tofu in the dog dish and tops it with Natural Life vegetarian kibble. "They get a lot of healthy, low-fat, low-calorie food, which makes them happy," she said. "They love to eat and by eating vegan food, they get to eat more. They love it."

She loves it, too. "You want what's best for your creatures, but why would you want any other animal to suffer for that? Especially when [pets] can be healthy and happy without it."

However, some food that's healthy for humans is deadly for dogs. Don't feed your dog chocolate, onion in any form, raisins or grapes, pits of peaches or plums, potato peels, macadamia nuts or spinach.

Now that I had the scoop, I was eager for Finn to make the switch. I brought home a bag of Evolution's Gourmet Fondue flavored dry kibble. I doused the cheddar cheese-smelling square bits with cool water and waited 15 minutes as per the bag's instructions. Finn devoured it, licking and lapping until all that was left was gleaming steel. I've begun to incorporate more raw fruits and vegetables into his diet, too, and he now gladly sits and shakes for pieces of raw apples or pears, chunks of frozen bananas and baked tofu bites. Romaine lettuce, avocados and baked squash are also favorites. He's as energetic and happy-go-lucky as ever, and my twice-daily feeding guilt trips are a thing of the past.

Meghan McAndrews is a freelance writer based in south Minneapolis. She and Finn can frequently be found at local dog parks.