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When pet and human lifestyles collide
Our four-footed friends can thrive on a meatless diet
Feed Fido without guilt
• Find a nutritionally balanced dog or cat food to use as the base of your pet's diet. Evolution has two flavors of dry kibble and two flavors of wet and is available for purchase at Mississippi Market, Robbinsdale Home and Garden and at their downtown St. Paul warehouse.

• Dogs love to chew, but they don't have to gnaw on dead animal skins to get their jaws working. Front Porch Pets makes a ridged sweet potato dog chew that keeps their mouths busy and is packed with antioxidants. Available in bulk online at www.frontporchpets.com.

• Cornstarch-based Booda Velvet "bones" come in a variety of textures and flavors at Petco and Target.

• Treats are essential for any pet owner's pantry. I found the best selection of vegetarian dog treats at Petco.

• Recipes for homemade veggie dog treats abound online. Check out www.yummyfordogs.org for recipes like Smokey Bulgur Bones and Canine Carrot Cookies.

• Variety is the spice of life, even if you're a dog. Mixing scraps into your pooch's kibble ensures that they're getting a wide range of nutrients. Some healthy inclusions: rice, beans, baked sweet potatoes, salad greens, apple, bananas, avocados, chickpeas, lentils, tofu and tempeh.

• For more information: Natural Pet Care: How to Care for Your Animal Naturally, by Gary Null; Obligate Carnivore: Cats, Dogs, and What it Really Means to Be Vegan, by Jed Gillen; Vegetarian Dogs: Towards a World Without Exploitation, by Verona re-Bow and Jonathan Dune; http://www.vegetariandogs.com.

by Meghan McAndrews

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.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Article comment by:

I hope Meghan McAndrews and Finn are happy and healthy, and I'm glad that Meghan is vegan and trying to keep Finn vegan too. I've been vegan for many years, about 23, and have learned to check carefully when company's claim their food product is vegan. It's great that Finn is so close to being vegan, but if Meghan will check the information provided by Evolution (on your website) it says that Evolution adds CARNITE AND TAURINE. Neither of these is vegan; both originate from exploited, victimized, and finally murdered animals. TAURINE is only available from animal sources; however, there is synthesized taurine, and perhaps Evolution uses it because it is actually less expensive than the real thing. Generally, if a company won't state "from vegetable source" beside a questionable ingredient, then why trust them? CARNITINE is produced endogenously in the kidneys and liver and derived in the human diet from meat and dairy products. I admire Meghan for her principals and would like to congratulate her on her decision to have Finn go vegan. But, a word to the wise... watch out for nonvegan ingredients in products labelled vegan. By the way, our oldest dog is about 14 and has been vegan since he was rescued and came to us at the age of 18 months. Our four other rescued dogs have also been vegan since day one with us. Vegan Best Wishes to Meghan, from... "Mom" (We're all vegan in this family.)

Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2006
Article comment by: Lisa H

I have to agree with Amy: Cats and dogs have different dietary requirements. Cats do not have the enzymes required for digesting plant materials. Soy, wheat and corn are known allergens. http://www.catinfo.org and http://www.catnutrition.org are good resources for feline owners.

Posted: Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Article comment by: Hart Trimm

very interesting. it is a topic of course less considered. dogs who have been fed scraps for years, now being fed what some may call a "restricted" diet. although, i would rather be restricted from the harmful indgredients found in the processed foods plaguing our country in exorbitant proportions. We are living in a ever-perishing world, therefore, forced to seek alternatives as we evolve. A vegan diet is an intelligent food resort for both responsible human and dog. These animals have continually nourished themselves most inconsistently only up until they were nurtured by us. dogs have the ability to adapt just as do we. lets not abandon this idea, for I believe through intelligent discoveries there is a food revolution continuously progressing. Rock on Meghan and Finn.

Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Article comment by: john smith

i hate to point this out, but the article is flawed. it has been proven *scientifically* that dogs are carnivores and a few hundred years of domestication isn't going to change that.

Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Article comment by: Amy H

As a vegan, I have thoroughly researched feeding a vegan diet to my cats. While dogs can do well on a vegetarian diet, cats can not and do not do well on a plant-based diet. Their systems are complex, and the problem with plant-based diets for cats goes far deeper than taurine. It is dangerous to recommend such a diet for cats.

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