Like most dogs, my cockapoo Honey loves sausages and the occasional square of cheese, and at Christmas she enthusiastically tucked into a slice of plump roast turkey.
But like me, Honey is vegan, and has been for the past six months.
So those bangers will be made of vegetables and seasonings, the Stilton from cashew nuts and no bird died for our Christmas feast. Our version was what’s known as a Tofurkey, crafted from tofu, or soy bean curd.
And before you start screaming ‘animal cruelty’, Honey energetically gobbles up everything we give her and is healthy and happy, with a glossy coat, lean figure and bags of energy.
I’m not the only vegan who has decided to extend her lifestyle to how she feeds her pets. There are said to be 3.5 million vegans in the UK and pet suppliers are picking up on the trend, with one in six branching into vegan or vegetarian food.
Karoline Manns with her dog Burger. There are said to be 3.5 million vegans in the UK and pet suppliers are picking up on the trend, with one in six branching into vegan or vegetarian food
Still, I know there is no subject more likely to trigger extreme reactions, ranging from eye-rolling to frothing rage, from other pet owners.
‘Dogs are carnivores and must have meat’, ‘Forcing your beliefs on your dog is wrong’ and ‘You’re killing your dog’ are just some of the objections I have had levelled at me.
Needless to say, I wholeheartedly disagree. I turned vegan myself because I love all animals. How could I feed Honey a dead pig, chicken or cow? Their lives are just as important.
Plus, as an animal lover, I would never deliberately put my beloved pet’s health on the line.
So, although it goes against all received wisdom, is it finally time to question the age-old assumption that the dog must have a bone?
Indeed, when I asked if I was really putting Honey in danger, I received support from none other than the RSPCA, who told me: ‘Dogs are omnivores and can eat a wide variety of food types, so they can survive on a vegetarian diet as long as the diet is well-balanced.’
Cat owners, however, need to be more careful. Cats are more natural carnivores and need the amino acid taurine, which is contained in meat, to survive.
Joanna Farr (pictured), from Lincoln, took in greyhound Dexter nine years ago when he was three, after he broke his leg in a race
‘If an owner is considering switching their pet’s diet to a vegetarian option, they should consult their vet to make sure it will meet all their nutritional needs, which will depend on many factors such as age, health and lifestyle,’ the RSPCA added.
Yet, as everyone knows, not all pet owners are as responsible as others.
Marge Chandler, an expert on animal nutrition, told a paper: ‘Feeding an inappropriate or incomplete diet is a welfare issue — no matter what diet it is.’
So far, the British Veterinary Association remains unconvinced that the vegan movement is a good thing for cats and dogs.
Dexter has eaten a diet free of animal products — and on his 12th birthday in September, he celebrated on Instagram with a vegan birthday cake decorated with plant-based dog biscuits
Junior Vice President Daniella Dos Santos said: ‘It is important to remember that meat contains vital vitamins and nutrients needed by your cat or dog.’
She added that more studies are needed to make sure the nutrients in animal-free pet foods are safe and can meet a pet’s dietary requirements.
‘Any changes to a pet’s diet should be undertaken under the advice of a vet with in-depth nutritional knowledge.’
Another vegan who believes it is time to rethink what’s best for our pets is Joanna Farr, 40, a local authority officer from Lincoln.
Joanna took in greyhound Dexter nine years ago when he was three, after he broke his leg in a race.
But, controversially, Joanna has gone one step further by also feeding her two cats, Magic and Jonke, plant-based diets
Since then, he has eaten a diet free of animal products — and on his 12th birthday in September, he celebrated on Instagram with a vegan birthday cake decorated with plant-based dog biscuits.
Other pictures show he has bright eyes, a shiny coat and, unusually for a canine his age, a complete set of teeth.
But, controversially, Joanna has gone one step further by also feeding her two cats, Magic and Jonke, plant-based diets.
As the RSPCA pointed out, felines are ‘obligate carnivores’ that, in the wild, eat prey to obtain essential amino acids such as taurine to stay healthy.
However, as most cats live off commercial cat foods heated to such high temperatures that the natural taurine is destroyed and has to be re-added, Joanna isn’t too worried.
Joanna with her cat. As the RSPCA pointed out, felines are ‘obligate carnivores’ that, in the wild, eat prey to obtain essential amino acids such as taurine to stay healthy
Along with more than 6,000 cat-lovers on the Vegan Cats Facebook group, she feeds them cat food that is just as high in protein as ordinary brands and has added taurine. Magic has been vegan for seven years and Joanna says he is living proof that cats can go plant-based.
‘When I took Magic for his annual MoT this year, the vet thought he was much younger than he is because of the condition he’s in. I was asked what he ate, to which I replied dry cat food — which is the truth.
‘Complete vegan cat food is specially formulated to make sure they have all they need.’
In fact, in a review of studies looking at the health of vegetarian pets in the journal Animals, Andrew Knight, a vet and professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester, found that both cats and dogs can thrive on vegetarian diets, as long as those diets are nutritionally complete and balanced.
Bow, three, was adopted by yoga teacher Beth Crivelli (pictured) a year ago, and adores not only the pet food she makes
Furthermore, he points out that giving our pets vegetarian diets bypasses the need for them to be fed some of the most unpleasant waste products of the meat industry, such as hides, horns, feet, poultry heads, day-old chicks, blood, placenta, feathers and hair.
He adds: ‘I have found more than ten published studies documenting the hazardous ingredients in commercial meat-based diets, or the adverse health effects in cats and dogs kept on them.’
Another pet that happily tucks into a plant-based diet is Bow, a Romanian rescue mongrel.
Bow, three, was adopted by yoga teacher Beth Crivelli a year ago, and adores not only the pet food she makes — which is green because she adds supplements such as chlorella and spirulina, both forms of nutrient-dense algae — but pineapple, bananas and strawberries.
Her two cats, Dobee and Bandha, are also making the transition.
Bow, a Romanian rescue mongrel, happily tucks into a plant-based diet which is green because Beth adds supplements such as chlorella and spirulina, both forms of nutrient-dense algae
Beth, 41, who lives in Canada Water, southeast London, and has been vegan since 2009, says: ‘As well as commercial vegan dog and cat foods, I also feed them a mix of rice, quinoa and lentils, and dog and cat food supplements. They are healthier than I am.
‘If I can find a way to keep my pets healthy and not kill other animals in the process, why not?’
Beth accepts that cats have an instinct to hunt in the wild, she says her cats rarely do as they are so well fed and entertained. ‘Dobee caught a mouse once, I know it’s instinct but I couldn’t just sit there so I rescued it.’
While it seems that research shows a meat-free diet could be healthier for our pets, there are more findings showing it could be even better for the planet.
Karolina Manns (pictured), from Clapham, South London, is convinced vegan pet food is the healthiest choice for her dog, Burger
Karolina with Burger. According to the United Nations, meat is a major cause of climate change — and the pet food industry is a large part of that
According to the United Nations, meat is a major cause of climate change — and the pet food industry is a large part of that.
A 2017 study by University of California researchers found that feeding meat-based pet foods to dogs and cats means the release of up to 64 million tons of carbon dioxide every year — about the same as 13.6 million cars.
Damian Eadie is one of the founders of Hampshire-based Benevo vegan pet foods, which was set up 13 years ago and recently received the Queen’s Award For Enterprise for selling in more than 30 countries.
Damian points out that owners who feed their pets animal-free diets, far from being negligent or ‘selfish’, are especially careful.
‘When we design a pet food, we don’t just mash up some vegetables and cross our fingers,’ he says. ‘We call in the advice of expert independent animal nutritionists, who are not vegan and have no agenda or bias.’
Karolina Manns, from Clapham, South London, is convinced vegan pet food is the healthiest choice for her dog, Burger.
The 40-year-old yoga teacher turned vegan three years ago and switched the Jack Russell crossbreed to vegan food soon after
The 40-year-old yoga teacher turned vegan three years ago and switched the Jack Russell crossbreed to vegan food soon after.
She says: ‘I originally called him Burger because I wanted to give him a cute foodie name. But now he’s definitely a bean-burger!
‘Before I changed his diet, I did extensive reading and research. Dogs have been eating off our tables for tens of thousands of years. Their digestive system has changed and developed to eat the foods we eat, with a few exceptions.
‘Burger likes all food. He is super energetic with a glossy coat and goes running with my husband Phil. And Burger may not be able to tell that the food he eats is better for him and the planet — but I certainly can.’