Dog Food “Disclaimer”
Since I’ve started to blog recipes for dog food and treats with increasing frequency, I thought it might be wise to compile the following caveats on one page, rather than trying to include them in every single post. It’s nothing serious – really, “disclaimer” makes this page sound so much more ominous than it is – just a few notes on how and what I feed my dog-kids, foods and ingredients to avoid, and the like.
Please note that I’m not a veterinary expert or canine nutritionist, nor do I play one on the internets.
A rare photo of all five of my dog-kids, all lined up on the couch and recliner, (mostly) all gazing out of the front window in one collective territorial display.
Left to right, we have: Kaylee, O-Ren, Jayne, Peedee and Ralphie.
Follow them on Twitter and Flickr, kay?
Dogs #6 and 7, Mags and Finnick (and Kaylee in the background), on the day we brought them home. Don’t worry, the icky leather dog collars have since been replaced!
(Though not thrown away! I’m a sentimental sucker.)
“My” Vegan Dogs, “Your” Vegan Dogs
Currently, I am a guardian to
five seven dogs: four six rat/fox/Jack Russell terrier mixes and a dachshund. (We welcomed dogs #6 and 7, Mags and her son Finnick, into our home in September 2011!) All are in good-to-excellent health: Ralphie suffers a slew of allergies, all of them related to environmental allergens and kept at bay with the help of regular antigen injections; Kaylee has some dental issues, the combination of poor genetics and neglect at the hands of her previous “owners,” as well as a heart murmur; and Jayne was just recovering from heartworm when we adopted her, so it’s unclear what issues, if any, this might cause down the road.
We also have one cat, Lemmy, a stray who unexpectedly appeared on our doorstep one cold January night. He’s the lone meat-eater in the house. Before Lemmy was Ozzy, my “step-cat kid,” whom my now-husband adopted before we started dating. Ozzy also consumed a non-vegan diet. (Rest in peace, buddy.)
Because I work from home, I have the luxury of feeding the dogs three small meals a day, with two snacks in between. (Why three? Well, they love to eat – naturally – and three meals gives them a little something extra to look forward to.) For breakfast, they eat dry, commercial, vegan kibble. At lunch and dinner time, I usually serve them a roughly 30/70 mix of dry kibble and “wet” homemade food. In other words, their diet breaks down thusly: 80% commercial kibble – which, just like meat-based foods, must meet or exceed the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) – and 20% homemade food, which alone may or may not be nutritionally adequate. So, while I try to create the healthiest, most nutritional homemade meals possible, I do not recommend that readers rely solely upon the recipes featured here to meet their dog-kids’ needs. I don’t.
In addition to the above, I also indulge the dogs with two “treats” a day: namely, specially made “peanut butter balls.” The base ingredient, of course, is peanut butter, blended with a mix of nutritional yeast, wheat germ, quick oats, and/or TVP in order to give it a dough-like consistency. I also add some nutritional supplements and occasionally any “superfoods” or probiotics that I have on hand. (My father works as a buyer for a natural foods department in a chain store-that-shall-remain-nameless, and is usually buried in product samples!) I roll the dough into little balls by the tea- and/or tablespoonful, and serve them to the dogs in the late morning, halfway between breakfast and lunch, and at night before bed.
The balls serve two purposes: they supplement the homemade food, and also make a great place to hide pills if need be. Indeed, the four “senior” dogs – Ralphie, Peedee, Kaylee, and Mags – receive a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement, to help with their joints and mobility. It’s derived from shellfish, which means that these guys are not vegan (though I’m currently in search of a vegan substitute). Aside from the occasional gelcap medications, the other three dogs are all vegans, at least in the dietary sense of the word.
Occasionally, I also make the dogs homemade treats; because it’s so quick and easy, I rarely purchase commercial treats anymore. And then there’s the added bonus of knowing exactly what’s in your kid’s snacks. Treats need not be specific to dogs, either; they enjoy many of the same (healthy!) snack foods as humans: raw, dried or frozen carrots, celery, broccoli, sweet potatoes, apples, bananas, cranberries, blueberries and strawberries make for yummy treats, as can some cereals, such as (generic) Cheerios and Chex. (Scroll down to the next section for a list of foods to avoid.)
In regards to commercial kibble, we used the Nature’s Recipe® Healthy Skin & Coat Vegetarian Recipe for many years – seven, give or take – without any problems. Indeed, we actually switched to the Nature’s Recipe® vegetarian formula on the advice of our veterinarian. At the time, our recently-adopted Ralphie had begun to exhibit skin allergies, and the first course of action was to rule out any dietary causes – hence the vegetarian food. Although a skin patch test eventually revealed that he’s allergic to a number of environmental irritants, we decided to keep him on the vegetarian kibble nonetheless. As Peedee and O-Ren (and later, Kaylee and Jayne) joined the pack, we also fed them vegetarian kibble and homemade food.
In early 2010, I decided to transition the dogs from a vegetarian to a vegan kibble (having abandoned the use of eggs and dairy in homemade dog food the year before). According to the Vegan Dog Nutrition Association, the Nature’s Recipe Vegetarian formula is not vegan, as the vitamin A is derived from retinol and the vitamin D3, from lanolin. My first choice of vegan kibble was V-Dog, which the dogs initially tolerated. However, after several months on V-Dog, I noticed a large uptick in the frequency of vomiting (usually bile, usually at night) in all five dogs – even Kaylee and Jayne, who have stomachs of steel (probably from years spent scavenging for food due to “owner” neglect and/or abuse). In May, we switched to Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance@ Vegetarian Formula (available on Amazon with free shipping) – which is vegan – and the vomiting quickly ceased. More than two years later, and the dogs are thriving on Natural Balance (and their mum and dad could not be happier or more relieved!).
“The Finger Troll”: A gray stone forest troll gleefully flips the camera the bird.
CC image via .m for matthijs on Flickr.
Please do not harangue me about “my” vegan dogs!
Over time, this page has become a sort of troll magnet. Thus, I’ve decided to reiterate my comment policy, just to make it crystal clear.
Comments are great; obnoxious comments get deleted.
I consider pro-exploitation comments extremely obnoxious, whether the exploitation in question is species-, sex-, gender-, race-, sexual orientation-, gender identity-, size-, age- and/or nationality-based.
Concern trolls, save your breath: I have no interest in hearing how I’m an idiot and/or animal abuser because “OMG dogs are omnivores and need meat and you are killing your pets you evil wench you!!!1!” All such comments will be summarily deleted.
Look. I love and respect “my” dogs – more than you do your own, most likely (assuming you’re an omnivore who sees nothing wrong with “owning” other sentient beings). Prior to changing my dog-kids’ diets – be it from meat-based to vegetarian kibble, from vegetarian to vegan kibble, and/or from strictly commercial foods to homemade meals – I did a ton of research and reading. (Okay, not a literal ton, but certainly pounds worth.) These are not decisions I made lightly. My dog-kids are dependent upon me for their care and well-being, and I give more though to their health and nutrition than I do my own. (To give you an idea how attentive a guardian I am, I keep a health file for each animal, logging everything from medications administered to meals missed.)
Anyhow, back to that research. What I discovered is that even the most skeptical, speciesist, anti-veg veterinarians and nutritionists will concede that (most) dogs can survive and even thrive on a well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet. Dogs are opportunistic omnivores; while many dogs certainly like the taste of meat and may hunt, kill and/or consume other animals when given the opportunity, animal-based proteins are not necessary to a healthy, nutritious canine diet.
(And don’t even get me started on what’s “natural.” Is lounging in an air conditioned house during the summer months “natural”? How about sleeping on an elevated mattress indoors? Or how about being fed one’s meal in a ceramic dish at regular intervals throughout the day? And these questions are equally applicable to humans as well as canines. “Natural” is a subjective, largely unquantifiable category that’s oftentimes used to justify and/or romanticize a state of being we’ve most likely evolved beyond.)
Remember, I have been feeding my dog-kids vegetarian/vegan kibble and homemade food for ten years now (for Ralphie, this translates into ten years of vegetarian/vegan eats; at the low end, Mags and Finnick have been vegetarian/vegan for less than a year, with everyone else falling somewhere in the middle). Not one of them has developed a chronic, diet-related illness. As I mentioned earlier, Ralphie, Kaylee and Jayne do have some health issues – but none of these can be attributed to their diet. Over the years, we’ve had four different regular veterinarians, and seen at least as many specialists; none have expressed concern at our dogs’ health or diet. The senior dogs in particular receive a thorough blood workup every six to twelve months, and all of the dogs see the vet twice a year. (And it’s also worth noting that none of these individuals are vegans or animal rights advocates; indeed, we’ve mostly resided in rural areas and have seen correspondingly conservative veterinary professionals.)
In contrast, our lone cat-kid is a carnivore and does eat a meat-based kibble. This isn’t to suggest that some cats cannot thrive on a vegetarian or vegan diet; rather, after doing some research into the issue, I personally decided that I would not be comfortable feeding Lemmy such a diet.
So no, I’m not a selfish asshat who is willing to sacrifice her dogs’ welfare in service of her own philosophical and ethical beliefs. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Stretched out in front of a wall of bookcases, Peedee the rat terrier peruses a copy of The Marriage of True Minds. He’s a sucker for romance stories set against the backdrop of animal liberation struggles, yo. Image via moi on Flickr.
Additional Vegan Resources
For those who’d like to learn more (or still insist on concern trolling), here’s a select list of additional resources.
Vegan Dog Nutrition Association | www.vegandognutritionassociation.com
VegePets | www.vegepets.info
Dr. Armaiti May, Vegan Vet | www.veganvet.net
Animal Person | www.animalperson.net/animal_person/
“Dogs Can EAT Vegan Too!,” by M. Butterflies Katz
“Vegetarian Dog Health Survey,” by PETA (.pdf)
Obligate Carnivore: Cats, Dogs & What it Really Means to be Vegan, 2nd Edition, by Jed Gillen (2008)
“Pirate Cookies”: A decapitated skull and crossbones wears a festive black eyepatch over one pink, heart-shaped eye. Totally cute, but also totally non-vegan.
CC image via Sweet! Cupcakes and Treats on Flickr.
Foods to Avoid
The following is a list of foods and ingredients that you should either avoid giving to dogs altogether, or should only use in moderation. As for sources, the list of “no-no” foods for dogs is a rather standard one. I compiled this guide by synthesizing a number of lists founds online and adding my own notations where appropriate. Sources are provided for direct quotes. Please note that this list is applicable to dogs only.
The foods appear in alphabetical order rather than order of importance.
Foods that are harmful or toxic to dogs include:
Animal Bones: In addition to the obvious (animal bones, not vegan!), you should not give your canine friends the bones of other peoples’ friends because 1) they pose a choking hazard and 2) pieces of the bone might splinter or break off, thus becoming lodged in your friend’s digestive tract. And that’s no fun for anyone, am I right? Stick to dehydrated sweet potatoes and peanut-butter filled Kongs, mkay?
Animal “Meat” & Eggs, Raw/Undercooked : “Raw meat and raw eggs can contain bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli that can be harmful to pets. In addition, raw eggs contain an enzyme called avidin that decreases the absorption of biotin (a B vitamin), which can lead to skin and coat problems.” And also: hello, “meat” and eggs aren’t vegan! (Source.)
Animal Milk: Also decidedly un-vegan, milk is a no-no for another reason, too: adult canines – like many (most?) adult animals – do not produce enough lactase to properly digest animal milks. Thus, “real” milk can cause indigestion and diarrhea in dogs, much like in their people. Plant-based milks (soy, rice, hemp, etc.) make a fine substitute when needed.
Avocado: “The leaves, fruit, seeds and bark of avocados contain Persin, which can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.” (Source.)
Caffeine, Chocolate, Coffee: “These products all contain substances called methylxanthines, which are found in cacao seeds, the fruit of the plant used to make coffee and in the nuts of an extract used in some sodas. When ingested by pets, methylxanthines can cause vomiting and diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors, seizures and even death. Note that darker chocolate is more dangerous than milk chocolate. White chocolate has the lowest level of methylxanthines, while baking chocolate contains the highest.” Used in moderation, carob powder and chips are an acceptable substitute for chocolate. (Source.)
Cat food: Because cat food is higher in protein and fats than dog food, it can cause indigestion and diarrhea. Plus, it’s cat food – duh!
Chives: Chives “can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage. Although cats are more susceptible, dogs are also at risk if a large enough amount is consumed. Toxicity is normally diagnosed through history, clinical signs and microscopic confirmation of Heinz bodies. An occasional low dose, such as what might be found in pet foods or treats, likely will not cause a problem, but we recommend that you do NOT give your pets large quantities” of chives. (Source.)
Corn Cobs: Do not give your dog friend whole (or even partial) corn cobs to gnaw on. If she breaks off and swallows a large piece, it could become lodged in her throat and cause choking, or in her digestive tract, causing an obstruction.
Fat: As with humans, a diet high in fatty foods does not a healthy dog make. Limit your friend’s fat intake to keep her healthy and happy. Forgo the fryer – steam, bake and broil homemade foods instead.
Garlic: Most sources recommend against giving garlic to dogs. For example, the ASPCA lumps garlic in with onion and chives: “[Garlic] can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage. Although cats are more susceptible, dogs are also at risk if a large enough amount is consumed. Toxicity is normally diagnosed through history, clinical signs and microscopic confirmation of Heinz bodies. An occasional low dose, such as what might be found in pet foods or treats, likely will not cause a problem, but we recommend that you do NOT give your pets large quantities of these foods.”
As with several “bad” foods, garlic is the subject of much debate among “pet” “owners.” I’ve included garlic in my own dog-kids’ food – in modest amounts – for several years with no problems. However, I’ve begun to move away from it in the past six months or so, on the premise “better safe than sorry.” Probably you’ll find garlic listed as an ingredient in some of my earlier dog food recipes, but it’s easily omitted.
Grapes & Raisins: “Although the toxic substance within grapes and raisins is unknown, these fruits can cause kidney failure. In pets who already have certain health problems, signs may be more dramatic.” (Source.)
Macadamia Nuts: “Macadamia nuts are commonly used in many cookies and candies. However, they can cause problems for your canine companion. These nuts have caused weakness, depression, vomiting, tremors and hyperthermia in dogs. Signs usually appear within 12 hours of ingestion and last approximately 12 to 48 hours.” (Source.)
Mushrooms: “Wild mushrooms can cause abdominal pain, drooling, liver damage, kidney damage, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma, or death.” (Source.) “Mushroom poisoning occurs as a result of ingesting toxic mushrooms. Not all mushrooms are poisonous, but each type of poisonous mushroom can cause different signs of illness. Poisonous mushrooms are classified into four main categories, based on the clinical signs they cause, or into seven categories, based on the toxins they contain. The onset of clinical signs may occur anywhere from minutes to hours following ingestion.” (Source.)
The general consensus seems to be that store-bought mushrooms – such as shitaki, maitake and reishi – are generally safe, but wild-growing mushrooms should be avoided at all costs. If your dog friend exhibits any of the following symptoms after ingesting mushrooms – even seemingly “safe” ones – induce vomiting and/or get her to the vet asap: diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, lethargy, jaundice (yellow skin color), seizures, coma and/or excess salivation. Never, ever allow a dog to eat wild-growing mushrooms; should you notice any growing in your yard (or anywhere dogs frequent), remove and dispose of them right away.
Nutmeg: “Nutmeg is reported to be a hallucinogenic when ingested in large doses. Nutmeg has been known to cause tremors, seizures and in some cases, death.” Before learning that nutmeg is a no-no, I included it in a few dog food dishes. Luckily, my dog-kids are none the worse for wear, but I no longer use the stuff. Additionally, I made appropriate notations in any published recipes in which nutmeg appears. Also note that commercial “Pumpkin Spice” blends contain nutmeg, along with ginger and cinnamon. (Source.)
Nuts, other than Macadamias and Walnuts: Nuts should not be given to dogs in excess, as the high phosphorus content can/may lead to bladder stones. (So sayeth the Internets!) Nor are they easily digested (but then again, neither are whole beans). I’ve had good luck with nut butters used in moderation, as well as fresh nuts, processed into small bits or powder. Ditto: sunflower and pumpkin seeds. They add a little extra protein and variety to cooked meals – but if you’d rather nix them from any recipe in which they appear, it’s an easy fix.
Onions: Onions “can cause gastrointestinal irritation and could lead to red blood cell damage. Although cats are more susceptible, dogs are also at risk if a large enough amount is consumed. Toxicity is normally diagnosed through history, clinical signs and microscopic confirmation of Heinz bodies. An occasional low dose, such as what might be found in pet foods or treats, likely will not cause a problem, but we recommend that you do NOT give your pets large quantities” of onions. (Source.)
Pits and Seeds, i.e., present in fruits and/or vegetables: Pits, such as those from peaches and plums, can become lodged in a dog’s throat and/or digestive tract and cause obstruction. Seeds can also cause intestinal obstruction and/or irritation. Some seeds contain cyanide – really! Smaller dogs are at an increased risk of choking and obstruction due to their cute lil’ bodies.
Potatoes, Green: “Solanum alkaloids can be found in green sprouts and green potato skins, which occurs when the tubers are exposed to sunlight during growth or after harvest. The relatively rare occurrence of actual poisoning is due to several factors: solanine is poorly absorbed; it is mostly hydrolyzed into less toxic solanidinel; and the metabolites are quickly eliminated. Cooked, mashed potatoes are fine for dogs, actually quite nutritious and digestible.” (Source.)
Sodium/Salt: “Large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning in pets. Signs that your pet may have eaten too many salty foods include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures and even death.” You can work to reduce the salt in your companion’s diet by purchasing fresh, frozen or dried whole ingredients and preparing them yourself. My Kaylee, for example, is on a low-sodium diet, so I’ve taken to cooking with dry vs. canned beans, as the latter contains moderate amounts of salt. This is also a good way to save a little extra money – and who doesn’t like that?! (Source.)
Spoiled Food: C’mon, really?!
Sugar/Sugary Foods: As with fats and sodium, sugar and sugary foods should be kept to a minimum. A diet high in sugar can lead to obesity, dental decay and possibly diabetes mellitus (“sugar diabetes”).
Tomatoes, Green/Under-ripe: “These contain atropine which can cause dialated pupils, tremors and irregular heartbeat. The highest concentration of atropine is found in the leaves and stems of tomato plants, next is the unripe (green) tomatoes and then the ripe tomato.” (Source.)
Occasionally, I include tomato paste or red, ripe tomatoes in a homemade recipe, and they’ve never caused a problem. You can omit them from any of my recipes if desired, or swap in a substitution (e.g., carrot or vegetable juice for tomato juice; a creamy nut butter instead of tomato paste; TVP, tofu or another vegetable in place of diced tomatoes; etc.).
Walnuts: “When dogs eat the seed hulls, they can get an upset stomach and diarrhea. The real problem is the fungus or mold that attacks walnuts after they get wet (from rain or sprinklers), which produces toxins. If the fungus or mold is ingested by your dogs, they can become very ill and possibly die. Signs that should alert you to walnut poisoning are vomiting, trembling, drooling, lack of coordination, lethargy, loss of appetite, and jaundice indications such as yellowing eyes and gums. Severely affected dogs can produce blood-tinged vomit or stools. Dogs can take several days to exhibit serious signs of illness.” (Source.)
Water, Stagnant or Toilet: “Stagnant water in ponds, bogs, small lakes, canals, seasonal creeks and other places where water sets still may contain harmful bacteria (Leptospira interrogans) and parasites such as giardia. Toilet water with freshner or cleaners in the tank or bowl contain toxic chemicals.” An obvious one, but worth reiterating. (Source.)
Xylitol: “Xylitol is used as a sweetener in many products, including gum, candy, baked goods and toothpaste. It can cause insulin release in most species, which can lead to liver failure. The increase in insulin leads to hypoglycemia (lowered sugar levels). Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy and loss of coordination. Signs can progress to recumbancy and seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days.” (Source.) Be sure to use toothpastes designed specifically for dogs – and never (ever!) give your dog candy or gum as a treat!
Yeast Dough: “Yeast dough can rise and cause gas to accumulate in your pet’s digestive system. This can be painful and can cause the stomach or intestines to rupture. Because the risk diminishes after the dough is cooked and the yeast has fully risen, pets can have small bits of bread as treats. However, these treats should not constitute more than 5 percent to 10 percent of your pet’s daily caloric intake.” (Source.)
Non-foodstuffs that are harmful or toxic to dogs include:
Alcohol & Illicit/Unprescribed Drugs: “Alcoholic beverages and food products containing alcohol can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma and even death.” Just don’t do it; getting your animal friends drunk or high isn’t funny or cool – it’s abuse. (Source.)
Iron, i.e., in human vitamin supplements: Excess and certain forms of iron “can damage the lining of the digestive system and be toxic to the other organs including the liver and kidneys.” Do not give your dog-kid human supplements containing iron. (Source.)
Pimple Balls: Made by Four Paws, Pimple Ball dog toys have led to injuries – sometimes resulting in death – in at least several dogs. Pimple Balls only have a singe hole, rather than two or more; this can create a vacuum within the toy, with the power to suck in and trap a dog’s tongue. In some cases, the victim’s tongue swelled after becoming entrapped in the ball, necessitating surgery to remove the toy. In at least one case, the dog’s injuries were so severe that his tongue had to be amputated (e.g., see Chai’s story). At least several other dogs died after being injured by this – and similar – toys. Please check your dog-kid’s toy box and promptly remove any toys with a single hole and/or capable of creating a vacuum when squeezed.
String: If ingested, string can become stuck in a dog’s (or any animal’s) intestinal tract. Ditto: dental floss.
Tennis Balls: Standard-size tennis balls can prove dangerous to larger dogs; dogs with larger mouths and jaws have been known to (accidentally) swallow and choke on tennis balls. Always purchase toys that are the appropriate size for your dog-kid: not too large to fit in her mouth (i.e., that she cannot chew it), but small enough that it can’t fit down her throat.
Tobacco: Tobacco “contains nicotine, which affects the digestive and nervous systems. Can result in rapid heart beat, collapse, coma, and death.” Also: are you out of your frakkin’ mind?! (Source.)
Toys (General): For a complete and up-to-date list of recalled dog toys, search the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) database.
Toys, Broken: Check your friend’s toy collection on a regular basis. Remove broken toys promptly, as dogs can ingest broken or chewed off pieces. These can cause irritation or injury to the digestive system or, in severe cases, choking or obstruction resulting in death.
Toys, Cat: If you live with or care for cats and dogs, be sure to keep any cat toys away from the dogs in the house. Cat toys are much too small for dogs, who may inadvertently swallow them.
The comments are open to corrections and suggestions, so leave ‘em if you got ‘em.
Last updated 5/23/12