can dogs be vegan?

As a professional pet sitter, I see a wide variety of canine diets. A big part of my job is to maintain the established routine for the pets in my care as best I can, so whatever they eat on a regular basis is what they eat when I'm feeding them. I don't judge–well, mostly I don't. I see both high-quality and low-quality kibble, canned food, raw diets, dehydrated food, and homemade food. Regardless of what the pets in a family are eating, I have to believe that their owners are feeding them the best they can with the knowledge and finances available to them. I try to keep my clients educated about the benefits of feeding a high-quality diet. That being said, I am not an animal dietician, and I am constantly learning. 

Whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores is hotly debated. The argument that dogs should be fed meat is largely based on the belief that dogs are carnivores, meaning they eat only meat. In fact, dogs are omnivores.  "In the wild" is almost a mute point, now, since they have been domesticated for so many generations, but if in the wild, they would eat a diet of mostly meat and some plants. 

Eager faces as I'm scooping their homemade vegan food into their bowls.

Eager faces as I'm scooping their homemade vegan food into their bowls.

As an aspiring vegan, I was particularly interested in the vegan diet my client, Karla, feeds her dogs. I may have just stepped in a pile of poop, because I understand that feeding a vegan diet to a typically meat-eating creature who is at your mercy for, well, everything, could be quite controversial. To me, it's less controversial than feeding your pooch a bag of low-quality kibble composed mostly of fillers, artificial colors, and preservatives, which doesn't have much meat in it, anyway, but most people don't bat an eye at the person in the big box discount store throwing a 50-pound bag of complete garbage in their cart, then feeding it to their dog for the next month. So I decided to learn more about the vegan diet for dogs, and Karla helped me understand her story. She has fed her Papillon, Chi-chi, and Yorkshire Terrier, Abby, a vegan diet for almost one year.

WM: Can you tell me a bit about your journey to becoming vegan?

Karla: I've been vegan for a few years, and I was vegetarian for a while before that. My reason is a combination of my love for animals and for a healthy, happy, lifestyle.  There's so much information about living vegan, and once I started opening myself up to it, this lifestyle just fell into place.

Karla has two school-aged sons.

WM: Is your whole household vegan?

Karla: I only cook vegan at home, however, my boys live with their father part time, and they do eat meat there.

WM: So what made you decide to feed your dogs a vegan diet?

Karla: Being vegan, I would encourage anyone to eat this way. I hadn't even considered the possibility of switching my pups to a vegan diet until a friend suggested it. I started researching what they can eat and made the switch. I had been under the same impression as many others, that they needed meat to be healthy.

WM: What were your dogs eating before?

Karla: I previously had them eating organic dog food that was free of fillers, etc. The expensive stuff!

WM: Have you noticed any changes in them, health-wise, since you started feeding them a vegan diet?

Karla: Chi-chi has had the most noticeable change. He was a little on the heavy side before, and now he's very healthy. I've also noticed that his coat is healthier, now. As a hair stylist, I believe you can tell a lot about someone's health by their hair and skin. The same goes for our pups!

WM: What research did you do before embarking on this diet for them, and how do you know that they are getting all of the nutrients they need?

Karla: It helped that I'd been eating this way already. I know what I need to be eating in order to get all of my essential amino acids, etc. All I've done is transfer that to Abby and Chi-chi.

Abby and Chi-chi absolutely love their vegan meals.

Abby and Chi-chi absolutely love their vegan meals.

WM: There is a growing trend to feed dogs a raw diet, and many people will say that dogs are carnivores, so they need meat. They will likely say you're not feeding them what they need. What do you say to that?

Karla: This is also said about us, but the truth is that we and our pups do not need to eat meat to be healthy, and, in fact, we are healthier with a plant-based diet. My dogs love their plant-based lifestyle. They did not get as excited as they do now when they were eating the old stuff!

WM: They do get excited. I notice a huge difference in a dog's poop depending on the diet, and I see a lot of dog poop. With few exceptions, the lower the quality of dog food, the softer and stinkier the poop. I notice that Chi-chi and Abby's poop is reflective of what you are feeding them. It's a bit seedy, and is firm, and not very stinky. I noticed a change in my own poop when I transitioned to a vegan-based diet, too. Sorry to have to go there, but poop is a big deal for dog owners. What do you notice about their poop?

Karla: Just like with humans, poo is a huge indicator of the health of our pet. Initially, they were going more than normal, and so did I when I switched to a vegan diet. This is due to our bodies' ridding of everything that has built up. Once this adjustment was made, I noticed that they go pretty quickly after a meal, and there's not much of a smell to it. I've also noticed that their urine is odorless, now (I have pee pad pups).

WM: I noticed that about their urine, too. I take care of a few "pee pad pups," and your place isn't as stinky. I hardly notice it. How did you figure out how to make your own food for them?

Karla: Initially, I started following recipes online. There's a great one on the PETA web site.

WM: Do you always feed them the same recipe, or do you switch things up?

Karla: I switch it up, now, because they eat pretty much what we eat (other than what's toxic or poison for them). Even when I switch up their food, there are no issues with their bowel. Switching it up is a wonderful treat for them and for us. They're much happier.

WM: Will you share their favorite recipe with us?

Karla: I'd love to!


WM: How large are the batches you make, and how long does it keep?

Sometimes Abby and Chi-chi's homemade vegan food makes me hungry. I can't say that about canned food or kibble.

Sometimes Abby and Chi-chi's homemade vegan food makes me hungry. I can't say that about canned food or kibble.

Karla: I make a mixture of quinoa and beans at the beginning of the week and typically just add the rest to it as I feed them. They're eating the majority of their fruits and veggies raw, at this point, so I just cut those up nice and small and mix them in. If I'm heading out of town, I'll make a decent batch of everything for my amazing pet sitter to give them, and that can last in the fridge for up to a week.

WM: Thanks for the compliment! So what about cost? How does this vegan dog food compare to feeding a high-quality kibble?

Karla: Oh, it's cheap! I get a large amount of fruits and veggies at the local farmers' market weekly, spending around $30 for the whole family. Hemp protein is $15 for a few-months supply, and quinoa–the most expensive out of it all–costs me about $5 per week. They live a healthier life, costing me less, as well.

WM: That's great. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

I know Karla to be a loving, responsible pet owner, and Abby and Chi-Chi are happy and healthy. Their breath doesn't stink, and I know, because I'm all about pooch kisses! Their coats are some of the softest I've felt. They are full of energy, a healthy weight, and always eager for meal time. From what I've observed, the vegan diet is working well for them and definitely deserves further exploration. I plan to try Abby & Chi-chi's Vegan Dog Food recipe and see if my picky pooch will go for it.

Dogs do not require meat. They require protein. Though meat-based foods are the most common source of that protein, it is not the only source. Dogs can get their protein from beans, quinoa, etc. We often become so focused on the source of the nutrients that we forget about the nutrients, themselves. The key factor in any diet is that it provides the needed nutrients. Dogs can have their needs met through a vegetarian or vegan diet.

As for longevity, we know that vegetarian and vegan dogs live as long or longer than their meat-eating counterparts, as long as the diet is meeting their nutritional needs. They benefit from good health and typically don't ingest as many preservatives and contaminants, so they are usually quite healthy. Most research says that a nutrient-rich, plant-based diet is a good long term choice for dogs. Dogs with certain ailments such as allergies can often find relief in a vegetarian diet, so those dogs definitely see their quality and length of life improve.  

There is such a wide variety of diet choices for our dogs, and pet owners have very strong opinions about the diet they choose to feed their pet. Have you tried feeding your dog a vegan diet? What do you think about dogs going vegan?

This article by me appeared in its original form in November 2013 on Hybrid Rasta Mama, a blog to which I contribute regularly, and has been reprinted with minor changes with permission. 

Please hop on over to Hybrid Rasta Mama and check out my December 2013 article, Veterinary Acupuncture for Prevention and Treatment.

i am not a prejudiced pet sitter: Blog the Change for Animals

As a professional pet sitter, I can't tell you how many times people say the following things the first time I speak to them on the phone: "Do you take care of big dogs? I hope you don't charge extra."

"Sweetie is a Rottweiler, but she's really nice...she's never bitten anyone...she loves'll love her..."

"He's a Chihuahua, so he's little. So you don't charge as much, right?"

"She's a Golden Retriever. She's a lover, and she'll be super easy."

And my all-time favorite "Do you sit for Pit Bulls?"

I always provide the same answer: "I don't discriminate based on size or breed. Every dog deserves the same amount of attention and love. I won't take care of a dog that shows hostility toward me, regardless of the breed or size, and I take wonderful care of all animals that will let me, regardless of the breed or size. There is no difference in price."

Sure, Goliath's poop is HUGE, but that's not his fault. I'll pick up his, and I'll pick up Chi-chi's, just the same.

I have slept in bed with many a Pit Bull's tongue in my face (in a good way) and I've been barked out of town by a Golden Retriever. I have learned through experience not to prejudge the animal. I greet each animal with the energy that is appropriate for the energy he shows me, whether that be positive or negative, big or small. Just like people, dogs are individuals and deserve the right to shine (or not).

So let's judge them, but let's judge them fairly after getting to know them. Just as most of us refuse to judge our human friends by their color or size, might we do the same for dogs? My motto: assume the best, but be prepared for the worst. I apply that to everyone I meet.

Hi! It's nice to meet you...



10 reasons to go grain-free for your dog with #DiamondNaturals

10ReasonsToGoGrainFreeAs with just about everything these days, whether or not to put your dog on a grain-free diet is hotly debated, as is every argument within the debate. We should feel lucky that we have so many high-quality options when it comes to providing nourishment for our canine family members. Though there are many options out there, and you should always choose a diet for your dog based on your dog's individual needs, providing a high-quality, grain-free diet like Diamond Naturals Grain Free is an excellent option for most dogs. Here are the top ten reasons to go grain-free:

1. A grain-free diet is more closely associated with a canine's natural diet. Before being domesticated, dogs ate a protein-centric diet composed almost entirely of meat. The little grain they did eat mostly came from the stomach contents of the animals the consumed. Going grain-free is only natural.

2. Your dog will have more energy. Protein is the main source of energy for dogs. Since they tend to turn their noses up at tofu and beans, your best bet may be to maximize their protein intake with a meat-based diet. A diet that includes low-quality grains (fillers) won't really provide your pooch with the energy he needs since it will mostly come out as waste. It echoes the way humans consume. If we eat a low-quality, high-carbohydrate diet, we stay hungry and we don't have the energy we need to get through the day. And it comes out as waste.

3. Your dog will shed less and have a healthier coat. Consuming low-quality grains on a regular basis does not provide your dog with the proper oils and nutrients she needs to maintain healthy skin and coat. Healthy coats are shiny and stick with your dog, mostly. We all shed some, but think about how one of the first signs of human malnutrition is brittle, breaking hair and hair loss. Same with dogs. The easy-to-digest animal fats in grain-free dog foods such as Diamond Naturals include the necessary oil to your dog's diet that is key to a healthy coat.

4. Dogs on a grain-free diet have fewer allergies. Most canine allergies are associated with the grains in dog food. A grain-free diet is usually the best choice for an allergic pooch, and is, in my opinion, the first thing a dog owner should try before subjecting their dog to allergy medications and bold lifestyle changes.

5. Dogs on a grain-free diet enjoy better health. Consuming low-quality grains that are included in low-quality foods are of no benefit to your animal. The dog foods that include these fillers often include other harmful ingredients such as chemical preservatives and artificial colors. Your dog definitely doesn't need those! These types of chemical additives are linked to cancer, liver problems, joint degeneration, and a whole host of other health issues. Most grain-free foods are high-quality. You can be fairly certain that when the grains come out, so does the other junk. Dogs on a grain-free diet might enjoy more energy, fewer allergies, better weight management, and a healthier digestive system.

6. Dogs on a grain-free diet have better breath. Nutrition has a huge impact on dental health, both for humans and dogs. If your pooch is eating a high-quality grain-free diet, odds are, he will enjoy better dental health. If his teeth aren't rotting, his breath will be better, of course.

7. Grain-free dog foods are thought to be more easily digested. Some argue that dogs simply can't digest grains. I believe that this can be partially true. High-quality grains can add fiber to your dog's diet, which can be beneficial. Not to get too personal, but we all know that some of the things we eat come out just as they went in (I'm not the only one, right?). That's okay. We may not be gaining nutrition, but we are gaining fiber. The problem? Most undigestible material in dog food is low-quality. They need a bit of high-quality fiber. So if you feed your dog a grain-free diet and feel that she needs more fiber, try pumpkin!

8. Dogs on a grain-free diet produce less poop. It's true. It really is. I know–first hand–because I alternate my dog between high-quality grains and grain-free foods. And I pick up her poop. It's smaller and less frequent when she's going grain-free. This theory is reinforced by the animals I see as a professional pet sitter. Dogs on high-quality grain-free diets poop less. And toot less. They use more of what's in the food to help their bodies go, so less waste comes out. Does Walter the Farting Dog live in your house? Try going grain-free, and I'll betcha things will get better.

9. The poop produced stinks less. One of the most glamorous parts of my job is scooping the treasures left by my sweet canine clients. I have become somewhat of an excrement expert and can confidently tell you that the poop produced by my clients on a heavily-processed, low-quality diet filled with grain fillers such as corn, gluten, or wheat flour have gaggy-stink poop that can be smelled for miles when the wind picks up. Even if the pet owner hasn't revealed the brand of food they feed their dog, I can almost always tell if it's one of the worst. Kinda like when you eat Taco Bell and then the next day...well, you get the idea.

10. Dogs on a grain-free diet consume less food. For sure. They get more energy from the food they are eating, so they consume less. I have personally tested this theory when I switch my dog from high-quality grain foods to grain-free. She eats WAY less on the grain-free food. I feed her a small amount twice a day, and she's good to go. Sometimes she doesn't even eat it all. When she's on the food that includes grain, even though it's high-quality, she eats more and begs for snacks between meals. A grain-free diet can help with weight management AND finances because our pooches consume less. For tips on how to find an affordable, grain-free food, please check out grain-free dog food that doesn't break the bank.

DiamondNaturals850x315IIDiamond Naturals Grain Free has three high-protein grain-free choices. Beef & Sweet Potato, Chicken & Sweet Potato, and Whitefish & Sweet Potato. Real beef, chicken, and fish protein sources not only provide your dog with the energy he needs, but are a natural source of amino acids. And the sweet potato provides complex carbohydrates so your dog can keep his energy level up throughout the day. The fruits and vegetables in each variety are a great source of antioxidants and fiber for optimal health.

Going grain-free with a food like Diamond Naturals Grain Free is an excellent choice for most dogs. Have you gone grain-free? Tell me your experiences! But let's not go all congress on me, okay? I've had about enough of that, regardless of which side you're on.

Connect with Diamond Naturals Grain Free on Facebook.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Diamond Naturals as part of the Blog Paws Blogger Network. I am being compensated for helping spread the word about Diamond Naturals Grain Free dog food, but well minded word only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. Diamond Naturals is not responsible for the content of this article. 

the luxury of a pet room

Perhaps your kid has grown and moved and left you with an empty nest. Maybe you no longer need a home office since that laptop keeps you mobile. Or maybe you just have the extra space. Would you consider a pet room? Sounds like something for nutty animal freaks, right? Well, most of the people who read my blog are nutty animal freaks, so we're safe.

My clients of nearly two years, Matt and Connie,* have just such a room for their two pooches, Sneakers and Lanie.** When I came for the initial consult, Matt and Connie showed me around the house and presented the pet room. I couldn't initially determine if it was odd or fantastic, but as they explained the room's features and I got to know how down-to-earth they are, I settled on fantastic. And now that I've been working in that pet room on a regular basis for so long, I give it a five-woof rating, and not just because it's a cool luxury.

But it is a cool luxury. Let's go over the features of this particular room:

• laminate wood floor: looks great, wears well, and is super easy to clean

• large crate: the door is always open, but it's a small comforting space that the girls mostly use for toy storage

• toys, and lots of them: naturally

• ample food and water in attractive dishes: a must, as food always tastes better on pretty plates

• two custom potty pads: potty pads are held in place by frames and Matt cut a plastic "netted barrier" to place over the pads so that the girls would stop tearing up the pads. Genius.

• nightlight: to scare away monsters

• protective gate secured with bungee cords: to keep the girls from trying on clothes in the closet

• shelves to support small ammenities: help keep cords and things up and away from the girls' reach for safety reasons. Adds convenience for their caretakers.

• treat jar: because the girls are so good

• disinfecting wipes: for those surfaces that need disinfecting

• hand-vac: conveniently located for light vacuuming needs

• boom-box: so the girls can rock out when they get bored. I've caught them a few times.

• blinds and fan: to keep the girls cool in summer and well ventelated

• two video cameras: so Matt and Connie can see me stroll in like a zombie at 5:00 a.m. in my PJs (that uniform is a perk of being a professional pet sitter). And so they can have fun peeking in on their girls when they aren't home.

• doorway baby gate: Matt removed the door to the room and replaced it with a tall baby gate so the girls can see out

Whether you think it's awesome or you're rolling your eyes, you must know how happy these dogs are while their owners are away. They absolutely love that room! Though they are excited to see me when I arrive and we have a lot of fun together, they are happy as clams to go back in their room when it's time for me to leave, and sometimes, if they are really tired, they'll even spend time in the room while I'm there! The pet room provides them with a sense of security. They have plenty of room and more amenities than most animals I know. Lucky, lucky dogs.

Do you have the luxury of a pet room? I'd love to hear about it. I've one-upped the pet room. I have a multi-room pet house. My pets even allow me to share it with them.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent from tomato-throwing non-animal-freaks.

**Names have been changed so their canine friends don't make fun of them for being spoiled.

why i don't have a cat

ImageConfession. Scandal. Intrigue. Suspense. Terror. I am a professional pet sitter with no cat.

Almost every new client asks me what type of pets I have. When I rattle off the list, which does not include a feline, I get:

"No cats?"

"You forgot to mention your cat."

"And how many cats do you have?"

"No cats? Don't you like cats?"

And by the die-hard cat people, I am often looked upon with slight suspicion, at which time I begin making out with their cat, just to prove my devotion. I also love hippos, but one does not reside with me.

So how do I feel about cats? Cats are awesome. They are so individual. One might wind between your legs and magnetize to you the second you walk in the door, and another might hide in the closet, never to emerge when humans are present. Some purr and meow, some hiss and yowl. Personality is a great thing to have.

I have cared for a pair of shy cats for nearly eight years now, yet I've never touched them. I know they are alive because their food is consumed, their litter box is used, and their eyes glimmer and move under the bed. I don't push them to be friends, and their family is well-aware of their aloofness. I talk to them as I go about my business of feeding and litter-box scooping, just so they know someone is there who cares. But they don't care. They just want to be fed. That's okay.

I care for several cats who require insulin injections. They are all rock stars about it. And thank goodness those aren't the ones who hide under the bed.

One cat that I care for melts my heart every time. She lives in a house with two rambunctious food-stealing Jack Russells who have not been trained, so she dines on the kitchen island. Every time I visit, she guides me to the island, jumps up on it, then puts her paws on my shoulders and nuzzles into my neck. What better love is there?

So why don't I have a cat? (drumroll)

The litter box. 

That's it. I can't stand litter boxes. And I don't wish to send my kitty outside among the coyotes and javelinas just to potty. So I choose not to have a cat. My husband is totally a cat person, too. I've thought many times about surprising him by adopting a cat and have browsed the cats available and in need on a regular basis because even though I'm more of a "dog person," I adore cats. But then I remember the litter box and the litter. It's a no-go.

Part of my job is to scoop litter boxes, so I'm pretty sure I've seen 'em all, and I have yet to meet one that I would have in my home. There are the filter ones, the ones with tops, the sifters, the ones that rotate, the ones hidden in the pot of a house plant...and then you have the litter. No matter what kind, it's just bad. The ones that try to mask the poop smell are the worst. They literally make me feel ill. I most commonly run across the scoopable ones with odor control, so that's chemical and dust combined. Awesome. The natural ones, like the pellets, are better, but they still get tracked all around the litter box. They all get tracked. That's gross and a major pain. I'm fine with cleaning all that and dealing with it when I'm being paid, but no one in my home is going to give me a paycheck for cleaning the cat box and surrounding areas, and certainly no one in my home will do the chore. So, no cats. Sorry.

I am thankful that I get to interact with my clients' cats regularly. They are delightful, and they satisfy my feline needs. So until we find the cat who is already trained to go on the toilet AND flush, we're going to be happy with the rest of our herd. If we find that cat, there will finally be a reason for my boys to leave the lid up on the toilet.