Maizy: Super-Veg Dog

I’ve struggled ethically, for quite some time, with the choice of what to feed the animals with whom we share a home. I’ve known that many people feed both dogs and cats a vegan diet and the animals are doing great. And now, especially, there are plenty of vegetarian/vegan dog and cat food options out there. But I still continued to feel conflicted about making that choice for these individual animals. I asked myself, “what would they choose to eat, given a choice?” “would they choose to kill an animal to eat?” “what exactly is in these dog and cat foods, even the organic ones from the boutique-y food stores?” I knew from research that the contents of many commercial dog and cat foods are a fright, with horror stories of foods made from euthanized stray dogs and cats, the worst of the worst remains from factory farmed animal bodies, and lots of unnecessary filler. This troubles me, as we have tried to cut out as many animal products as possible from our lives, and this remains our most pervasive use of animals.

Furthermore, Maizy came to us with some chronic health issues. At her former home, she had developed chronic ear infections from neglect and living outside all the time. These will continue to be a problem, the vet says, for the course of her life. She has early onset arthritis in her hips from being chained on the cement for 4+ years with very little exercise. She has severe skin reactions/ allergies to food. And she has a very sensitive stomach, with frequent digestive problems. The skin and stomach issues can be managed easily with diet, and so when she came to live with us three years ago, we immediately tried to find the right diet for her, to minimize the flaring up of these issues. We tried limited ingredient dog foods, strictly organic, vegetarian dog foods, wet and dry dog foods, and after many failed trials, finally settled on the vet’s recommendation, a prescription kibble that is hypoallergenic and designed specifically for dogs with skin and stomach issues. She seemed to be OK on this diet in terms of stomach and skin issues, but we struggled to keep her weight in check, she wasn’t thrilled about eating, and I continued to read horror stories of the contents of (even the prescription) companion animal foods. At the same time, I heard from several people of dogs they knew on vegan home-cooked diets who were living extraordinarily long and healthy lives (a lab who lived to be 26 years old, for instance!).

Last summer, she went to Maizy’s annual check-up at the vet and she weighed in at 68 lbs (8 pounds overweight!). I couldn’t imagine how this had happened. We’d been walking every day, I was rationing her food to control her weight, and she wasn’t getting an excessive number of treats. We started exercising more, which was (at times) hard on her because of the arthritis (which we manage with glucosamine/chondroitin supplements), and I started seriously contemplating her diet. I read and read about vegan dog foods, raw diets for dogs, and home-cooked meals. We decided to try her out on a home-cooked (mostly) vegan diet. I took notes on nutritional needs for dogs and created clear guidelines for what she was allowed to eat, what foods were toxic for dogs, and which supplements were necessary to augment a home-cooked vegan diet. I called the vet and ran my idea by them to switch her to the diet and they said it sounded OK, but that we should check her after she’d been on it for a while to see how she was doing. Armed with the research I had done, many lists of food, a Vegedog supplement I had ordered online, and a little apprehension, I started cooking breakfast and dinner for Maizy.

Her meals change regularly, in order to get a variety of vitamins and other nutrients, but the ingredients for a fairly typical meal look like this:

meal ingredients

A sampling of her everyday eats:

cooked quinoa

beans or lentils or tofu

kale or broccoli

carrots or zucchini

pureed pumpkin or butternut squash

sea vegetable (wakame or nori, usually)

nutritional yeast (a generous sprinkle)

flax oil (~1 Tbls)

1 tsp of VegeDog powder (according to her weight requirements)

I fill her bowl (which is about 2 cups) with a mixture of these ingredients. Dogs need at least 30% protein in their meals, so I shoot for that ratio with the protein ingredients and fill the rest with vegetables. The VegeDog formula provides extra essential trace minerals, the flax oil–essential fatty acids, and the nutritional yeast–a boost of vitamins. I cook the quinoa and beans or lentils ahead of time (they have the bulk bags of organic quinoa at Costco, which is very economical) and keep them in containers in the fridge for easy meal assembly.

We make her yam treats once a week or every other week, as needed. Other treats she gets regularly are whole raw carrots, kale stems (with leaves removed-for some reason she doesn’t like raw kale leaves on their own), zucchini, or broccoli stalks. And the occasional fruit–she likes watermelon, apples, pears, and berries best. She gets an occasional cooked egg (from our chicken backyard friends), which is why I say she’s “mostly vegan”.

Her food experience has really changed. She gets excited about her meals. She knows when I’m cooking her breakfast or dinner and she’ll sit there and watch me make it. She eats enthusiastically now, and it seems like she enjoys the fact that she gets to snack all day long on fruits and vegetables. In volume, at least, she’s eating far more than she ever got to before.

She seemed happy with the transition and has plenty of energy and loves exercising with me, she has clearly lost weight (she has a waist again, thank goodness!), and her coat is shiny and soft. But the real moment of truth was the vet check-up. I was a little nervous heading into the vet as I tried to disregard all those voices that have always said that dogs need meat to be healthy (‘it’s what’s natural afterall’). I explained to the vet in detail what I had been feeding her, including the supplements and treats. I brought in the VegeDog container so he could assess the ingredients (he was impressed!). He is a strong advocate that the dog’s body and health will tell you whether or not a diet is right for the dog. For some dogs, they may do better on a meat-centric diet, according to the vet, and so it’s really about watching closely and making sure that whatever your dog is eating is giving him/her what she needs.

The vet set about assessing Maizy’s well being. He weighed her, checked her over, took her temperature, and did a full blood panel. We talked about her arthritis, which seems to be quite improved (very little stiffness during and after exercise)–he says this is probably a result of the combination of the flax oil and glucosamine creating more fluid/padding in her joints. He said her coat looked great, her figure was quite improved (she has a nice ‘tuck’ in her waist now), her teeth looked fine. Her weight was 57.5 lbs, which is smack dab in the middle of ideal (so the vet says). He says ideally, she shouldn’t go below 55 or above 60. A successful report, followed the next day by a phone call saying her blood work results were all “quite good”!

Eric and I were both delighted by this news, and I wanted to share this whole saga with you in case it was of some interest. Maizy is 8 yrs old now. We’re shooting for many many more good years together!

a girl's best friend!

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  1. This is funny that you post this. DH and I just had a conversation about how I feel about the dogs eating meat, and like you, I struggle with the issue. I’m sending DH your post so this should spark some more interesting and funny conversations. BTW, did you estimate what the average cost difference is between what you were feeding Maizy before and now? Those high end dog foods can be super spendy.

    1. Good question. Thanks for asking; I meant to include this in the post. The prescription dog food was ~$80 per bag and a bag would last about a month. This was really expensive! Now, it’s a little hard to estimate because I’m feeding her a portion of many of the foods I’m already buying for us to eat ourselves. But, i know that I spend $10 a month on quinoa or brown rice just for her, the VegeDog lasts about 3 months and is $45 (so about $15 a month). I would guestimate that I spend about $40 per month on her food, including her portion of the foods we share, and that’s all organic, which is pretty darn good, in my opinion! About half what I was spending before, for food that I know doesn’t have any scary or unknown ingredients!

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