I heard some distressing news yesterday. It seems that Halo Pet Foods (a line of dog and cat foods, supplements, and treats both celebrity endorsed and co-owned by Ellen DeGeneres) is in the process of developing a vegan dog food. The truth is, Halo is not the first, and I'm sure will not be the last, company to market a line of vegan pet food. HOWEVER, Halo is the first I can think of to have such a well-known spokesperson, or one with such a huge fan base, as its mouthpiece. Add to this the fact that Ms. DeGeneres has been such a vocal and passionate advocate of rescue and animal welfare, and I am even more concerned about the potential for disaster that her endorsement of vegan foods for dogs potentially heralds.
Here's why: dogs are carnivores! Scavenging or opportunistic carnivores to be exact, but carnivores nonetheless. This means that unlike cats, who are OBLIGATE carnivores (meaning they MUST consume animal protein in order to survive), dogs CAN process, to a certain, albeit limited, extent, veggies, fruits, etc. but even at that, those items should, optimally, be processed in a blender, Vitamixer, or, in the case of wild canids, by the prey animal itself, in order to be utilized by the animal's body with any degree of effectiveness. This is because, as a carnivore, a dog's digestive tract is short and, as compared to an herbivore's, very simple in design. Food is meant to move through the GI tract very quickly. Additionally, their saliva does not contain the necessary enzymes to begin to break down starches or carbs.
An herbivore's saliva, on the other hand, does contain these, and their GI tract is longer as well. This is why many raw feeders utilize green tripe in their feeding plans ... because unlike whole, raw, unprocessed/un-broken-down vegetables or other plant matter, in the case of green tripe (which in its simplest definition is the stomach of a ruminant animal and the contents therein), the vegetable matter that has been "processed" (or digested) by the prey animal is bio-available to a carnivore in a way that whole (or even cooked) vegetables/plant matter are not.
As I have mentioned on this blog before, there are all sorts of ways to do a raw diet, some that include vegetables, and/or green tripe, and some that do not. But this post is not even really about raw diets. It is about what foodstuffs our dogs, as carnivores, are designed to eat. Or, to put it another way, which foods are species appropriate for them, and which are not. Animal proteins, as well as small amounts of vegetable matter that have been processed in some way (such as green tripe, for one example, or pulped vegetables and fruits as are called for in Kymythy Schultze's Ultimate Diet for another) are species appropriate foods for carnivores. Grains and large quantities of other starches, on the other hand, are NOT species-appropriate. Dogs, being the scavengers and opportunists that they are, will readily eat foods that are non-species appropriate, and hey, we all know dogs who would happily consume garbage, decomposing road-kill, and even fecal matter, be it their own or that of other dogs. I will never forget the It's Me or the Dog! episode wherein one of a group of miscreant Pugs would literally stand by while another of its' pack mates was defecating, and slurp down said pack mate's poop before it even fell to the ground!
BUT ... I think we would all agree that feces are not species-appropriate fare for any animal, and neither are grains or large quantities of vegetable or plant matter species-appropriate for carnivores. Because they lack the salivary enzymes necessary to break down these types of foodstuffs (carbohydrates and starches, not feces!), this means that the pancreas has to work extra hard to produce those enzymes, and as time goes by, the strain placed on this vital organ can compromise its ability to function as it ought. Or, in short, just because a dog WILL eat something, does not mean that it necessarily SHOULD eat whatever that something happens to be.
Still with me? OK, assuming all I have said above is true, then why are so many dog treats (and dog foods for that matter) so loaded with grains, carbs, and other non-animal proteins? Well, for one thing they're cheaper. But also, unless you are talking about a grain-intolerant/allergic dog (of which there are a great many), I personally am of the opinion that a few grain-inclusive treats now and then are not going to do much harm. They may be empty calories that many dogs, given the number of dogs who weigh more than it is healthy for them to weigh, can ill afford, but they probably are not, again, IN SMALL QUANTITIES all that terrible.
Unfortunately, this is not what Halo is proposing. They are in the process of developing, and its spokesperson and co-owner, Ellen DeGeneres, is prepared to endorse, a VEGAN food for dogs. Or, to put it another way, they are proposing to offer for sale and have a spokesperson with a huge fan base offer her endorsement of an allegedly "complete" diet 100% devoid of meat or any animal proteins for the, again alleged, "nourishment" of a carnivorous species which needs meat and animal protein to thrive. (Please note I said "thrive" as opposed to survive!)
Am I the only one starting to hyperventilate?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The only bright spot in all of this is that Halo, recognizing that cats are obligate carnivores, does not, at least not currently, have a vegetarian or vegan food for cats in development. Nonetheless, I shudder to imagine who knows how many dogs eating food that is so diametrically the opposite of what they were designed by their very nature as carnivorous animals to consume.
I have written to Ms. DeGeneres myself, asking her to reconsider this decision, and I would like to ask all of you to do the same, assuming you are in agreement. Should you wish to write to her, you can do so HERE.
Tucker, and all carnivores everywhere, thank you!