21 September 2004

From the Mailbag

Prof. Burgess-Jackson,

First off, let me say that I am a vegetarian by upbringing, and subsequently by inertia; I am not an ethical vegetarian. [See here.]

My parents have a dog who they are raising vegetarian. He's doing okay. Compared to other dogs, I'd say he's skinny and small. He feels the urge to occasionally eat certain grasses (which have a high calcium content, a mineral he would otherwise get from gnawing on bones). He is fed lots of lentils and he loves cheese, which is where he gets his protein.

But when he plays around other dogs during feeding time, he might steal their meat. He might also occasionally hunt small lizards or rats around the house, and eat them. It is instinctive.

Dogs (and to a lesser extent, cats) can survive on a vegetarian diet. But it is unnatural. They get essential nutrients more easily from animal products, and it is difficult to give them a balanced vegetarian diet. Because it is unnatural, I wouldn't recommend doing so.

But given that the "rules" of domestication include getting fed what the master eats, I wouldn't say it poses a moral problem for you. The dogs will survive, and if necessary, as I mentioned above, fend for themselves. They have more highly developed instincts than humans do.

When I helped raise my brother's dog, we fed it meat-based dog-food. None of us had a problem with it. My brother and I are both vegetarians. The dog showed a strong preference for chicken-based food.

Gopi Sundaram

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