Feeding Bangsiri: a vegan conflict

Here’s the story of my struggle to feed my princess in a responsible way. It’s not necessarily in chronological order. I hope it helps readers understand my feelings.

I love Bangsiri. I don’t want to kill other animals to feed her. I never wanted to switch her to prescription food, and did so with extreme reluctance, because prescription food is made of dead animals.

For three years, she did well on a vegan commercial kibble. This past winter, she started refusing the food she was used to. I tried switching her to vegetarian canned food because I still wanted to do the least harm to other animals while making sure my princess was eating enough.

When her condition got worse, the vets recommended a prescription diet and I strongly resisted this advice. I didn’t believe, and still don’t believe, “pet” food companies cared about Bangsiri or her health. I thought a home-prepared, low-sodium vegan diet could easily meet her needs.

In addition to her vegan kibble, for three years Bangsiri got vegan dog biscuits made of decent ingredients. She also got fresh unsalted vegetables as a treat. Unsalted tomato juice, unsalted canned tomatoes and organic baby food were some of her favourite treats. She liked broccoli and barleygreen powder. For a while, she really seemed to like tofu and would accept plain whole wheat pasta and plain oatmeal without fussing. I never tried sharing junk food with Bangsiri.

Now Bangsiri needs a low-sodium diet, and too much sodium could shorten her life. There are no vegan commercial foods that meet her needs.

The recipes in James Peden’s book Vegetarian Cats and Dogs are simple and easy to follow. They’re based on ingredients that Bangsiri used to like. If I’d started sooner, chances are she would have accepted homemade food. But when Vegedog supplements became available here, she was already getting sicker and her tastes were changing.

First I tried the simplest of Peden’s recipes (oats and tofu). When Bangsiri refused to eat oats, I tried substituting rice or quinoa or whole wheat pasta. Sometimes she ate a full bowl, but more often than not she refused it. Sometimes mixing in some baby food helped, but sometimes she wasted the food anyway. Sometimes it was helpful to mix vegan canned food with the homemade food—but if I tried decreasing the proportion of canned food, she’d turn up her nose. It was frustrating having to throw out so much food.

I found out there’s a company in the UK that makes vegan “chicken” and “fish” flavourings. I’m sure these are very helpful for other animals, but they didn’t work for Bangsiri. Crushing an unsalted dog biscuit and mixing the crumbs into a bowl of home-cooked food helped temporarily, but not after a day or so.

I asked Bangsiri’s vet if James Peden’s recipes were suitable for Bangsiri as long as I omitted the salt. He couldn’t tell me one way or another. I contacted James Peden and he provided helpful suggestions, but I still wanted to check with a vet.

I spoke with two overseas vets who are on record as supporting vegan diets for dogs, but their answers were not as detailed as I’d hoped. One recommended a book, and the other recommended making any changes gradually.

The book, Vegetarian Dogs by Veronica ReBow, is more about why to feed dogs vegan food (as opposed to how). It has recipes, and it’s a good book for general readers, but it doesn’t address Bangsiri’s special needs. The recipes are more complicated than Peden’s and also call for ingredients that are not available in Korea (as far as I know).

A couple of other books have vegan recipes for dogs, but some focus on treats and are light on nutritional information.

The Vegan Dog Nutrition Association has an informative e-book, but it centers on healthy dogs. When I contacted the author, he said he couldn’t advise me because he’s not a vet. He referred me to a nutrition consultant, who recommended a vegan commercial product.

I bought the food she recommended (at great expense because it had to be specially imported), but after one can I had too many doubts to keep using it. Bangsiri has been on prescription food for a few weeks now and is doing better. If I do try to change her diet again, it may be a long process of trial and error. I’m afraid of any changes that could set her back.

On the weekend I phoned Sandy Anderson in Australia to see if her food, Veganpet, might meet Bangsiri’s needs. Sandy told me her food was formulated for normal dogs, and that if it was suitable for Bangsiri it wouldn’t be suitable for normal dogs. She advised me to keep Bangsiri on prescription food, saying that’s the safest choice. She said companies like Hill’s have the funding to do extensive research—she’s just starting to research special diets for older dogs. She’s a long way from being able to formulate the vegan equivalent of a prescription diet for Bangsiri.

I have to admit that of all the advice I’ve received, Sandy’s seems the most credible. I didn’t want to give up on a vegan diet for Bangsiri, but she’s more stable now than she was a few weeks ago.

Years ago I read Vegetarian Cats and Dogs, and I’m now reading the new edition. I haven’t gotten through the whole thing yet. I respect the work James Peden is doing, but I worry that some of the information is out of date. I’d like to see more stories of dogs with Bangsiri’s specific condition who were fed these diets and lived longer than expected.

I never realized it would be this difficult to get the information I need to feed my dog. There are so many dogs with heart disease—why is it so hard to find answers?

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