Your Pets Are Not Hippies

This is a good opportunity to plug my ridiculous dog's Instagram.
Photo by Lynda Rouner
This is a good opportunity to plug my ridiculous dog's Instagram.
Pets as accessories to privileged ding dongs for silly reasons is a proud tradition stretching back at least to Ancient Rome. Whether Caligula ever actually made a horse a consul is immaterial (he probably didn’t), but there’s no denying that we all can easily believe he would.

So it doesn’t surprise me that people sometimes forget that dogs and cats are living creatures with their own agency and not patronuses meant to exemplify the personalities of their owners. Most times it’s innocuous. Nothing screams “mommy wine culture is a marketing campaign that has gotten irresponsibly and dangerously out of hand” like a yellow lab in a shirt with a full glass of Merlot on it, but it’s not actually hurting the dog to wear it.

The same cannot be said of the trend where hippies try to drag their pets into their lifestyle choices.

Let’s start with veganism, the dietary practice of consuming no animal products. This is a thing that humans can do, though it tends to be a pain in the ass since so much of human evolution is based around our ability to eat meat. Still, vegan diets are perfectly healthy for humans if they want.

Dogs and cats are another matter. Dogs, contrary to popular belief, are closer to omnivores than true carnivores. In fact, one of the primary differences between dogs and wolves is that dogs evolved to be able to digest starches and can get vitamins A and D from plant matter. So, a vegan diet CAN be done with dogs IF it’s planned very carefully with the help of a veterinary nutritionist. As Cailin R. Heinze VMD, MS, DACVN cautions, “vegan diets (or home-prepared diets in general) can cause numerous health issues if not designed by someone with considerable dog nutrition expertise.” It’s not as simple as feeding your dog tofu leftovers or buying vegan dog foods that may vary considerably in quality, especially if your dog is in anything but perfect health. Learning to properly read pet food labels is an essential skill for any owner.

Try to remember that this is something you are forcing on a living being without their choice. It can be done, but not without considerable research from degreed adults who specialize in canine diets. Cats, though, cannot be vegan. Period. They are obligate carnivores who need meat to survive. Taurine is essential to their health, and it is only found from animal sources like meat and milk. They risk blindness and heart failure without it. They also require a high protein diet and their bodies are simply not equipped to digest most plant-based carbohydrates. There is simply no such thing as a cruelty-free cat diet.

Another new trend that is even more disturbing is people refusing vaccinations for their pets. I honestly thought people worried they might give their poodle autism was a joke, but it has officially stopped being funny. Twenty years of scaremongering have indeed trickled down into the pet population.

It’s become a huge problem in the United Kingdom. The Britain’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) found that 25 percent of pets had not had their necessary vaccinations, and the overwhelming reason was because owners felt they weren’t necessary. That’s the sort of nonsense echoed by Texas State Rep. Bill Zedler, who feels vaccines should not be forced on people because having measles is just part of a normal childhood despite it killing 100,000 people a year.

Vaccine resistance for pets is also on the rise in America. Aside from rabies, vaccination numbers in pets has little oversight in this country, but doctors do report anecdotal evidence. A 2017 article in American Veterinarian by Kerry Lengyel showed that lots of owners feel vaccines interfere with a “holistic” approach to pet health, and conspiracy theories about the effects of vaccines on dogs mirror those of people. The potential for deadly outbreaks of infection are increased when you consider that dogs, unlike the majority of humans, often eat grass and feces and are exposed to more disease vectors than people.

On the health note, it should go without saying that you should not ever try to cure your pet’s cancer with holistic medicine peddled by some dork without a veterinary degree. Cancer is hard enough without introducing quacks into the mix.

Dogs and cats are not extensions of our life-brand. They deserve an existence with us as healthy and respectful as possible. At some point you have to decide if your love of crystal healing for the flu is compatible with the life of an animal. They are our companions on all kinds of adventures, true, but ideology is not something they can choose. We choose it for them, and we should do so with their well-being as our top priority, not our vanity.