Toronto's vegan dog owners introducing their pets to an all vegetable diet

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TORONTO - Many Torontonians are going vegan, and that includes the four-legged ones.

Vegan diets for dogs are becoming increasingly prevalent in Toronto as owners who follow the vegan lifestyle are implementing it on their pets.

Ken Butland, 35, is a vegan who is passionate about his lifestyle and wanted to pass it down to his two dachshunds.

"My philosophy extends far beyond what I put in my mouth," says Butland. "Anyone who's dependent like a child or an animal, it's my responsibility to make sure I'm not buying products that are dependent on exploitation to other animals."

Butland says that major wigglebottoms IV and willie kerfluffington II quickly adapted to their new diet and now can't get enough of it.

"You only have to spend a few seconds in the room, when they hear carrots being chopped up they’re like lightning," says Butland. "We feed them green beans, raw carrots, raw cabbage, and they go crazy."

Major and willie are both rescue dogs who weren't in the greatest condition when Butland and his fiancée Angeline adopted them.

Major's hair was falling out and Willie was underweight, Butland said, adding they quickly blossomed once they began their new dietary regime.

Dr. Erika Sullivan, a veterinarian at Forest Hill Animal Clinic, chalks the turnaround up to the health benefits of a vegan diet.

"If I had a dog it would definitely be on a veggie diet because the quality of meat isn't up to standards," she said.

Sullivan says that dog owners simply need to read the labels.

"When they call it byproduct, it could be 80 per cent chicken and 20 per cent scraps," said Sullivan. "There's no way to trust that."

Owners may question vegan diets because dogs are known to have a majority of meat in their diet but Sullivan says there is no need to worry.

"Unlike cats, (dogs) are natural omnivores who have the enzymes to break down the nutrients from a vegan diet and assimilate them for daily use."

Vegan diets for dogs involve more than feeding them raw vegetables.

Canines rely on dry vegan dog food for nutrients such as protein that they would have ingested through eating meat.

Sullivan says that some breeds like dachshunds and Dalmatians are more likely to thrive on vegan diets, adding she has recommended the lifestyle for some of her patients' owners.

Alan Witz, 42, is one such convert. The long-time vegan consistently fed his dogs meat until Sullivan recommended his two dachshunds follow in their master's dietary footsteps.

A year and a half later, Witz is convinced.

"Dogs don't need to eat meat to be healthy," says Witz. "If more people realized that it wasn't detrimental (for their dogs), they would do it."

Not all agree with a vegan diet however.

Veterinary technician Krista Wilcox tends to dogs at the Front Street Animal Hospital and would only recommend a vegan diet when food allergies are present.

"It's more of a decision made because of the lifestyle of the owner," Wilcox said.

As long as meat-based products are high-quality, Wilcox said that there isn't a problem.

"When you're feeding high quality food, you don't have to worry," said Wilcox. "Chicken meals, when rendered and used properly are a great source of protein."

Wilcox says that if a diet isn't properly formulated for each individual need, even if it is a vegan diet, there can be side-effects.

"An improper diet will cause a pet to, over time, show malnutrition," she said.

Organizations: Forest Hill Animal Clinic, Front Street Animal Hospital

Geographic location: Toronto

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