Recap of VegFest and Plant Based Diets for Pets

blog image

The annual Colorado festival celebrating all things plant based diet and lifestyle was held this year on the Tivoli square of the Auraria campus downtown Denver on July 29th and 30th. I have been attending this event almost annually for the past 10 years, as it is a great place to meet like minded animal lovers, environmentalists,  and learn about all the new food products and snacks that are on the market. In addition to vendors and food trucks, they feature educational presentations and speakers on many topics related to the emotional lives of animals, the history of plant based diets in other cultures, cooking classes, and much more.

This was the first year I was invited to be a speaker, what an honor, and even a little intimidating as I was a little worried about being heckled.  This may come as a surprise to you, however, there were two main things I was concerned about. First of all, on social media I often get brutally criticized by the more fanatical animal rights activists who attack me for showing my images of riding horses, as some feel it is a sort of animal slavery and abuse to ride horses.  I also get attacked for posting anything about horse racing, and keeping marine mammals in captivity, although these are both topics I know and understand deeply. My expertise in these areas of animal care is often disregarded and I am distrusted by those who prefer to get their information from emotional docu series instead of professionals in the industry. 

In addition, you might find this to be a great surprise, but as a person who has had a booth at this event for some time now, and spoken directly to hundreds of people who refuse to eat animals for environmental health, or ethical reasons, you might be surprised to know that on average each year, about 80% of the people I speak to, still feed their animals meat. It seems to be for a variety of reasons, such as they feel it’s ethically wrong to feed their pet anything but a ‘natural’ diet, or they are worried about vitamin, mineral, and protein deficiencies despite many nutritionally balanced commercially available plant based pet foods. .  This has often been a surprise for me, especially knowing that 30% of  slaughtered animals go to make pet food. I don't understand how some people so vehemently rail against the cruel slaughter of animals for food,  but then turn around and buy a bag of chicken or beef dog food, and criticize me for riding horses, yet keep their dog on a leash, crate, or fenced in a yard. As I said in my presentation, I suppose it is all just a journey we humans are all on, and we are doing the best we can with the information we have at the time. 

I was however thrilled with the opportunity to voice my unique opinion at this event. It was the first time I got the chance to stand in front of an entire group of these earth and animal loving people, and get to tell them my personal journey and emotional struggles with not wanting to contribute to the slaughter of animals,  yet still feeding my pets in a healthy way. And, helping them to understand that when you use positive reinforcement as a method of training, where the animals have a choice, then riding horses is certainly ok because you actually have the animals' agreement and consent to the activity. I also encouraged them to not blatantly hate horse racing, as so many of them do, and to try to understand the horse racing industry is full of the biggest horse lovers of them all, or they wouldn’t be doing the thankless job they have.  Eliminating horse racing would be eliminating an entire industry full of dedicated horse men and women, who eat, sleep, and dream horses to an extent most people cannot comprehend. It would be a shame. Does it need reform and oversight to ensure the horses are treated well by all? Of course, like anything in life there are a few bad apples out there, but the industry as a whole is working hard every day to put new systems in place to ensure the horses are treated well, not whipped excessively, and not overmedicated on pain reducing drugs leading to catastrophic injuries. No legitimate person in the industry wants their horses to get hurt. 

I was proud and honored to be given the opportunity to share that message with an entire group of people who would probably never have willingly sat down to listen to someone like myself. And most importantly, I was thrilled that at the end of the presentation, I actually got a young person to come and talk to me, who was fascinated with horses, but had been led to believe that riding them was wrong, and was thrilled to uncover there was a way she could keep her beliefs regarding compassionate treatment of animals intact, yet still interact with horses in a way she had not dared to dream of before. That alone made the hours and hours of work (although slightly less work since my children helped me find many of the pictures and videos to include) to put the presentation together,  all worth it.

Besides all that emotional conversation about how to use horses, I gave my own personal journey of how I became a vegetarian after I had a good friend give me a hard time about being such an animal lover, but then turning a blind eye to the immense suffering, fear, and anguish experience by animals that get slaughtered for food. I listened to another presenter at the event who told stories of actual documentation of a young Chimpanzee just laying down and dying several days after the death of his mother, refusing to eat or leave her side, and then showed images of the transport truck full of baby lambs showing up at the slaughter plant, and described their cries of fear and confusion. I almost walked out of the presentation, it was so painful to think about it and visualize. Yet this happens to thousands of animals every single day. But then thousands of human children are living in deplorable conditions and hungry, too. All we can do is the best we can do with what we know, and are capable of having any influence over.

I explained how, as a veterinarian, although I didn’t eat animals myself, I did still feed my animals this way, because I didn’t know better, and I too, was scared. Finally I learned more about it which gave me the confidence to feed my dogs plant based, and then through the encouragement of one of my good clients and friends, began to feed my cats that way too, without any ill effects or worry about depriving them of anything, In fact, just as for us humans where there are many studies that who it’s a better, more nutritionally dense diet for us, it can be for our animals too, without a lot of extra expensive supplements or worries over protein requirements. 

Now, in my practice I see many animals eating a plant based diet, and most I would say live healthier, longer, on this kind of diet, with less skin allergies and chance for developing cancers.  I gave several specific examples in my presentation, including a dog with a huge, non-surgical lipoma that shrunk considerably on a plant-based diet, and an entire family of dogs with allergies that improved drastically on the same no meat diet. Yet it is not the perfect choice for every single animal, and then, how do you explain the animals that eat a terrible diet but still live a long time (although I have to say those animals don’t usually look too healthy or feel good, they just sometimes still live a long time).

Well, if we had all the answers, then there would be no debate. There would be no more cancer, allergies, or other chronic disease in us, or animals. Every day all we can do is strive to be better than we were the day before, with all the information we have. And be willing to grow and adapt, as we get new, more current information. 

I will continue to carefully monitor the veterinary journals to ensure that no studies come out that show this kind of diet is actually, undeniable bad for our pets, and continue to be an advocate for horses and marine mammal parks to the animal activists unless I too, get new information that sways my beliefs another way.

For those of us who love animals, all we can do is the best we can do, every day, to enjoy our animals to the fullest, who mean so much to us. God bless you, the animal loving angels of the world! And if you have questions, or comments about any of the things in this post, please reach out, as I love to have intelligent, thoughtful conversations with others, so that we might both, be better, for the animals, and ourselves.

Thanks so much for reading!  Check us out on YouTube to learn more about how you can have the longest, healthiest, happiest life possible for you and your beloved animals.   

 - DrQ and the crew of Aspen Park Vet Hospital and the ResqRanch.