Should Your Dog Be Vegan?

We interviewed the author of <i>Happy Healthy Pooch</i>, a new cookbook that tells you how to make vegan dog food.

Allegra Ringo

Photo by Flickr user Magnus Bråth

Sanae Suzuki is a chef in Los Angeles, where she runs the macrobiotic vegan restaurant Seed Kitchen along with her husband and their six dogs. Suzuki, a longtime vegan, is as serious about feeding her dogs as she is about feeding her customers—she makes them homemade vegan food for nearly every meal.

Veganism is having a "moment" right now, but is it a viable diet for dogs? I asked Dr. Joe Bartges, a veterinarian who specializes in canine nutrition, if it's safe to feed your dogs homemade vegan food. "The short answer," Dr. Bartges told me, "is yes and yes. Dogs are omnivores, not carnivores, so they can be fine with that." The caveat, he said, is that dogs' nutritional requirements are different from humans' nutritional requirements, "so the concern, when you look at a lot of the lay books that aren't written by professionals, is that the diets are not complete and balanced. There are board-certified veterinary nutritionists who can look at dog's diets. We can do all types of diets: tofu-based, tilapia, yak... I've done a kosher dog diet. You can do a homemade diet, but it really should be assessed by someone who's a trained, board-certified animal nutritionist." (Note: you can find these board-certified animal nutritionists at the American College of Veterinary Nutrition's website.)

Suzuki has recently written a cookbook, Healthy Happy Pooch, designed to make cooking vegan fare for your dogs easy. She hasn't had the recipes book reviewed by an animal nutritionist, but she does regularly consult with Dr. Sally Lane, a holistic doctor of veterinary medicine, who also wrote the forward for the book. I spoke to Suzuki about the book, the movement to feed dogs better quality food, and the things we do when we really, really love our pets.

VICE: What inspired you to write this book?
Sanae Suzuki: I had ovarian cancer in 1993. I can't have babies because of it. Dogs became my kids. I started cooking for my dogs in probably 1994, because one of my dogs had arthritis, and I thought maybe [a change in diet] would help.

Some people don't want to change [what they feed their dogs], and that's OK. That's up to them. I say in the book, if they want to keep feeding their dogs meat, that's OK, they just need to choose the best quality meat. But if they are willing to change to vegan/macrobiotic, I show them how to do it. My main goal is: stop feeding packaged, canned, and bagged food to them all the time. Obviously, once in a while, you might have to, but I feel sorry for the dogs that have to eat this food 365 days a year. Dogs can't speak, so I want to be their spokesperson.

What are your dogs' names and breeds?
Right now, I have all Golden Retrievers. I have six. Their names are Kula, Oro, Leo (named after Leonardo DiCaprio; my neighbor said "he's a good looking boy," so I called him that), Bubu, Lumi (I believe she's the smallest Golden Retriever in the whole world—she's only 35 pounds), and Happy. I have a lot of dogs to cook for. [ Laughs] I also have two cats.

Do you cook for the cats, too?
Yes, I make food for the cats too! Some people say, "Are you going to release a cat food book?" I say, "First things first." [Laughs] I know more about dogs than cats. I've had many dogs in my life—maybe 15 or 17.

Related: The Westminster Dog Show... On Acid!

Do people criticize you for feeding your dogs all vegan and homemade food?
I don't see it as criticism, but many people are shocked to hear it. More about the "homemade" part, vegan or not. People will say, "Do you know what you're doing?" They think that packaged food has all the nutrition dogs need. But it's not like that. It's like with humans, if you had a choice between frozen broccoli or fresh-picked farmer's market broccoli, which one would you choose? The best choice is the fresh-picked vegetable. That's what I'm providing my dogs. Packaged food is still good, just as a supplement—like vitamins for humans.

I feel like people have a lack of information [on dog diets]. Some people say, "Don't you worry they're not getting enough nutrition?" No, I don't, because I would know if they weren't. I observe them so much. I think I can feel when something is physically or even emotionally off.

It seems like these days, there are a ton of natural options for bagged or canned dog food. Has packaged dog food changed in recent years?
Yes. I really believe that it's better now. But the problem is that dogs eat the same thing every day. You need to change it up. My book shows that you can still use packaged or bagged food as a supplemental food, whether or not your dogs are eating meat.

Do you think people's attitudes toward packaged dog foods will change?
I believe they will change. It's like cigarettes. Can you imagine, now, being able to smoke indoors in restaurants, like you could years ago? The same thing will happen with dog food. I will not give up on our food, or dog food. People ask me, why are you cooking for your dogs? The simple answer is, there's no restaurant for them! If I don't have time to eat, I can go out to a restaurant. But they don't have that. I wrote in my book, one day maybe there will be a restaurant we can go to with dogs. Do you think that's crazy? [ Laughs]

Not really. At least not in LA. We're nuts about our dogs here.

Sanae Suzuki's cookbook, Healthy Happy Pooch, comes out on May 16.

Follow Allegra Ringo on Twitter.