Becoming a Vegan Vet and Finding the Best Food for My Dogs

I am a vet and as a vet student you are required to spend much of your holidays doing work experience. Living in London all my life,  I had always wanted to be a farm animal vet –  live in the countryside healing animals, chatting away with farmers while carrying out heroic surgeries. 

How I Became a Vegan Vet

Work experience as a vet student – with stints all over Scotland, England and Australia (I did my degree in Melbourne) really brought me face to face with a world that I had in fact, completely romanticised.

While I did cry at things I saw at the time at a hatchery and a dairy farm, I held it together for most of the farms – for of course, you are trained to keep production animals healthy, treat those who are not, and overall maintain farm productivity – not to question the ethics of farming.

I continued to justify it all in my head throughout my years at Uni. It was only when I was visited by my Aussie vet friend Jason back in England after we had both graduated and I was actually ribbing him about being vegetarian that he said something which literally changed my thoughts completely – and as a consequence, my life!  

Me on an alpaca farm
Me on an alpaca farm

I argued as I always had done, that as long as the animal had been ‘free-range’ (& fed organic to maintain biodiversity) livestock farming was all potentially justifiable morally and environmentally. (This was of course a few years before it became common knowledge that livestock farming is one of the greatest contributors to global warming!)

He looked at me and said:

‘Well, I just don’t ever want an animal to feel any pain or fear for me’. 

And suddenly something in me just clicked. 

The inclusion of ‘fear’ in that sentence resonated because I know what fear is and I can imagine the fear of being loaded off a truck into an abattoir. And no matter how we can control pain in animals bound for slaughter (or I can convince myself that pain is controlled for the majority), I knew and still know that we do not and cannot take their fear away.

I became vegetarian from that day. 

For years I couldn’t bring myself to veganism as I literally could not imagine how to go through life without milk in my tea (I’m now very much a coffee drinker but don’t let that spoil the story). 

A few years later, I woke up at 2am and allowed myself to remember all of the things I saw and cried at on the hatcheries and farms… all the sadness and the unfairness; the plain meanness of keeping 15 pigs in a small pen with metal floors and only 1 metal chain screwed to the wall for their one shared  ‘toy’, the dairy calf chained to the wall in the rain shivering while the farmer had a breakdown as his wife had left him, all the cows I’d seen walking into the milking parlour looking for their calves, the chicks in the hatcheries who couldn’t make it out of the eggs, taken to a room where they were ‘graded’ as to how bad they were getting out of their shells – then dumped into the bin when still alive but dying. I sobbed for hours for the animals that I didn’t or couldn’t help. I also, definitely cried a little for the new me who would have to drink my tea without dairy milk. 

It was a weird thing, because after finally falling asleep again and waking up the next morning as a new vegan – the soymilk in my first tea was actually OK! I would go as far as to say I love soymilk now! Even better than dairy milk with cereal – how did I not discover this before!?

Vegan vet Lucy McKinna developed a tasty, nutritionally complete vegan dog food

How did this all move on to dog food!?

In 2017, having been vegan for 6 years by this point, I was finding it harder and harder to make it to the till at the petshop with my bag of  ‘lamb and rice’ dog food for my adopted daughter Kizzy, a doberman. There was no doubt in my mind that she couldn’t have cared less whether there had been a lamb anywhere near it or not, as long as it tasted delicious.

Searching through the very limited vegan dog food options at the time, I couldn’t find one where I was happy with all the recipe ingredients that could convince me I would be doing a good thing by my dog (as well as all the lambs etc). It came to my mind that maybe I could make one that contained all the nutrients she needed – but with an ingredient list that would satisfy me that I was doing the best by her, as well as all the lambs etc!. I also thought perhaps there would also be other people who would feel like me  – and that perhaps if I could make such a recipe, and dogs agreed that it tasted great… that we could revolutionise the pet food industry.

A little bit more about me

Born in 1983 in Kingston-Upon-Thames, I was early on absolutely fascinated by animals. We weren’t allowed any pets but Anne, our next door neighbour, had 4 cats, 1 completely bonkers black labrador called Cherry-  and luckily for me…  2 loose fence-boards in her fence just big enough for me to squeeze through! I spent most of my childhood time outside of school at her house hanging out with all the animals, helping with feeding times etc. Animals were just so much better in every way than humans! Not complicated, generally easy to read and just fascinated me in every way,

From about 12 years old I really got into gardening and the environment and would make trips each weekend to Woolworths on weekends to buy compost and compostable planters for my seedlings  – and then give away tomato plants on our road as I had hundreds! Over the next few years I did work experience in local vet clinics and dairy farm belonging to a family member in Scotland so I might be looked on as a good candidate for vet school. For my 16th birthday my parents bought me the Good Shopping Guide which I loved and referred to often – and when anyone I knew might buy a new oven/ hoover/ clothes would implore them to buy from the more ethical brands.

I was not predicted good grades at A level so could not apply to Vet School immediately, my science teacher advising me since my GCSEs that I was not a natural scientist and I would be better as an animal activist, than a vet –  where I could better use my natural creativeness and passion for a cause. I knuckled down and got the grades for vet school.

Once you go vegan

… your world kind of slowly shifts year by year and you look at things differently. I always thought I would have a horse-drawn carriage to take me to my wedding – now I can’t think of anything worse than knowing I am being ferried around by a horse with a bit in its mouth. Questioning my dog’s food came after quite a few years as a vegan – can we make a delicious food with no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives with all the nutrients we know dogs need … without other animals being hurt? Yes, we can!

Noochy Poochy is a complete food and fully vegan — How can it provide all the nutrition a dog needs to thrive?

The right nutrition is absolutely vital for every animal’s body to work correctly and for cells to carry out their various duties and processes as they should. Essentially dog’s bodies have a checklist of nutrients that are needed for cells to do their thing, and these nutrient requirements change as the dog changes; for instance, throughout puppy growth and development, when they are sick, have a medical condition, or for a bitch feeding her puppies. While it is vitally important that at all these times, the dog is getting the right nutrients in the right proportions – like humans, it doesn’t actually matter whether the source is vegetable or animal …. the amino acid Arginine (amino acids being the building blocks of protein)  is the same to the body – whether it comes from soybean or from turkey, the 

So it stands to reason, for the same reason you can’t just feed a dog chicken and rice, you obviously can’t just feed a dog chickpeas and rice – in both cases they will be missing out on vital nutrients – it has to be a carefully balanced recipe – where everything is accounted for – right down to the microminerals. 

FEDIAF, the European trade body representing the European Pet Food industry, outline a list of nutrients that every complete dog food must have in a certain proportion in the final product. This is good. One of the drawbacks at the moment is that there is no way for the pet owner to realistically be sure of the ‘quality’ of those nutrients in the final product (whatever you define that to be), only the amount. 

FEDIAF have historically been writing nutrient requirements for complete dog foods that have a meat component. It likely never occurred to them that suddenly the whole world would be suddenly concerned about the environmental impact and ethical question of rearing livestock for slaughter. This means plant-based dog food companies have to think about two things – complying with FEDIAF guidelines of course, but also we have to go a little further about it – is there anything that a meat based dog food might provide that a vegan dog food might not, or might give in only marginal amounts? This is why our Noochy Poochy recipes have added amino acids Taurine and Methionine to ensure that dogs have adequate supply. 

Noochy has a 30% organic ingredient component, a 28% protein content, can claim ‘complete’ as per FEDIAF guidelines plus supplemented Methionine and Taurine, and what we are most proud of, an Omega 6:3 fatty acid ratio of 4:1.