“Vegan pets… They’re enjoying their lives more & they’re living longer” – Dr. Andrew Knight – Sentientism Episode 148

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Andrew is Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics and Founding Director of the University of Winchester Centre for Animal Welfare, Adjunct Professor in the School of Environment and Science at Griffith University, Queensland, EBVS European and RCVS Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, American and New Zealand Veterinary Specialist in Animal Welfare, Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and Principal Fellow of Advance HE.

Ever since helping launch Australia’s campaign against the live sheep trade to the Middle East in the early 1990s, he has advocated on behalf of animals. For nearly a decade prior to 2012 he practiced veterinary medicine, mostly around London. In 2013 – 2014 he directed the Clinical Skills Laboratory and taught animal ethics, welfare, veterinary practice management and surgical and medical skills at one of the world’s largest veterinary schools in the Caribbean.

Andrew’s books include The Routledge Handbook of Animal Welfare (2023) and The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments (2011). He has around 150 academic and 80 popular publications and an extensive series of social media videos on plant-based companion animal diets, climate change and the livestock sector, invasive animal research, educational animal use, humane clinical and surgical skills training, and other animal welfare issues. His papers have been published in leading scientific and medical journals, such as New Scientist, the British Medical Journal USA and PLoS One. He has delivered over 200 presentations at conferences and universities internationally, and has organized or chaired seven conferences and seminars. He regularly works with animal welfare charities to advocate for animals and is often interviewed by the media. Andrew has been honoured with 14 awards and 22 research grants, including the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics Shomer Award, a University Values Award and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association Humane Achievement Award. He also received a University Student-Led Teaching Award in 2017.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” The audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:
00:00 Welcome
01:33 Andrew’s Intro

03:57 What’s Real?

  • Questioning his life after being unlucky in love
  • Following the tradition of “gurus going to mountain tops”… hiking up a mountain & fasting
  • A beautiful mountain view at dawn… “Please god – if there’s anything out there – let me know now!”
  • “The sun came up… I got my answer clear as day… there was absolutely nothing… I had to go back down the mountain… carry on and do the best I could… without any advice or clues from above… that’s been my guiding inspiration since… what are we going to do with this opportunity?…”
  • “I was very pleased because I could finally eat some food” 🙂
  • Australia’s secularism
  • Veterinary education focused on science & evidence.

11:11 What Matters?

  • “Try to do the most good you can and the least harm that you can.”… without letting that turn you into a grim and uninspiring person
  • Enjoying your life & not burning out (tough for caring professions & activists)
  • “Don’t forget to look after ourselves”
  • “That’s why it’s [doing good, avoiding harm] such a good baseline principle… It’s a simple clear message… something we can all aspire to”

15:32 Who Matters?

  • Helping with the @RedCross soup patrol, @AmnestyInternational and banning land-mines
  • Realising how many more non-human animals were suffering & dying in animal agriculture
  • “There are millions more animals being impacted & their capacity to suffer is not millions of times less… it is a more important issue”
  • Continuing to support human causes but prioritising animal causes (e.g. live export)
  • “Then I’ve had a 25 year career as a professional animal advocate thereafter”
  • At 8 yrs old reading a book about baby animals “These animals are wonderful. I’m not going to eat these animals any more… I marched up to my parents and declared I was going vegetarian”
  • “They smiled & thought to themselves ‘no worries this will only last a week’ but it didn’t last a week – it lasted a lifetime and I became vegan at 23”
  • “A really important criterion for moral consideration is whether a person or an animal can suffer… and indeed more broadly whether they are #sentient “
  • Negative & positive experiences of others both matter “If we want to consider ourselves ethical agents”
  • “It’s a no brainer isn’t it… we should care about creatures if they’re sentient… the criterion that makes the most sense”
  • Bentham & Al-Ma’arri‘s sentiocentrism
  • Are Sentientism and sentiocentrism discriminating against non-sentient entities? (art, geologic formations, rare things?)
  • “Living creatures are the rarest phenomena across the known universe” temporarily resisting the 2nd law of thermodynamics
  • Is most environmentalism really still #anthropocentric in excluding moral consideration for farmed and wild sentient animals?
  • Moral considerations beyond sentience?

29:46 How Can We Make a Better Future?

  • #EffectiveAltruism “encourages us to… think strategically about our choices”: Severity/scale, tractability / solvability, neglectedness, our skill-fit
  • Treating cats & dogs for over a decade
  • Vegan companion/pet animal food as a cause area
  • “How do we guard against motivated reasoning? – even if they’re positive motives”
  • “It used to be the case that… meat-based pet food was mostly created using byproducts… that has actually changed”
  • “People are increasingly viewing cats & dogs as members of their own families… and wanting better standards of care and diets for them”
  • “Animals being slaughtered more directly for pet food”
  • The growth of companion animal ownership globally (particularly in fast-developing countries) – to ~3 billion animals
  • The environmental / climate opportunities of switching companion animal diets to plant-based
  • “Surveys of thousands of pet guardians… 35% – 40% of people would be interested in switching”
  • Top concerns: companion animal health; nutritional soundness; palatability; environmental sustainability (interestingly not price!)
  • Researching health outcomes & palatability
  • “It’s a matter of turning on the brain cell and thinking just for a second”
  • “Cats, dogs and all species have requirements for a certain set of nutrients – not for ingredients”
  • “Conventional meat-based pet food is supplemented with all sorts of nutrients because the natural nutrients are often destroyed”
  • “Vegan pet-foods also need to be supplemented… and the same supplements are used”
  • Avoiding the dietary hazards often associated with meat products
  • “You would expect health outcomes as good or better – and that’s exactly what the large-scale studies of thousands of animals are showing”
  • A recent systematic review of vegan pet foods: 1) Animal outcomes (blood tests, vet exams…) – smaller scale 2) Guardian reported (medication frequency, vet visits, vet and guardian assessments of health) – larger scale
  • 9 studies in dogs & 3 in cats just this year
  • “Certain specific types of health disorders seem to be less common in animals on vegan pet foods – dietary hazards which have been eliminated”
  • Exciting benefits: Recent study “On average dogs on vegan diets were living 1.5 years longer… on top of that the quality of life seems to be improved as well – less problems with obesity, mobility disorders and itchy skin”
  • Avoiding animal-sourced allergens & the hazards of over-nutrition
  • “Biologically there’s no difference between cats, dogs or any other species with respect to their basic needs… nutrients… palatable… digestible… If you formulate a diet that meets these criteria you should expect health outcomes to be at least as good or better”
  • More cat & dog studies coming with even more exciting results
  • “The focus needs to be… on getting the information out there… most of the pet owning world is not aware of it”
  • “Think what a difference it would make to everyone!”
  • #JustTransition elements: Consumers, retailers, producers, innovation, government, veterinarians…
  • “I used to have pet food companies coming to me… about once every three months… nowadays it’s every two weeks”
  • UK Pet Food Manufacturing body have just revised their fact sheet
  • British Veterinary Association will soon update their guidance
  • “A new disruptive pet food industry is emerging”
  • The vegan pet food sector is valued at $9 billion globally in 2020 going up to $16 billion in 2028 (7.7% CAGR)
  • “One of the fastest growing sectors in the food industry”
  • Concerns about pet health, environment, farmed animals aren’t going away “this isn’t a fad”
  • Vegans are more likely to choose vegan foods for their companion animals. But are people choosing vegan foods for their companion animals more likely to go vegan?
  • “If people were to adopt these diets for their dogs & cats… it might open their minds up similarly to consider the benefits of these diets… for themselves as well”
  • “People need to… not kid themselves that the meat-based pet foods… in any way resembles a natural feeding regime for dogs and cats… they’re being fed body parts from animals they would normally never consume”
  • “More important than asking the people is asking the animals themselves… we do by detailed study of their behaviour at feeding time…” A survey of thousands of cats & dogs “we found that… there are no significant differences [in palatability]”
  • The role of the veterinary profession re: animal agriculture. A caring profession enabling an industry that has suffering & death at its core
  • Previous guest Dr. Crystal Heath
  • “The vets that are opposed to the use of vegan pet food usually are vets that simply don’t know about all of the evidence… about positive health outcomes”
  • “Once you show vets the scientific evidence… most vets do come on board”
  • Farmed animals: “The paying client… wants processes to occur that are harmful to animals… for reasons of profit maximisation” (confinement, mutilation without anaesthetic…)
  • JW: “I’d also argue that being killed is a negative thing for your welfare… and that’s central to the industry”
  • The “massive conflict of interest between the best interests of the paying client and the best interests of the being the professional is supposed to be looking after”
  • Industry capture “there’s been capture of the veterinary profession by the interests of the industry”
  • “We have veterinarians engaging in and condoning procedures which are clearly contrary to good animal welfare because of money… It is fundamentally wrong and it fundamentally undermines the ethos of the veterinary profession and… ultimately the trust in the veterinary profession by wider society”
  • Ventilation shutdown, mass culling re: birdflu…
  • “When there is big money involved it can be hard to achieve change”
  • Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Animal Agriculture using the same playbook “we managed to push change back by a couple of decades”
  • “The solution has always been to shed light on the truth and to get the truth out there”
  • Sentientist Development Goals and a Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights…
  • Sentientist Politics? Running against Theresa May for election with the Animal Welfare Party “A way to remind politicians and indeed voters that we shouldn’t just be concerned about human wellbeing and human issues… animals are very much part of our society as well”
  • “These animals exist, their interests exist and actually you can formulate good policies… which often help people as well and there are votes to be won by doing so”
  • The Dutch Party for the Animals has elected representatives locally and nationally
  • “We have had some of the major parties seeming to adopt more animal friendly policies” e.g. fox-hunting
  • Lord Bucket-Head and the Raving Monster Loony Party
  • “I discovered to my shock… that it was remarkable how little many of them seemed to know”
  • “I’d encourage any of your listeners who thought politics wasn’t for them to perhaps think again… it’s not that hard and you might even enjoy it”
  • “Watch this space – the vegan pet food sector is at the start of a very exciting growth curve.”

… & much more!

Sentientism is “Evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” More at Sentientism.info.

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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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