Can You Feed a Dog a Vegetarian Diet?
Spurred by an ever-increasing concern with health and wellness, many dog owners have been pondering the question "Can I feed my a dog a vegetarian diet?", going so far as to post their views and questions online. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in a tumult of emotion and outrage as people who support a plant-based diet for dogs wage verbal war with those who (firmly) believe in a canine's meat-eating destiny. Hopefully, this article will help clear and air and give some clarity to this most divisive of topics.
The short answer is yes. Dogs can eat a vegetarian diet and a few variations on the vegetarian diet without major ill-effects. However, caution must be taken to make sure your dog is getting all the essential nutrients that are not easily obtained from a plant-based diet.
The Long-Held Assumptions:
If you have been convinced that dogs must be pure carnivores because of the sharp pointy teeth and their direct relation to the wolf; you are definitely not alone. Most dog owners have been brought up on the idea that dogs need animal proteins more than anything else. However, it might surprise you to know that some of the mammals in the same zoological order as dogs and wolves (Carnivora) include pandas and raccoons (both known to be heavy consumers of plant matter). In fact, on occasion a dog will be diagnosed with a severe allergy to one or multiple animal proteins by a veterinarian. In this case, the veterinarian will carefully prescribe a meat-free diet for the animal. Every more impressive, once every few years the Guinness Book of World Records will award the title of "world's oldest dog" to a vegan / vegetarian dog; thus lending more credence to the fact that dogs can derive sufficient nutrients from a (carefully planned) plant-based diet.
Increasingly, some intrepid dog owners are placing the furry best friend on plant-based diets with the goal of improving the health and well-being in the long run. Some variation of these plant-based diets include but are not limited to:
Vegetarian diet for dogs:
This diet excludes meat, poultry, and seafood from the dog's diet. However, the choice of whether or not dairy and/or eggs is part of the dog's is completely up to the owner.
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian diet for dogs:
This diet excludes meat, poultry, and seafood from the dog's diet. Yet, in this case dairy products and eggs can still be a part of the dogs. This diet is often preferred by those who fear that a completely plant-free diet may affect their dogs growth and development in some negative way.
Vegan diet for dogs:
Probably the most extreme choice of all, a vegan diet for dogs excludes all foods produced from or by animals. This would even exclude honey made from bees.
Let's take a short hiatus and notice I used the word "can" eat a vegetarian diet as opposed to "should" eat a vegetarian diet. This is because there is sufficient concern from experts in the field of animal health and nutrition to make the average dog owner take pause. Let's take a look at some of these fears and concerns in the next section.
Fears & Concerns (about plant-based diets for dogs)
There is substantial evidence that an improperly monitored vegetarian or vegan diet for dogs can cause a significant amount of mental and physical stress for your pet. The exact reasons for this are many, varied and hard to pin down. But we have put everything in list format below:
Despite being indirectly related to omnivores and plant-eaters, some experts rightfully point out that a number of the typical dog's physical features make meat-eating its ideal dietary choice. The first internal feature experts point to is the digestive tract as pictured below:
Some experts point to the fact that the canine digestive tract is very short (in comparison to other mammals). Generally, speaking a longer digestive tract is characteristic of animals that eat plant matter (as it takes a longer time to digest). Moreover, a dogs sharp pointy teeth and powerful jaws could indicate an evolutionary preference for tearing and chewing through meat, bone and sinew.
Dogs require significantly quantities of certain acids to remain healthy and active into their old age. Two of the most prominent are L-carnitine and taurine. A deficiency in these amino acids can lead to malformation of the heart and other essential parts of the cardiovascular system. Additionally, a lack of tryptophan can lead to a reduction in the essential brain chemicals that regulate your dogs mood and attention.
Testimonials from the owners of some dog breeds indicate that plant-based diets may affect a dog's mental health. Dow owners and vets alike have reported dogs being irritable and exhibiting signs of depression while on a plant-based diet. These symptoms would often alleviate or disappear altogether when a dog resumed a diet heavy in animal proteins and fats.
The Benefits of Feeding Your Dog A Vegetarian Diet
Despite the potential pitfalls, many pet owners are actively switching their dogs diets to include more "vegan fare." According to market research, at least 8.5 million dogs in the UK were on vegan or vegetarian diets in the UK circa 2016. And it is worth noting that there is now a wide roster of commercially viable vegetarian/vegan dog food brands including V-Dog (probably the biggest), Halo, and Nature's Recipe.
So clearly there may be some benefits to a vegetarian diet for dogs. Below we have compiled another list based on what expert vets and animal scientists have said:
Benefit #1: Avoiding the dreaded 4 D's
It is a little known secret that pet food in many western countries has been commercially prepared and treated with far less care than human food. There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is the fact that pets have fewer legal protections than humans and there is a lack government oversight into the myriad activities of pet food manufacturers. For example, quite often the ground-up animals bits that get tossed away when processing meat for human consumption are later reprocessed into (your guessed it) pet food. Sometimes these undesirable bits are from animals that are either dead, dying, diseased or disabled. The four D's.
Benefit #2: There are Environmental Benefits
The large scale production and processing of meat (known generally as meat farming) is known to have a number of deleterious effects on the environment. First of all, the large-scale farming of grazing animals such as cows and pigs produces (potentially) more greenhouse gases than all the cars currently on the road. And more ominously, there is ample evidence to suggest that these same gaseous animal byproducts significantly reduce air quality in neighboring areas.
If that weren't bad enough, liquid and solid waste byproducts from these large farming operations are known to pollute vital water supplies. Therefore, the simple act of switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet can have a gradual but huge impact on the environment by reducing the aforementioned effects.
Benefit #3: Avoiding Bad Additives
Pet food and commercial human food alike are both treated with hormones and antibiotics as a matter of procedure. And even if you manage to source your meat from an organic farm or animal nursery, there is always the possibility that the animal feed these animals use is treated with pesticides (again...as a matter of procedure). If these industry mandated additives are a concern for you or your pet, then maybe feeding your dog a vegetarian diet is the way to go.
Do you think vegan diets are good for dogs?
Tips & Expert Advice (for feeding your dog a vegetarian diet)
As stated before, while a plant-based diet can be a great way to give your dog essential nutrients and anti-oxidants; if not done with a high degree of precaution, your efforts can prove disastrous. Here are a few tips to help you make the transition with (hopefully) the least amount of pain:
- Always, always seek the advice of veterinarian and/or licensed veterinary nutritionist.
- If feeding your dog any raw vegetables, put them through a grater to enhance digestibility.
- When switching your dog from a meat to a plant-based diet, do it in stages. A sudden change in diet might make your beloved more finicky or irritated.
- Evaluate your reasons for putting your dog on a vegetarian diet. Many owners feed their dog a plant based based on their own cultural or dietary preferences. However, they do so at the risk of ignoring their dog's health and well-being.
- This one is so important, I am repeating it twice. Always, always seek the advice of a veterinarian and/or licensed veterinary nutritionist.
If you have reached the end of this article, I hope you feel more informed about your options and choices. Placing your dog on a vegetarian diet is not easy. As an example, I have attached below a video of a woman who claims to have successfully converted her dog to vegetarianism only to have her claim backfire on national TV. Best of luck guys!