Many dog owners have gone vegetarian out of concern for the treatment of animals in factory farms or worries about the environmental impact on resources due to meat consumption. Vegetarianism is widely accepted as a great option for humans, and even some health organizations like PETA recommend it for pets too.
A study by National Geographic found that, despite our growing understanding of pet food nutrition, many animal-based ingredients can cause dangerous allergies or digestive disorders which an exclusively plant-based diet doesn’t pose.
According to the Humane Society domesticated dogs are omnivore but only because they were bred selectively over generations to eat both plants and animals. But dogs do not have the necessary digestive enzymes to adequately process a vegetarian diet without pre-processing by their owners.
On both sides of the vegetarian dog debate, you’ll find advocates for and against the topic. But truly, can dogs be vegetarians?
No matter what you search, you’ll find articles and studies that strongly support a vegetarian diet for dogs, and those that are against it. However, let’s break down all of the facts. If you’re looking to see if your dog can be a vegetarian, here’s what you need to know.
Can A Dog Be Vegetarian?
Before they were domesticated, dogs were in fact carnivores. But since then, they’ve fallen into the “omnivore” category. Therefore, unlike cats, who are truly carnivores, they could be vegetarian or even vegan (although a vegan diet isn’t typically recommended).
Before dogs were domesticated and became part of households, they were considered carnivores. In the thousands of years that they’ve been domesticated, they have evolved to be able to also eat more plants and grains as well. Veterinarians and experts in the dog industry considered the dogs that we know and love today as omnivores. Therefore, they don’t have to eat just meat to survive and thrive in their environments.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind before switching your dog over to a vegetarian diet. Of course, before making any major changes to your dog’s diet, it’s important to talk to their veterinarian. From there, you’ll be able to create the perfect diet that’s tailored and suited for your pet.
Think About Your Dog’s Digestive Tract
First, it’s important to consider your dog’s digestive tract. Unlike humans, dog’s have shorter and smaller digestive tracts. This means that they’re unable to digest and process waste in the same manner that humans do.
For example, cellulose (a plant fiber) is not easily digestible for a dog. So, if you’ve ever given your dog uncooked carrots, corn, or peas, you’ve most likely seen how the cellulose isn’t processed. Because those foods have high levels of plant fiber, they tend to come out as pieces and even large chunks in your dog’s stool.
Because of this, protein is the key in dog food formulations. It’s highly digestible by dogs, and allows them to properly absorb the nutrients and vitamins they need.
This is not to say that dog’s can’t be vegetarian. This just means that if you switch your dog to a vegetarian diet, be sure they’re getting plenty of protein. Also, be sure to check with their veterinarian before switching their diet, so you can be aware of how much protein they need.
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Potential Risks Of A Vegetarian Diet
As with any diet, there are potential risks that you should be aware of.
For dogs, some potential risks of a vegetarian diet include;
- A lack of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals
- Vitamin A & D deficiencies (which affect their skin, eyes, and bones)
- Harder to digest (if not appropriately balanced)
- Can lead to liver or liver disease (if not appropriately balanced)
As stated, these are just potential risks of a dog being on a vegetarian diet. This does not mean that the diet will absolutely cause these deficiencies. This is why it’s most important to have a visit with your dog’s veterinarian. It’s important to know the proper feeding schedule, protein needed, vitamins needed, and more before switching to a vegetarian diet.
Focus On Nutrients
If you’ve decided to switch your dog to a vegetarian diet, and have had it approved by their veterinarian, now is the time to make sure your dog gets their vitamins and minerals. These building blocks will keep your dog healthy and happy.
It’s important to understand that these vitamins and minerals aren’t suggestions. Your dog needs these as part of their regular diet in order to be healthy. If these vitamins and minerals aren’t supplemented, your dog has a higher chance of deficiencies, disorders, and diseases.
Here are some of the vitamins and minerals that are essential for your dog needs in their regular diet;
- Complex B-Vitamins, including B12
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K2
- Amino Acids
Of course, your dog will also need proper sources of collagen, folate, choline, and keratin. There are many vegetarian dog foods that offer these supplements in the correct dosages for your dog. Your dog’s veterinarian will be able to suggest the best option for your dog.
Consider Environmental Impact
If you’re concerned about the environmental impact that meat has, this may be a reason why you want to switch your dog to a vegetarian diet. And while studies have shown that a reduction in meat and meat processing can lower CO2 in the environment, there are other ways to be environmentally friendly while feeding your pet.
While a vegetarian diet can help individuals lower their environmental impact, there is another way to reduce CO2 emissions with your dog’s diet. A big example of this is feeding your dog high quality food that is made with the “trails and bits” of meat products.
The “bits” of meat like livers, hooves, tongue, and brains are typically discarded by meat processors. This is due to the fact that many of these parts are considered unhealthy or unclean by the general population.
But instead of wasting such nutritious animal parts, they can be used in dog food instead. Plus, this cuts down on animal waste and honors the animal that is being used as food and fuel.
If a vegetarian diet is not recommended by your dog’s veterinarian, look into feeding them a diet of bits and pieces of animals, instead of “human grade” or specialty meats. This will allow you to be more sustainable, without sacrificing your dog’s well being.
How To Pick The Proper Food For Your Dog
So, can dogs be vegetarians? The consensus is yes. However, each individual dog should be evaluated by their veterinarian before making the switch. While a vegetarian diet can be complete and wholesome, it will depend on your dog and their nutrition needs.
If your veterinarian gives you the okay to feed your dog a vegetarian diet, there are few things to keep in mind. First, follow the directions that your dog’s vet gives you. And, if they have a suggestion on the proper vegetarian food to feed your dog, make every effort to use that food.
Next, figure out the appropriate serving sizes for your dog. Smaller dogs typically need less food, as do older and less active dogs. This is another question you can have answered by your veterinarian.
Also, if the diet and/or food you’re feeding your dog doesn’t include some of the vitamins and minerals that they need, look into supplementing them. As with any dietary changes, it’s best to find out the proper dosages from your dog’s veterinarian.
Last, if your dog shows signs of deficiencies, or has any adverse reactions to the new diet, take them to the vet immediately. Some examples of changes include mood changes, their sleeping patterns, and possible allergies or changes that weren’t a part of their day before switching their diet.
Either Diet Can Work For Your Dog
Essentially, dogs can be vegetarians. However, a diet of meat, vegetables, and grains can be a complete diet as well. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to this topic and discussion. There are many dogs who thrive on a vegetarian diet. But there are also dogs that feed best when eating meat.
This is why it’s essential to talk with your dog’s veterinarian before making any diet changes, especially one as major as taking out meat completely. While there are many commercial vegetarian dog foods available, they may not be best suited to your dog. A veterinarian can help you decide the best food for your dog’s specific needs.
As long as your dog is healthy and happy, they can thrive on a vegetarian or meat eating diet.