Many animal-loving vegetarians and vegans find themselves in a conflict of interest when feeding their pets. It is no surprise that many “hardcore” pet-lovers are also advocates for animals in the wild and on farms as well. So, depending on how “extreme” they are, some pet owners want to cut meat out of their and their pets’ diets as well, to avoid participating in the factory farm industry. While personal ethics are for you to decide, the main concern is whether or not a vegetarian diet is appropriate for dogs; and the answer is yes, your dog can be healthy while not eating meat. This is great news if you want to relieve your conscience of guilt associated with buying any meat products regardless of who eats them. Vegetarian diets can also be a good option for dogs that have allergies or food intolerances associated with eating meat, and for wary owners who question the quality of the meats included in your average dog food.
While you might have heard that dogs cannot live without meat, biologically this could not be further from the truth. Dogs are omnivores, meaning that they adapt well to a plant-based diet. The right vegetarian dog food, such as Natural Balance Vegetarian Formula, can give the canine body everything that it needs to thrive. You can also possibly make your own vegetarian or vegan dog food with the many recipes and videos online from experienced vegetarian/vegan owners!
Protein is the nutrient that most people are concerned about, but dogs have the ability to transform certain amino acids, the building blocks of protein, into others. This means that dogs can get all the amino acids they need without eating meat. Eggs are an excellent source of protein for dogs. The amino acid profile of an egg closely matches that which a dog requires from its diet. So, if you are willing to feed your dog a high-quality food that contains eggs, you have no reason for concern. If eggs are off the table, plant-based sources of protein like soy will also suffice. Soy is something that also comes with its own issues and possible concerns; like whether the soy is from genetically modified plants, or plants with pesticides, or uncultured soy, etc. Before you begin to start substituting meat with soy, ensure that you have done proper research beforehand. Finding the right balance of legumes, whole grains (which are usually unnecessary and also come with possible health dangers), and other plants is a bit trickier, but still possible.
The most crucial aspect of switching dogs to a vegetarian diet is the transition; it’s best to do it gradually. Initially, mix just a small amount of the new food in with the old. Every few days, add more of the plant-based food to less of the meat-based food until the old is gone for good. Your dog may be skeptical at first, but eventually the change will become less weird and more of a routine. Soon, your pet will have a diet completely free of meat, but packed with all kinds of alternate protein sources!
If after reading this, you are still concerned that your dog’s health might suffer from a vegetarian diet, you can always ask your veterinarian to run a urinalysis, blood chemistry, and complete cell count after feeding the new food for a month or so. Everything should check out just fine, which will give you the peace of mind to continue with your dog’s new diet. If there are issues, then you can either amend the parts of your dog’s nutritional plan that do not suffice, add supplements, or – if the health concern is just too risky, you can ease your dog back into a meat-eating diet. Maybe you will decide that just cutting down your dog’s meat intake will be sufficient for your guilty conscience. After all, beef is the most unsustainable meat – so if you just cut down your pet’s beef intake only, you’ll already be making a positive environmental impact.
A vegetarian diet could be beneficial for animals with sensitive stomachs, food allergies, or any other negative effects associated with meat. Some dogs (like my own) are allergic to poultry meats such as chicken, turkey, and duck, so it could be a very positive change to feed them more protein-rich vegetables and soy products rather than chicken. When making the transition, be wary of certain foods that you may find to be irritating to your animal’s digestive system, such as a wheat allergy or intolerance to grain. Some dogs (again, like my own) develop skin irritation and other problems due to grain intake.
Keep in mind that this information does not apply to your cats. Our feline friends are obligate carnivores, meaning that to remain healthy, they must eat a cat food that contains meat or a vegetarian diet that is heavily supplemented to replace the nutrients they are missing. If you currently have your dog on a vegetarian or vegan diet, share your experiences with us!