From health reasons to personal beliefs, people decide to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for a variety of reasons. While the validity of the age-old claims that meat is “good for us” is presently being questioned more than ever, this same debate is carrying over to dogs. Do dogs really “need” meat as much as we think they do?
Since cats are natural carnivores, it’s generally agreed upon by veterinary professionals that a vegan or vegetarian diet is not appropriate for felines. While a vegetarian diet may be less risky for dogs, complications can occur, because canines are historically a scavenging carnivore – who eats meat and plants, but requires lots of protein and sufficient amino acid intake. Any dietary decisions or changes should be discussed with your pet’s veterinarian.
Below are are three risks associated with putting your dog on a vegetarian or vegan diet:
1. Inadequate Protein Intake: It’s recommended that dogs get 25 grams of protein for every 1,000 calories. While this may be possible with a vegetarian diet, it’s certainly challenging. Luckily, there are many fruits and vegetables that have high protein content, such as spinach, chickpeas, kale, black beans, etc. which are all safely edible for dogs. In fact, black beans have more protein gram for gram than beef! Also, it is very simple to supplement the plant-based sources of protein with eggs, which are still vegetarian (but not vegan).
2. Amino Acid Imbalance: A vegetarian diet can create an imbalance of amino acids, like taurine and L-carnitine, which can lead to health issues like dilated cardiomyopathy, eye conditions, and stunted growth. However, many of the amino acids that meats contain can be found in eggs as well as many plant products. Another option is to use supplements to ensure that your animal has the amino acids it needs to thrive.
3. Vitamin deficiency: Certain vitamins and minerals are consumed ideally (or only) from animal products. These include vitamin B, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. As I said, supplements and vitamins can be used, or a wide variety of plant products can be explored. Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin that dogs (and humans) primarily get from meat, so that is a vitamin that you will probably have to consider buying if you want your dog to be vegetarian.
Keep in mind, if you want your dog to be vegetarian (or even vegan, which is a far more complicated situation), you will have to gradually ease them into t heir new diet. You cannot under any circumstances just suddenly cut out meat one day all at once. Begin by slowly removing the meat little by little and filling the void with other protein-rich fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and more. Be prepared to get extremely creative, because you will find that your dog is a pickier eater than you thought. While most dogs openly embrace vegetables and fruits, it may take a little bit of extra motivation on your part to convince them to eat it.
It’s a good idea for dogs on a vegetarian diet to go in for wellness exams more frequently than the average canine. That way, if there is a deficiency of any kind, you can tackle the problem as soon as possible, and find another method to supplement your dog’s diet. Please understand that while going vegetarian is relatively easy for humans (especially nowadays), there is much more to be considered when having your dog go meatless. Your vet may recommend regular bloodwork to keep an eye on your pet’s health and possibly dietary supplements to help boost your pet’s nutrition.
Perhaps a more realistic option would be to drastically decrease your dog’s meat intake rather than cutting it out entirely. After all, it could be counterproductive to deny your dog meat due to your convictions about animal cruelty and death in the factory farm industry – if your dog is suffering as a result. Make sure that you are taking it slow, getting veterinary guidance, and researching as much as you can while you are transitioning your dog onto a veggie diet!
If you personally have a vegetarian (or even vegan) diet regimen for your dog that works amazingly, please share! There are many people that argue against a vegetarian diet for dogs, but there is a growing number of people like YOU who want to explore the option but don’t know where to start. A good place to begin educating yourself is to read this article from PetMD, and this other article by Pets.WebMD! There are also very helpful online communities and message boards such as this one that you can check out and even post your inquiries for further help and guidance. Good luck, and keep us updated on your progress!