A lot of us these days are trying to cut down our meat consumption whether by going flexitarian or entirely plant based in our diets. We do it for environmental, health, ethical reasons, the list goes on. And we've been hearing from more and more of you about whether it's okay for your dog to go on a vegetarian or a vegan diet as well.
The truth is, the reserach, science and nutrition opinions around whether or not your dog can be a vegetarian or a vegan are truly...mixed. There are no definitive conclusions on it, so we'll provide some of the common arguments that are for and against dogs eating a vegetarian diet and offer some closing thoughts on questions to ask yourself to figure out if this path is right for you.
TLDR: Your dog can techincally be a vegetarian or a vegan. The main issue is that there are a lot of ways to do it incorrectly that leave your dog devoid of certain key nutrients. Your dog is biologically designed to consume their protein from meat and non-starchy vegetables - from the enzymes in their mouth to their tooth shape to the bacteria in their gut - meat is supposed to be a part of their diet. That said, dogs are omnivors, so if you're going to make the switch for ethical or environmental reasons, you'll want to be sure you're supplying your dog with all necessary nutrients for a balanced and complete diet.
Alright, let's get into it...
Why might you consider switching your dog to a vetegerian diet?
Most commonly when people are thinking of making the switch for their dog onto a vegetarian diet, there are 3 main reasons considered:
- Personal ethics - If you don't eat meat or animal products for ethical reasons, it's not crazy to want the same for your dog. It's easier for the whole household to follow the same set of ethics and rules.
- Environmental reasons - We know that meat production and consumption is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. You might be considering cutting down your dog's meat consumption to do your household's part in helping the planet
- Food allergies - You might have noticed that your dog has kind of become allergic to everything - chicken, beef, fish. Their skin is itchy and developing hotspots...you might be considering making the switch to a vegetarian diet to help alleviate those allergies. The truth is though, a lot of those allergies aren't caused by chicken or beef themselves, but rather low quality chicken and beef found in kibble that lead to inflammation in the gut and allergies on the surface. Improving the quality of meat in their diet or going vegetarian are both options.
Why your dog could technically be a vegeterian:
Dogs are technically omnivores and can survive on both animal and plant food sources, unlike cats who are obligatory carnivores. Dogs produce more of the enzymes needed for starch digestion than cats do, for example, and can source some of their amino acids and nutrients from plant sources as well. So yes, eating a vegetarian diet is an option.
So my dog can be a vegetarian, but should they? Here's why you might want to hold off:
- Your dog's body is built to eat meat: Everything from your dog's jaw structure to their teeth to the length of their digestive track is designed to eat a high-protein diet from animal sources. Their teeth are sharp and pointed, designed to tear at meat. Their digestive tract is super acidic and has a pH of 1 (maximum acidity), which is designed to digest meat, which is an acidic food, unlike plant sources that are very basic and non-acidic.
- A plant based diet messes with your dog's gut balance: 70% of your dog's immune system comes from a healthy gut. A healthy gut is their #1 line of defense against toxins - a healthy gut allows them to properly absorb nutrients and help their body thrive. Vegetarian diets that use grains, beans, legumes and nuts are full of sugar-binding proteins called lectins. Lectins actually damage the lining of your dog's gut and cause inflammation. That inflammation creates problems like leaky gut syndrome where toxins can escape from the digestive tract and into the bloodstream.
- It's way easier to get a vegetarian/vegan diet wrong than it is to get it right: There are huge ways to leave your dog nutrient deficient if a vegetarian or vegan diet goes wrong. They could end up with really low protein intake, imbalances in certain amino acids (like taurine and L-carnitine) and vitamin deficiencies (calcium, vitamin B, vitamin D, etc.) that would otherwise mostly come from meat and animal sources. There is a lot of room for error in feeding your dog a vegetarian diet, so it's important to be careful about supplements.
- Benefits of meat extend beyond just diet and into tooth and mental health: Feeding your dog meat, bones, and other tough cuts like that to chew on stimulate saliva enzymes that prevent plaque buildup on their teeth and prevent gum disease. Chewing on those cuts is also great mental stimulation and keeps them challenged and keep them from getting bored. It's far harder to simulate those benefits with softer vegetarian options or vegetarian options that are chewed through more quickly.
But if it's important to you, there are ways to feed your dog a vegetarian and vegan diet safely. Here's what you need to know:
- Consult with your vet: Before you get started, it's probably best to consult with your vet. A lot of the vegetarian or vegan dog food options on the shelf are not nutritionally equivalent and have nutrition gaps. Talking to your vet will help to gauge which supplements you should be adding in and could help advise you on how to DIY your dog's own vegetarian food.
- Pay attention to certain vitamins minerals: There are some vitamins and minerals that are harder for your dog to extract from a vegan or vegetarian diet. Those include things like B12, vitamin D, calcium, idodine and zinc that can lead to bone breakage and immunodeficiencies. You'll want to make sure that any new food you put your dog on is sufficiently supplemented in those areas.
- Use meat products, but not meat itself: If you're okay with going vegetarian, protein sources like eggs and yogurt have a high biological value and contain the amino acids that your dog would find otherwise in typical meat products.
- You might run into acceptance hurdles: If your dog is used to eating meat and suddenly you make the switch overnight into a vegetarian or vegan diet, they might be a little shocked and resistant to it because they're missing their meat. Best practice would be to slowly mix in amounts of the new food just as you would traditionally transition your dog onto a new food, so that over the course of a week or two, your dog gets used to the new diet.
But most importantly, figure out for yourself if ethically this is the right path for you - you know your life and your dog best
One interesting article that sparked conversation internally on our team that might be worth a read is whether or not it's ethical to feed your dog a vegetarian or vegan diet. The core question is that even though your dog could be a vegetarian, is that ethical for them? This is not just from a nutrient perspective, but from the perspective of living a fully satisfied life and whether or not it's right for us to project our values and ways of being onto our dogs. It's an interesting thought to consider and debate. But again, it comes down to personal opinion and making the right personal choice for you and your dog.