Is a vegetarian diet for dogs harmful?
Ask different people the question ‘can dogs be vegetarian?’ and you will get different answers depending on their agenda.
The simple and short answer to ‘can dogs be vegetarian?’ is no.
Dogs are carnivores and need meat protein and fat to provide them with the full nutritional profile they need. But if you want to feed your dog a vegetarian diet you probably want more information.
Over the last decade there is an increasing movement towards vegetarian & vegan diets for dogs. It could be out of concern for farm animals, the environment or because people are vegetarian themselves and don’t want to handle meat products. Religious reasons could be another factor.
However, many of the vegetarian diets for dogs you see when you do a search are based on the assumption that a dog’s nutritional profile is the same as ours, and that if something is healthy for us then it will be healthy for our dog. But this is just not the case. Many of the foods we might eat as vegetarians like grains, soy and tofu are bad for dogs and won’t supply them with the vitamins and amino acids they need. Soy can cause issues with a dog’s endocrine system.
A dog’s digestive system is different from a human, they have a much shorter digestive tract. Their food spends more time in their stomach where the enzymes are designed for breaking down large chunks of meat and fat and kill bacteria. Once finished in the stomach, the digested matter transits very quickly through the intestine, there is no time for the fermentation of grains, plant materiel and starch.
Many plant-based oils like hemp and coconut oil may provide people with the omega 3 fatty acids they need, but dogs are not able to convert these into usable fatty acids.
Will a dog survive or thrive on a vegetarian diet?
In the wild a dog would eat partly digested veggies from the stomach of their kill, They may have scavenged plant based food in time of hardship but long term they would not thrive. Some vegetable matter can be helpful in their diet. Pumpkin, squash and papaya being beneficial in the fight against worms and fleas. But as a dog finds vegetables very difficult to digest, they must be cooked and pulverised. Only 10% of their food should be derived from vegetables and fruit.
Good reasons for a vegetarian diet for dogs?
There may be some health issues that make you think your dog might benefit from a vegetarian diet.
If you are trying to resolve allergies or stomach issues, then it could be a good idea to think about a raw or home cooked diet, commercial kibble (dry dog food) does have a reputation for being responsible for allergy-based illness. One of the main reasons for this is the amount of grain and carbohydrate they contain, along with the poor quality of the meat protein.
Another consideration of a vegetarian diet for dogs is the amount of vegetables and fruit that are potentially poisonous for dogs, such as onion and grapes. Broccoli, while not poisonous can be difficult for your dog to digest and contains isothiocyanates, which can cause gastric irritation.
Never feed a vegetarian diet to a breeding bitch. You need to make sure you plan to make sure she has all the nutrients she needs before and during the pregnancy.
Commercial and homemade vegetarian diets for dogs.
There are a range of commercially made vegetarian diets available that claim to have all the nutrients your dogs will need. Similarly, there are a lot of websites that have lots of homemade recipes available. Many of these recipes assume that what’s good for us must be good for your dog.
Don’t assume that someone who shares vegetarian recipes online understands your dog’s nutritional needs. They may feed it to their own dog, and their own dog will readily eat it but given the choice any dog would naturally choose to eat meat if it was available.
In answer to the question, ‘can dogs be vegetarian?’ you can see there are a lot of reasons why the answer is no. Dogs are carnivores and should be fed good quality meat protein with the correct ratio of fish and suitable vegetables.
If you take on the guardianship of a dog, then you are morally obliged to feed it a species appropriate diet which is based around meat protein and fat. Owning a dog is a big responsibility and we shouldn’t be disadvantaging it to make it fit in with our life choices.