If you check most dog food sites you will find that they support feeding dogs lots of meat protein. In fact, the trend at the moment is to move away from grains, especially corn, and toward feeding dogs more meat. The thinking is that it’s healthier for dogs to eat a diet that is closer to a natural diet for dogs. Some people look for an “ancestral” diet for dogs based on what wolves eat. Different people carry this approach to different lengths but you will find that most dog food manufacturers are basing their foods on higher protein from animal sources.
At the same time, dog foods also tend to follow human food trends. As people have become more conscious of organic foods, for example, so have dog owners, and they often seek out dog foods with organic ingredients. As people have become more aware of the benefits of many dietary supplements, dog food manufacturers have begun adding more and more supplements to dog foods. Terms like “natural” and “holistic” are used to market many dog foods in the hope of appealing to consumers.
Vegetarian Dog Food
In the U.S., a 2012 Gallup poll found that 5 percent of Americans identify themselves as vegetarians and 2 percent identify themselves as vegan. There is some interest from vegetarian and vegan dog owners in a vegetarian diet for dogs and a few dog food companies have tried to make vegetarian dog foods. For example, Halo, Natural Balance, Nature’s Recipe, and AvoDerm have vegetarian foods for dogs. Some people like the idea of vegetarian dog foods for ethical reasons – they don’t eat meat themselves and they don’t want their pets to eat meat. Other people may believe that it is healthier for their pets to avoid eating meat. Groups like PETA, which are vegan and anti-meat, promote vegetarian dog food. And the Humane Society of the United States, which is also anti-meat, has marketed and sold vegan dog food in the past though it’s unclear if they are still selling this food at the present time.
Some people also cook for their dogs at home and follow a vegetarian or vegan diet for their pets.
Is A Vegetarian Diet Healthy For Dogs?
Is it healthy for your dog to eat a vegetarian diet? That’s the big question. Most canine nutritionists and veterinarians will tell you no. While dogs aren’t obligate carnivores the way cats are (meaning that they must eat meat to survive), they still need nutrients that they can only get from animal sources. While it is theoretically possible to feed your dog a vegetarian diet and add a range of supplements so that your dog will subsist, he won’t thrive the way a dog will when he is fed an optimum diet that includes meat sources of protein and other nutrients.
Recent research has shown that dogs have adapted to eating a more agriculturally-based diet with grains, but this doesn’t mean that dogs have evolved to live without eating meat. Dogs are still carnivores, despite their omnivore tendencies. They have the teeth and jaws of carnivores to tear meat off bones and a shorter digestive tract to digest meat instead of the longer digestive tract that true herbivores have.
Today, most of us feed dogs a kibble diet that contains large amounts of carbohydrates, even in the best of foods. But most foods also contain 20-40 percent protein and much of that protein comes from animal sources, whether they are meat sources, eggs, or fish. Dairy products also provide protein.
Dogs that are fed a vegetarian diet can be subject to heart disease and other health problems related to nutritional deficiencies. Vegetarian dog foods do not necessarily meet AAFCO approval either. And while AAFCO may not be the highest possible nutritional standard for dogs, it does usually provide a minimal standard. If a food cannot meet this standard its a bad sign.
Dogs fed a vegetarian diet may seem to be healthy in the short term but if their diet is nutritionally inadequate, there can be long term effects that shorten your dog’s life or which result in health problems later.
There are also some fallacies involved when considering what kind of diet is healthy for your dog. While it’s possible that some people might benefit from a vegetarian diet if it means reducing your cholesterol, avoiding bacteria like Salmonella, and avoiding food allergies, the same things are not true for your dog. Cholesterol is not a problem for dogs. In fact, good sources of named animal fat are desirable for your dog. Bacteria like Salmonella, while it sometimes forces pet food recalls, is not usually a problem for dogs either. Recalls are typically invoked because bacteria is a risk for humans who handle the foods. Your dog’s stomach and gastrointestinal system can handle many kinds of bacteria. As for food allergies, they are not nearly as prevalent in the dog population as most people think, accounting for about 10 percent of all the allergies seen in dogs. And dogs can be allergic to foods other than meats.
If you think that you should avoid feeding your dog meat because it contains hormones or antibiotics or you don’t like other things about the way that food animals are raised, there are many good dog foods today that are raised hormone-free and antibiotic free. All poultry in the U.S. is hormone-free. You can find dog foods that have free range poultry, grass fed beef, and other very conscientiously-raised animals. If you do a little research, you can find all kinds of dog food with very good meat ingredients (by the way, check out our dog food reviews if you haven’t yet).
Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own personal beliefs as far as what they eat. But dogs have specific nutritional needs and they really can’t be adequately met with a vegetarian diet. You may be able to add the supplements necessary to your own diet to survive, but they won’t be good enough for your dog. For example, dogs need to have a dietary source of vitamin B12 in their diet which is typically found in meat and not found in most plants. Some herbivores, like cattle and sheep, can make their own B12, but dogs don’t. It is possible to add B12 and other vitamins and minerals to your dog’s diet but there’s no guarantee that your dog will absorb them and use them adequately in this form. Carbs and minerals in the diet can interfere with the way vitamins are absorbed so even when B12 is added, your dog’s body may not be using it properly. It’s always best if vitamins and minerals are in the diet in a food source.
You may find it ethical to avoid eating meat yourself, but it is not ethical to deny meat to your dog when he requires it.
Is Your Dog Thriving?
Only you can answer this question. If you put your dog on a vegetarian diet you will need to observe him carefully and honestly. Weigh him regularly to see if he is losing or gaining weight. Look at his skin and coat. Consider his activity level. Check his stool. If you see signs that your dog is in less than robust health you should definitely put him back on a meat diet.
As said, most canine nutritionists and veterinarians will tell you that dogs should not eat a vegetarian diet. It’s not enough to feed your dog lots of protein. They require animal sources of protein, especially meat. Consider carefully before putting your dog on a vegetarian diet.
For more information about proper nutrition for your dog, please visit our dog nutrition page.