Can dogs be vegetarian? There is a lot of controversy and conflicting reports surrounding this question.
One Google search will show pet owners claiming their dogs are OK on a meat-free diet, while the same search shows professionals, including vets and nutritionists, saying it should be avoided at all costs.
So, which side is correct? Or is there truth to both arguments?
Continue reading to find out more.
Can Dogs Be Vegetarian?
In short, yes they can but it’s not recommended.
Dogs can survive on a vegetarian diet. But this doesn’t mean they thrive on one. While it is often argued that dogs are carnivores and absolutely need meat to survive, this is incorrect.
Dogs are omnivores. This means their bodies are built to consume both meat and plants. Dog’s digestives systems are capable of processing nutrients from plants, although it is more difficult than processing meat.
Due to this ability, some dogs are even allergic to animal proteins and have to consume a prescription vegetarian diet under the careful guidance of their vet and nutritionist.
Unless your dog has an allergy, the best thing for them is a mix of both meat sources and plant-based foods.
Why is a Vegetarian Diet Dangerous for Dogs?
Designing a full meal plan, including all the nutrients your dog needs, is extremely difficult to do without meat. Even the most experienced veterinary nutritionists struggle to do this. It is only recommended in the case of a severe allergy to animal protein.
In cases of severe allergies, the risk of an allergic reaction outweighs the risk of malnutrition and associated diseases.
Even though the canine digestive tract is able to process fruits and vegetables, they lack the necessary fats and protein that your dog needs to function healthily.
There are some proteins that can only be sourced from animals and are essential to your dog’s well-being. Making your dog follow a vegetarian diet can lead to severe cases of malnutrition and diseases developed from a lack of nutrients.
What Essential Nutrients Would My Dog be Lacking?
There are several essential nutrients your dog would be missing if you were to implement a vegetarian diet.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein is the nutrient used to build and repair muscles, organs, and tissues inside your dog’s body.
You simply cannot get the full spectrum of essential amino acids from plant-based sources. Mammals need 20 amino acids, with 9 of them being classed as essential. Plant sources are incomplete and do not contain all of the essential amino acids.
There is no other way around this other than your dog needs to eat meat.
This is an important nutrient that helps the brain and neurological development in puppies. It also helps with cardiovascular health and skin conditions. Consumption of omega 3’s can prevent joint diseases like arthritis, as they are anti-inflammatory.
Omega 3 is naturally found in fatty fish like salmon. Many commercial dog foods are salmon based, to include this vital nutrient.
A vegetarian diet would make getting enough of this essential nutrient difficult, potentially harming your puppy’s development or your dog’s heart.
Canine Digestive Processes
Your dog is designed to consume both meat and plants. From their teeth, through their stomach, to their bowel, they are evolutionarily adapted to digest a healthy balance of complete protein, fats, and carbohydrates.
But this doesn’t mean they should follow a meat-free diet.
Domestic dogs have undergone little to no physiological transformation from their wild ancestors.
Dogs have shorter digestive tracts than humans. They are less able to breakdown the roughage associated with fruit and vegetables. This roughage, known as cellulose, it’s difficult for dogs to break down in their short gut.
Have you have ever given your dog raw veggies, and noticed they look much the same when they come out the other end? This shows how little nutrients dogs are able to absorb from plants.
A dog’s teeth and jaw are designed to rip flesh apart and breakdown whole carcasses. Their sharp teeth are perfect for breaking down bone and cartilage.
Dogs need bones to keep their teeth healthy, and benefit from the nutritional value of bones. Also, dogs think bones are good fun!
What Dog Food is Best for my Dog?
If you want a convenient food for your dog, consider a high-quality kibble from your veterinary practice or large animal suppliers. The ingredients list should be free from words you can’t pronounce, as well as grains. First on the list should be a meat, or combination of meats, followed by appropriate vegetables, vitamins, and minerals.
If you have the time to meal-prep for your dog, then consider feeding them a raw diet. It’s as close as you can get to what they would eat in the wild and comes with proven benefits. Ensure you include the advice given by your vet and nutritionist, so your dog still gets all the important nutrients needed to thrive.
Be sure to check out this article on what should not be found in your dog’s food.
Suitable Dog Diets
So now you have all the information needed to answer the question “Can dogs be vegetarian?” To summarize, dogs should onlyfollow a vegetarian diet under the recommendation of your vet due to an allergy or condition.
All dogs should consume a balanced diet, containing both meat and vegetables and free from grains and additives.
For more information on dog nutrition, check out the other articles on our blog.