Despite belonging to the order Carnivora, dogs are able to survive, and even thrive, on a solely plant-based diet. They are omnivores and are able to digest and receive all their essential nutrients from plants.
However, animal protein is much easier for a dog to process, so when feeding a vegetarian or vegan diet to a dog, it is essential to ensure that the diet has been properly formulated and is balanced.
Why should I consider feeding my dog a vegetarian diet?
Animal farming has been demonstrated to be a leading cause of climate change, particularly the production of meat from ruminants, such as beef and lamb. By reducing the amount of meat consumed, we can help to reduce the impact of climate change.
Animal welfare of farmed animals is a concern to many people. While many are reared to high standards, a large proportion of farmed animals around the globe are kept in less than ideal conditions. It is often very hard to know the origin of the meat in pet foods. Feeding vegetarian avoids the risk of participating in poor welfare farming.
Food allergies in dogs are most frequently to the main protein source in the diet (usually meat or fish). By feeding a vegetarian diet we can eliminate these ingredients so they may be useful in a diet trial (although a hydrolysed diet is even better – see How To Carry Out A Diet Trial).
What are the risks with feeding my dog a vegetarian diet?
As mentioned above, ensuring that your dog is receiving all the right nutrients can be very challenging on a vegetarian diet. Homemade diets are a particular concern and are often deficient in protein, essential fatty acids, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. These can cause serious health problems if fed for long.
Vegetarian diets are often less palatable to dogs so it can be a challenge to get them to eat them, at least initially.
What should I do if I want to feed my dog a vegetarian diet?
Choose a commercial food which has been properly balanced under FEDIAF guidelines.
As with any diet change, but especially when switching from meat-based to plant-based, it is important to change over gradually to allow the body time to adjust (see below). This should be done over a period of at least a week, preferable two.
Have your dog checked regularly by your vet to ensure they are not having any health problems related to the diet change.
Please note that cats are obligate carnivores and, unlike dogs, are not able to survive on a vegetarian diet.