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Nutrition Nuggets
Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Can Dogs be Vegetarians?

April 27, 2012 / (5) comments

I’m a vegetarian myself, and I like being the bearer of good news, so this is a fun conversation for me. The answer is yes — dogs can eat a vegetarian diet and thrive.

While this topic is certainly interesting to vegetarians, owners who don’t have issues feeding their dogs meat should also pay attention. Here’s why:

It is true that dogs belong to the order Carnivora, but they are actually omnivores. The canine body has the ability to transform certain amino acids, the building blocks or protein, into others, meaning that dogs can get all the amino acids they need while avoiding meat.

Being a lacto-ovo vegetarian does not present many nutritional challenges for people or for dogs. In fact, eggs have the highest biological value of all the protein sources commonly used in pet foods. The biological value of a protein measures its ability to supply the individual amino acids that an animal needs. Eggs are an excellent source of protein for dogs. Even veganism — consuming a diet that does not include any animal products — though a little trickier, is possible for dogs. The right balance of different plant-based sources of protein (e.g., beans, corn, soy and whole grains) can still provide the needed amino acids.

So why should non-vegetarians care about this? Because it helps make sense of the confusing information about canine nutrition that exists. Think of it this way, if dogs can live long and healthy lives eating a diet that is made from only plant-based sources of protein, why wouldn’t these ingredients also be appropriate for use in foods that contain meat? Using both animal and plant-based sources of protein in a non-vegetarian dog food makes perfect sense.

The only issue I’ve seen with dogs being switched to a vegetarian food is one of acceptance. It seems to me that dogs who are used to eating diets that contain meat go through a "where’s the beef, chicken … etc.?" stage. Overcoming this is easy if you simply mix increasing amounts of the new food in with decreasing amounts of the old and make the change slowly.

So, if feeding meat to your dog presents an ethical quandary for you, options are available. And even if you’re happy that your dog’s food contains meat, know that the inclusion of plant-based sources of protein helps to balance the diet’s nutritional profile.


Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Micimakin / via Shutterstock

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Comments  5

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  • Cats
    04/27/2012 06:07am

    While this may work for dogs, for any cat people reading this blog - I am unaware of any vegetarian diets that are appropriate for cats.

    And for anyone considering changing their pet's diet, please talk with your veterinarian and work together to change Fluffy or Fido's diet!

  • Grains
    02/24/2014 06:14pm

    It was my understanding that dogs and grains aren't a good mix due to lack of amylase and allergies. I would love to hear her take on that.

  • 02/25/2014 03:37pm

    Most dogs digest and absorb nutrients from grains well. If an individual is allergic to a specific grain, it should be avoided, but in fact dogs are more likely to be allergic to beef than they are any type of grain.

  • 02/27/2014 12:59pm

    Thank you so much for writing back! This is very interesting to me! I had heard that chicken can be a common allergy for dogs as well. Why is it that we have this misconception about dogs and grains? Our corn is such poor quality for us to eat so I don't see how dogs could get much from it. I've been trying to find information comparing how we break down grains vs dogs with amylase. To my understanding their saliva doesn't contain it but their pancreas does secrete some.

  • 02/28/2014 08:00am

    Here's a list of common food allergens for dogs, in descending order:
    1. Beef
    2. Dairy
    3. Wheat
    4. Chicken
    5. Egg
    6. Lamb
    7. Soy
    8. Corn
    9. Pork
    10. Fish




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.