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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 Vegetarian?

April 27, 2012 / (8) comments

A number of my vegetarian clients have asked me whether or not their dogs can be vegetarians too. Their main concern is whether or not a meat-free diet is appropriate for their dogs. If it isn’t, they’ll continue, albeit squeamishly, to feed their dogs foods that contain meat.


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 be vegetarian. Because of the way the canine body works, dogs are able to 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

Comments  8

Leave Comment
  • Cats
    04/27/2012 10:07am

    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!

  • 02/20/2017 01:25am

    Vegepets.info is a website by a vet. It includes information about feeding cats complete and nutritionally balanced vegan cat food and educates the public about feline as well as canine nutrition.

    Also, check out the facebook page VEGAN CATS. It is run by vegans whose cats have been eating vegan for years (some over a decade).

  • Grains
    02/24/2014 11:14pm

    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 08:37pm

    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 05:59pm

    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 01:00pm

    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

  • Awesome!
    08/26/2016 04:22pm

    I definitely couldn't agree more. I'm a vegan and I try to tell my friends that dogs can thrive on vegan diets but they just don't believe me. So glad that I found this article - will definitely be forwarding it along. Another article I think does a great job talking about this subject is from the urban vegan site. [url=http://urbanvegan.net/dog-food/]http://urbanvegan.net/dog-food/[/url]

  • vegan
    02/20/2017 01:23am

    Vegetarianism, unlike veganism, results in the intentional abuse, torture, mutilation, cruelty, exploitation, commodification and destruction of family units of other animals. Veganism is the ONLY way to live for anyone who claims that animals matter morally. The facebook page THE BLOODY DAIRY INDUSTRY has an excellent veganism guide that also includes info written by a vet about feeding companion animals vegan food.